Feb 13

No, not my fellow US Citizens, I mean Citizens bank. The bank that has my mortgage, equity line, and regular checking. When I found that my health plan qualified me to open an HSA (Health Savings Account) I was pleased to find that Citizens offered an HSA. Was pleased, as in “Is this really the same bank that I’ve grown to know and love for over a decade?”

It started when I opened the account and tried to fund it. When I set up a payment to my Mastercard or Amex, the Citizens Bill Pay offers me a next day payment. The funds are transferred directly to the other bank, for these cards as well as a number of utilities. When I tried to set up the payment into the HSA it became clear that Citizens was going to cut a check and mail it to another location. This was the first sign that I’d fallen into the rabbit hole.

I wait 3 days, and peek at the account. Day 3 there’s a negative $3.50. They sure know how to charge a fee quickly. Day 5, the deposit is there, and I see it cleared my checking account as well. I go to the HSA bill pay service and request a payment cut to a doctor 3 days later. Just so the money would surely have really cleared the account. Next day, I get an email:

Greetings from Citizens Bank HSA Online!
The following electronic withdrawal from your HSA Funding Account account could not be completed for the following reason:
A status or indicator on your account has blocked the posting of this transaction.
Payee: Doc Name Redacted
Transaction date: 02/05/2014
Transaction amount: $175.00

I call the number and am told by the bill pay department that I have insufficient funds. They can’t see my balance as I realized they are a third party, not part of the bank itself. I call the bank. They tell me nothing is wrong, try the payment again tonight. The next day, another bounce, and another two calls with both bill pay and the main bank. The bank insists nothing is wrong, they see my balance. Bill pay says there’s still an issue.

Last night, after the 4th bounce, I ask the bill pay gal if they’d be willing to conference call with the bank. Sure, but bill pay is 24/7, and the bank is just 9-5. At my request, she adds notes so the agent that answers today will conference in the main bank.

billpay

This is the 20 minutes it took me to tell my story a 5th time to another agent. To explain why a conference call was in order. To have her come on the line and say “transferring you now.” No. Conference. Call. 20 more minutes and the Bank agent agrees this needs elevation. He understands that somehow the bank is rejecting the bill pay request for debit. Why did it take me 5 calls and nearly 2 cumulative hours to get someone to agree to elevate? Because they needed to be sure something was wrong. At my expense. How long before I hear back? He doesn’t know. I ask him what reasonable amount of time I should set on my calendar before reminding myself to call in to see that all is well? He can’t say. I tell him if I don’t hear back in 10 days, I wont call, I’ll close the account. He says he understands.

What I don’t mention above – the account comes with 2 Mastercards tied to the HSA. Mine works, my wife’s doesn’t. These are separate calls also going nowhere. I remind myself, this is the same bank that paid me $5,000 to buy $50,000 worth of Visa and Amex gift cards. They know it’s me and they are now having their revenge. Who am I kidding? They can’t hand my $1000 from one account to another, they mailed a paper check. They don’t know me at all. And if they don’t fix this soon, they wont know me even less. I suppose after that rant, I owe you a decent article on HSAs and how they can save you some money on your taxes. Working on it. No, I don’t need ten days.

(Update and Conclusion – After my wife’s card was rejected earlier, I called the main dept last night. This time, the agent advised that my account just got funded the night prior. In other words, even though my account showed a deposit on Feb 3, and my Citizens checking showed the withdrawal on that date, the funds were not available to use until 8 days later. This morning I woke up to see that doctor’s check was cut last night and mailed out. Issue resolved.)

written by Joe \\ tags: , ,

Jan 26

Now and then it’s time to point out things that are just nonsensical. Today’s the day for a few. We start by recalling how the media and our president both used the word Rich when really what they meant was High Earners. No doubt, if a couple makes $400K a year, they are high earners, but if they spend every cent, and have little savings, they are actually not rich. I recently read an article making a similar mistake, How Many Millionaires in Belmont? Not As Many As You May Think. The headline caught my attention, but as I read the article I saw, “Of the 11,557 state tax filers who reported at least $1 million in income in 2011, Belmont can only claim 178 millionaires.” Hello? Just when I came to terms with “black is the new black,” do I need to accept that ‘millionaire’ now means ‘million dollar per year earner’? Probably not, even the cited article had a title of, “The Massachusetts towns and cities with the most million-dollar earners,” exactly describing this correctly.

I love reading Paula Pant’s blog, Afford Anything. It reminded me of a teaching moment I had with my daughter many years back when she asked me if we could afford something. My response was, “We can afford anything, we just can’t afford everything.” For me, there are many aspects of my spending that are clearly frugal, yet others that seem extravagant. Balancing the two fits our budget. Paula recently offered an anecdote we can all learn from, Why I Wasted an Hour of My Life to Save $3.60. It’s a look at how even someone focused on the numbers can slip up, wasting time that’s far more valuable than the money one might save. In Paula’s case, the cash discount meant an hour round trip in the car. A stupid mistake by someone I know to be a bright entrepreneur and financial author.

