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.

Comment » | Banks Behaving Badly, Overcharging

NASA FCU Responds

September 25th, 2012 — 7:43pm

I sent NASA FCU my letter of intent. Here is the response. I guess I have some paperwork fill out.

I received your letter dated September 2012 and postmarked September 20, 2012 in today’s mail. Your complaint about the handling of two loans in 2010 has already been addressed. The NCUA received your complaint in February 2011 and notified you of their conclusion in a letter dated April 14, 2011.

We consider this matter closed.

Comment » | Banks Behaving Badly

Trust Account

September 25th, 2012 — 7:41pm

I store my tenants’ deposits in a trust account with Wells Fargo as required by law. It’s really just a checking account. They told me there is no difference between a regular account and a trust account. But then they decided to start charging fees on all their accounts. They would not make an exception for trust accounts. However, I was told they would lower the minimum account balance to avoid the fee to $700 on my account.

Then several weeks later, $7 suddenly comes out of that account. I yelled at them; they replaced the money, but now I have to find another bank. Rats.

Comment » | Banks Behaving Badly

A place to sleep (continued)

August 1st, 2012 — 4:37pm

See last post.

So the service guy came out. He was able to lower the bed portion of the sofa an inch, which was as far down as it would go. Then he found some cylindrical legs, which were slightly shorter, that look like they belonged to a different type of furniture. After making those changes, the bed is only elevated slightly. We have decided it’s good enough. What boggles my mind is that even with the bed screwed in as low as it can possibly go, it’s still clearly not right. The only possibilities I can think of are either (1) they put the wrong model bed into the sofa, or (2) the sofa has a fundamental design flaw, and they’ve just decided to sell it that way.

Comment » | Shoddy Merchandise

A place to sleep (continued)

July 19th, 2012 — 7:09pm

See last post.

VCF set a time. They called the day before, but it turned out they wouldn’t go to my address. After hanging up, I did some research and found out that there was another store close by. I had to make numerous calls to two different stores. Every VCF seems to have a different system for handling calls. Store 59 has a particularly obnoxious call waiting sound. It’s a loud beep every few seconds. I guess they really don’t want your call.

Eventually, I thought that they were going to call back to set a new time, but after calling a couple of times, I thought maybe they were avoiding me instead. So that evening, I sent a nasty email through their website. This may have been a little premature.

Hello, I waited a week and a half to have a service person sent out to fix my new sofa. Then I was told store 59 doesn’t go to [removed]. After several more phone calls, I found out that store 74 does service [removed]. I’ve called twice and was supposed to receive a return call.

Please take a look at the wonderful quality of this Value City Furniture product! I was not expecting luxury for under $1000, but is it too much to ask that it at least be functional? These photos go up on my blog next week.

In the mean time, I spent a lot of money on this nearly functional sofa bed, and I plan to use it. It’s really wobbly though; I hope I don’t get hurt. I don’t suppose you know what jury awards for product liability torts go for these days? It’s probably a little more than the three dollars in gas it will take to send the service tech out here. Anyhow, give me a call.

I provided links to the following images.

I called again the next morning and they finally agreed to send a service technician. There was also some whining about how they weren’t really supposed to do this since I picked the sofa up myself rather than paying for the delivery fee. Later in the day, someone called about the email I had sent. I told him store 74 had agreed to send someone out; he sounded relieved. Now we’ll find out if they can actually fix the problem.

Comment » | Caveat Emptor, Shoddy Merchandise

A place to sleep

July 18th, 2012 — 9:30pm

My girlfriend followed me to Maryland. She hired MBM Moving Systems to move her stuff. For the most part, everything went fine. But her sofa showed up with oil stains on it. She didn’t pay for an extended insurance policy, so her damages were limited to 60 cents per pound, or $180 for the sofa. This covered slightly more than the cost of having the stains removed.

Unfortunately removing oil stains from fabric is really hard, and the company she hired to do it wasn’t very successful. We decided to flip the cushions over and live with the remaining stains. They weren’t that noticeable. But then we got a big surprise. The bed in the sofa was wrecked beyond repair. I have never even been able to figure out how it was damaged so badly. It must have taken some immense force, like say dropping it a story, yet somehow the exterior of the sofa was not damaged. In any case she was screwed.

