Category: Overcharging


Flu Shot

February 19th, 2013 — 9:17am

My health insurance company sent me a bill for a flu shot from a few months back. They’ve always covered my flu shots in the past. In fact, I thought they were required to, but I’m not sure. I called. They said it was just a mistake, and it was fixed.

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Trust Account (continued)

October 21st, 2012 — 10:40pm

Wells Fargo has agreed to refund the trust account.

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Trust Account (continued)

October 17th, 2012 — 9:28pm

So, I’m now in a fight with Wells Fargo over $3.50. They again took $7 out of my account, even after I brought it in compliance with the $1500 minimum. After a few emails, they refunded half. I then threatened to complain to the BBB, Pissed Consumer, and Ripoff Report. They wouldn’t back down. Apparently, they are so incompetent, they would risk damage to their reputation over $3.50. I’ve also added Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Thus far I’ve contacted the BBB.

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Property Tax Appeal

March 16th, 2012 — 8:33am

I recently appealed my property taxes on a house I bought from a bank. It was in really bad shape, and this was reflected in the price. I wanted my property taxes to reflect what I actually paid for the house on the open market. My experience is outlined in the dialog below. The research was done by my real estate consultants (my parents).  That essence of what was said is in block quotes,  what I heard is in bold, and explanations are in italics.

Victim

I’d like to see the comparables.

The State

Of course, here’s how we determined what your house is worth. These are the numbers we’ve fabricated for you.

The salient columns of the table are recreated here.


Victim

I found a comparable that appears to have been purchased by the county. Could I get more information about this sale?

The County

Of course, but we’ll need a written request. You didn’t think we were going to make this easy on you, did you?

Victim

Here’s my formal written request.

The County

Sorry, it needs to go to the legal department. We can play this game for a long time.

Victim

OK, here it is again.

Copies of the HUD are furnished showing 7373 N Kerry Hill Ct being sold for $169,305 with a mysteriously large “closing cost credit”.

Victim

There seems to be something missing. Can you explain the seller accommodation of $40,012 to the county?

The County

We don’t have to comment on that. You can’t handle the truth.

Victim

You have to provide this information.

The County

Perhaps you’re just confused. We’ve done something unethical and possibly illegal, and this is our last-ditch effort to try and throw you off the scent.

The county reluctantly hands over the contract between the county and the bank. The contract shows the true purchase price to be $129,293. It is clear at this point that the county is trying to manipulate the housing market by reporting invalid purchase prices, possibly for the purpose of increasing tax revenues. After correcting for seller subsidies of closing costs, where possible, and adding a few comparables of my own, the corrected sale prices were computed and sorted. The properties that sold for more were generally well fixed up; the properties that sold for less needed significant work. My home was assessed in the top half, both by mean and median.


Victim

I’d like my taxes to be reassessed to the value I purchased the house for on the open market. Here are the photos demonstrating why I was able to purchase the house at that price.

Public Employee

I’m not qualified to evaluate what it would cost to do the repairs. I need to see an official quote from a contractor who is not a family member. So your house is a wreck. What do you want me to do about it?

Victim

But I have all these comparables showing how low some of these houses have sold.

Public Employee

We can only use the official numbers from the state, and we don’t look at seller accommodations. We will only consider the fabricated numbers that we helped fabricate to justify our case.

Victim

Nonetheless, I have this contract from the county showing how much money was spent to fix up this other similar house.

Public Employee

We can’t look at appraisals for other houses. We won’t consider any legitimate information that would justify a lower assessment on your home.

I don’t believe that any of this is actually in the law. The “rules” themselves appear to be fabrications to prevent anyone from successfully appealing the value of their home.
Victim

But even so, this is what I paid for it, and it’s clearly in bad shape. I can’t give you an estimate since I did the work with my family, and you won’t accept an estimate from a family member.

Public Employee

You could go out and get an estimate. Anything that comes from a family member is biased, and we’ll only consider it as worth $100. I’m going to continue to focus on the one piece of evidence I know is impossible for you to document.

I wonder at this point if I should point out to him that the county’s numbers are clearly fraudulent, and yet he is implying numbers I haven’t even presented will be biased. I decide this will accomplish nothing.
Victim

If I told a contractor that I only wanted a quote to lower my taxes, he wouldn’t come out. So you’re asking me to do something that’s unethical.

Public Employee

It’s not unethical. We need an estimate. What are ethics again?

Victim

I’ve shown you all this overwhelming evidence that my house is over assessed. I obviously can’t give you the one thing I don’t have. What will convince you?

Public Employee

We need an estimate. You’re totally screwed.

Victim

So you’ll only consider properties that were cherry-picked to make the local real estate values appear higher, whose values were altered to boost those values even more? And any evidence that contradicts this obvious fiction, excluding the one thing I don’t have, will be ignored?

Public Employee

I’m sorry, but I can’t evaluate the value without an estimate. Bingo!

Victim

You and I both know this is totally ridiculous.

Public Employee

Look, I’m going to give you what you want this one time, but if you buy another house, you have to bring me an estimate or I’m going to consider all of the repairs to be worth $100. I’m not in the mood to fight anymore, and I know you’re just going to continue to appeal this, so I’m going to try to scare you away by threatening to gouge your eyes out if I ever see you around here again.

In the end, he gave up without a huge fight, mostly because he didn’t want to tangle with my parents. But I’m still in disbelief over some of what was said and done

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Citi Pays Me Back (Sort of)

September 24th, 2011 — 9:54pm

In my last post, I said it would be easier to get my money back from Citi by taking advantage of one of their credit card offers. So here’s how it actually worked out.

I got 16,000 points for signing up and spending $700 dollars in three months. They gave me another 800 points for signing up for electronic bills and online payments. One hundred points has a maximum value of one dollar. However, to get that maximum value, you have to order certain gift cards for 10,000 points. For example, 10,000 points will get you a Home Depot or Lowes gift card worth $100. But other gift cards, especially ones that cost less than 10,000 points or any cash offers, usually end up costing more than 100 points per dollar. So for example, 10,000 points might get you $70 dollars, or you might be able to get a $50 dollar Home Depot card for 8,000 points. These numbers are hypothetical. You’ll have to check the actual amounts.

I ultimately had a total of 20,224 points (16,800 of which came free). I got $200 dollars worth of gift cards and transferred the remaining points to my parents’ card. But here’s the kicker — I called up to cancel my card, and they offered me another 10,000 points for spending $3,000 in 6 months! That will end up being a total of $268.00 worth of free gift cards. I will ultimately end up spending over $6,000 dollars on their card, however I receive the same points per dollars spent as my preferred credit card gives me anyway, so there is no loss. And I will probably end up transferring the remaining 3,000 points to my parents’ card rather than spending another $7,000 to get another $100 gift card.

My original complaint was over $60. I’ve already received almost three times that amount (free), and I’m expecting another $100. Not bad! At least, it was a lot easier than fighting with them and getting nowhere.

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Virgin Mobile Phone Plan

May 11th, 2011 — 11:25pm

I recently got a company cell phone.  My phone service is now free (for me).  My old plan was a pay as you go system by Virgin Mobile.  I didn’t want to lock myself into another two year plan, so I had instead opted for a cheap phone with no contract.

When I first got service a few years ago, Virgin Mobile had somehow managed to charge my credit card for roughly five months worth of service, or around $120.  How this happened I have no idea.  I eventually had to remove my credit card number from their system to bring my account balance back to something reasonable.  When I had only about one month’s worth of balance remaining, I entered my credit card number back into the system.

So when I learned that I would definitely be getting a phone, I decided to discontinue my old service.  The problem was, I didn’t have the new service yet, and my current month was about to run out, and I only had an account balance of $19.79.  I needed at least $20 to get 400 minutes — one month’s service.  When I tried to change to the 400 minute plan, the web site wanted to charge me another $20.  I wrote Virgin Mobile; they told me there was no way to charge less than $10.  But I only needed 21 cents!

I decided I would just get the 20 cents per minute plan which would get me 98 minutes.  Well it turns out, their web site wouldn’t even allow me to switch to that plan without charging my credit card.  I complained and asked them to either (1) credit my money back to my credit card so I could add $20 to my account, or (2) just credit me the 21 cents.  I told them that I would be traveling without a working cell phone otherwise.  They cold-heartedly refused.  It was pretty obvious that they had no intention of refunding any overpayment, so I temporarily refused to do anything about it.

Despite the fact that their web site said I would not be able to use my phone without purchasing another month of service, it turned out that they were actually charging my account balance at a rate of 20 cents per minute.  I did not lose service.  So everything worked out and I ultimately saved 21 cents.  It seems like every large company has overcharging as a fundamental element of their business model.