But it gets better. In order to get the $180 for a sofa that cost around five times as much, they made her sign a document that said they had no further obligations and that she would not report them to any reporting agencies such as the BBB. And she had to get it notarized. I doubt that such a document would hold up in court if it was challenged, but they still withheld her money until it was signed and notarized.

I needed a cheap sofa for my house. So I bought her a new sofa bed, and took her still-functional-as-a-sofa sofa bed. Value City Furniture (VCF) has lower end furniture that you can get at good prices. We found a sofa bed that I thought was comparable to, but maybe not quite as nice, as what she had, and it was on sale for $500. When we picked it up, I made sure it was intact and that it included the bed. It was possible to buy the same sofa without the bed for $100 less, so I need to make sure they didn’t screw it up. Everything looked good.

And yet it wasn’t. After we set it up and attached the feet, I found out that the top of the bed was three to four inches higher than the bottom of the bed. Basically, it was unusable. I don’t understand how such a thing ever could have even left the factory. It would have take 10 seconds to pull it out and look at it and see that it was not fit for sale.

By now I’m getting upset. She spent around $900 for a sofa that only lasted a few years. Then she spent another $100 on an air mattress to replace the bed. I invested another $500, and we still don’t have a working sofa bed, never mind the time we’ve invested. I drove all the way back to the store to verify the demo model they had shown us did in fact have a bed that was level with the ground. I was told to have the service department have a service technician come out and take a look.

More to come.

Comment » | Caveat Emptor, Shoddy Merchandise

Hidden Fees

April 16th, 2012 — 9:16pm

It was time to move my old 401K into a rollover IRA. I had limited choices and control over my 401k contributions. Why my employer chose ADP, I have no idea. I opened a Fidelity rollover IRA account into which I intended to transfer my 401K. I chose Fidelity because my current employer uses them for our 401k and other accounts.

I was told IRAs that I opened myself could by automatically transferred by Fidelity from the other brokerage. Whether my stocks will be sold first or not I don’t know, as I haven’t gone through the process yet. But in the case of 401Ks opened by an employer, both Fidelity, and a discount broker I use, told me the stocks would have to be sold, and a check would be mailed. Why the extra complexity? I suppose it could be due to some law or technical issue. But in the absence of any knowledge of how the process works, I have to be a cynic and assume they just want to make it as hard as possible for you to get your money back — often a safe assumption. And on top of this, ADP would not talk to me directly. To move my 401K, I had to go through my previous employer. If my last employer, no longer existed, I would have had to call a government agency. They really wanted to make it as hard as possible.

The one day I happened to choose to sell my index fund, the market tanked (a little). In the weeks following, while I waited for the check to arrive at Fidelity, the market shot up. This translates into a few thousand dollars lost immediately for a few percent over several years worth of 401K contributions. To add insult to injury, the amount of the check was approximately $50 less than what had been sitting in my account. It took some time to figure out when and where the $50 disappeared. It certainly wasn’t well advertised. I eventually figured out that it was probably some fee associated with taking money out of my account. I searched through the agreement with ADP — something my company agreed to of course, not me. One brief paragraph mentioned simply that there were fees, but there was no description of the fees or when they were applied.

I ultimately took a gamble and waited for a market correction. I ended up losing perhaps no more than a thousand off my 401K. Crappy, yet better than a few thousand.

My real frustration is that law contributes to financial institutions’ incentives to nickel and dime you with fees. There are a million special purpose accounts — many of them worth only small amounts of money in any given year: HSA, FSA, 401K, IRA, Roth 401K, Roth IRA, pension plans, etc. Each new account creates an abundant number of complex ways to be charged $25 here and $100 dollars there, all on relatively small amounts of money. To opt out is to pay a higher tax rate. And of course, with each new account, they want to make it as hard as humanly possible for you to get your money back out, and usually it’ll cost you.

Update

I moved my Zecco IRA into my Fidelity IRA account. It appears that transaction cost $70 in addition to the $30 yearly fee.

Comment » | Banks Behaving Badly, Undisclosed Fees

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

Comment » | Overcharging

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.

Comment » | Banks Behaving Badly, Overcharging

NCUA Fails to Respond

June 17th, 2011 — 9:56pm

So the NCUA was too lazy to even respond to my last letter.  I’ve decided to send a similar complaint to HUD. I didn’t spend a lot of time on it because it seems likely they will also shirk their legal responsibilities and ignore me. However, I think it was worth an hour or two of my time before going the extra step by taking NASA FCU to court.

Comment » | Banks Behaving Badly

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