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Response from the OCC

April 11th, 2011 — 8:46pm

So the OCC turned out to be pretty much worthless. I never received a response to my simple question. Instead, I got another response from Citi, which more or less reiterated what was already said. It’s not worth messing around over $60. Citi and Genworth screwed me. I had to pay a month’s worth of insurance on a product I didn’t own, on a contract I never signed, and paperwork I was never given. How does that work?

In any case, I was just approved for a Citi MasterCard which has a rewards program that will give me a $150 gift card if I put $700 on it in the first three months. Since I would normally only get $7 for $700 worth of expenditures on my Amazon card, I estimate I should earn more than double what Citi took. This is a lot easier than fighting with them, and I don’t even have to win! As soon as I get my gift certificate, I’ll close all my Citi cards. More to come.

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Contacted the OCC

March 23rd, 2011 — 11:40pm

I called the OCC today to find out whether Citi overcharged me PMI. The lady told me to fill out an online complaint form which doubles as a request for information. So I briefly explained in the form how I felt I had been wronged. I think I’m supposed to hear back within 48 hours.

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PMI Agreement from Citi

February 28th, 2011 — 7:15pm

I received the PMI agreement from Citi.  The first thing I noticed is that my signature is nowhere to be seen, which I suspected.  In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen this.  The other thing I noticed is that the appraised value does not appear to be correct, although that’s not important.  So basically, the agreement doesn’t say much of anything.  It has the percentages and durations on there.  It says “Non-refundable premium if cancelled.”  I’m not sure that this applies to me in any way.  I didn’t cancel my insurance; I paid off my loan.  And besides that, Citi didn’t make the payment until two weeks after I paid the loan off, which means there would be nothing to refund since  no payment had been made until they decided to go back and charge me for an extra month.

Given the lack of any documentation specifying how the money is to be collected, I’m still fairly sure they charged me for an extra month.  I’m going to call the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and ask for their opinion before I pursue this any further.

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Private Mortgage Insurance

February 20th, 2011 — 4:30pm

I only put down 10% on my investment property.  Generally, when you put down less than 20% on a property (LTV of 80%), you either need to purchase Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) or you need to take out a second loan.  For investment properties, you might need an LTV of 75% or less.  I don’t know the exact rules, and they have probably changed or will change due to the financial crisis.  Also PMI does not cover your payments if you can no longer afford them.  It insures the bank against your failure to pay, so you will probably never deal with your PMI company.

My loan originator mentioned that it would be better if put down at least 20%, but based on the numbers (and my lack of money really), I decided I would be better off paying a little extra for PMI.  I could have gotten a second mortgage, but I didn’t want to have to deal with a second lender and all the associated paperwork.  However, my loan originator failed to mention two important things.  The first was that the percentage paid for the PMI is not locked like your rate is locked.  I, naturally, assumed both numbers would not change, but I found out the hard way, at settlement, that the PMI had increased by at least .2%.  Of course it went up; would you expect it to go any other way?  The other thing I was not told was that you can’t get rid of PMI.  You have to pay it until the loan is paid off.  I believe my loan originator was probably unaware of this.  My settlement attorney said something about it.  He too, apparently, did not know the law in this particular case.

The Homeowner’s Protection Act lets you cancel PMI once your LTV drops below a certain level.  I’ll let you read it yourself; I’m not very familiar with it since it has never applied to me.  As I later learned, it only applies when the house is your primary residence.  If you’re an investor, you pretty much get thrown to the wolves.

My specific plan, which I learned about at settlement, required me to pay .9%  a year on the original value of the loan for the first 10 years.  It then dropped to .2% for the last 20 years.  Let’s think for a moment about just how bad a deal this is.  In a healthy real estate market, you might expect the equity in your house to increase to more than 20% of its value within less than 5 years (assuming an initial LTV of 90%).  With PMI, you would be stuck paying thousands in insurance to protect against a default that has no more chance of occurring than someone who initially made a 20% down payment.  In fact, even as the risk of default drops to zero, you will still be paying insurance.  There’s a simple phrase for that: free money (for them, not you).  Even if you did default, the bank would more than recoup any losses.  Additionally, since the interest rate pertains to the original value of the loan, if the loan is held for the full 30 years, there will likely come a point in time at which the monthly PMI payments are greater than the interest on the loan itself.

The bottom line is this: Don’t get PMI. Had I paid PMI for the full term of my loan, I would have paid more in PMI than the additional 10% down needed to get rid of it.  Take out a second loan instead; you can always pay it off later.  If you absolutely have to get PMI, make sure you find out all the details up front and that your rate can’t change at settlement.

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