And the third article is actually a pair by Forbes author Laura Shin, 13 Money Mistakes To Stop Making By Year’s End, and The 13 Biggest Money Mistakes Retirees Make. I’m sure there’s a psychological effect on an article of mistakes to avoid vs stuff you should consider. Which is why these two lists strike me as brilliant. A total of 26 bits of advice, I’d bet you’ll find at least a handful that can help you improve your finances.

youarehere

You are Here” is an article by The Reformed Broker, frequent CNBC commentator Josh Brown. It’s an overview of where we are in the market and what 2014 might hold in store. If you don’t read any other links today, read Josh, he’s an investment advisor who pulls no punches, using phrases such as “Thank god there was no f***ing Twitter back then.” With all the talking heads on TV shouting this or that, Josh appears the voice of reason, expletives aside.

Bargain Babe asked, “Are We Saving Too Much Money?” She and her husband were saving 26% of their take home pay, and she was having a bit of internal monologue on this. She’s in the minority, as a country we save far too little despite the recent media promotion of claims to the contrary. More on that topic on Tuesday.

written by Joe \\ tags: , ,

Dec 01

Tough to believe it’s December already. Thanksgiving is behind us, and 2014 right around the corner. No shortage of good reading this week –

First, Pope Francis calls unfettered capitalism ‘tyranny’ and urges rich to share wealth. I like the new Pope. Nothing against the prior ones, but it seems Pope Francis is focusing on the down to earth issues, and calling for his followers to stop obsessing over other issues. He recognizes that an extreme concentration of wealth is bad for society and preaches that we understand this as well.

Next, Rick Ferri offered Another Reason To Buy Index Funds. I’ve met Rick at the past two FinCons, and really enjoyed our discussions. When we ran into each other, he remarked that he just came from a panel where he was honored to be seated next to Jack Bogle. Rick wasn’t name dropping. He was genuinely happy to be sitting next to the father of index investing. Pretty cool in my opinion.

Black Friday is creating Gray Thursday and killing Thanksgiving. This is how Kevin Mercadante felt about this year’s early shopping. All I know is that these days that stores force workers to come in don’t really create any more business, only make for unhappy workers. Staples opened at 12:30 am Friday morning. I went at 1:00PM to a near empty store and got a printer on sale. The old one died  couple weeks ago, and I waited a bit to see what I’d save.

I’ve been reading Parker Tax Publishing to stay up to date on tax news and the latest there is Doubt is Growing on Whether Expiring Tax Provisions Will Be Extended. Too bad. The changes are disruptive. I’ve said it before, we need to have a tax code that’s unchanged, save for inflation adjustments, for the long term. Check out what’s going to expire at the end of this year.

I’ve written about Robert Shiller before. This week at Think Advisor, Shiller vs. Fama: Which Nobel Winner Comes Out on Top? I picture these two Nobel Winners putting on gloves and getting into the boxing ring. My money is on Shiller. Literally.

To wrap up this week, at The Chicago Financial Planner, New Stock Market Highs: It’s Different This Time Right? Actually, those very words are a sign of a market starting to top. I’m not selling it all, but scaling back. Because it’s never different.

written by Joe \\ tags: , , ,

Nov 17

Anyone that starts their article with the Quadratic Equation certainly gets my attention. And I’m sure that was The Financial Buff, Harry Sit’s goal with his post How Many People Contribute The Max to Their IRA. This was a roundup in its own right, and Harry shared what he read the prior week.

At Generation X Finance, a Credit Karma Review. I’m a fan of this company and have written a number of articles on different components of the credit score with information supplied by Credit Karma. For a great overview and review, check out the article.

Food Stamp Reform: Unethical or Overdue? This was the question asked and answered by Jessica Sommerfield at MoneyNing. It’s easy to find examples of fraud wherever we look, and this social program is no different. For every 100 people who genuinely need some support, there are going to be some who are drawn into the spotlight as frauds, gaming the system. I think all programs should have proper oversight, but in the greatest country on earth (ok, I’m biased) there’s no excuse for us not to help keep our citizens from starving.

Next, Barbara Friedberg offered her book How to Get Rich; Wealth Building Guide for the Financially Illiterate for a special deal just until Tuesday Nov 19th, at $.99. I’ve not read it yet, but here’s my change to do it for less than a buck. As I’ve written recently, I’ve met Barbara a number of times, and had great discussions with her. I know her book will be a great read.

Clever Dude’s Brock wrote What Would You Do? Money Left Behind in the Self Checkout Lane. The story is simple, money left at the self check-out at a Walmart. Would you take the money? Turn it in? If instead of $20, it was a full wallet, more money plus a license, would your answer change?

We’ll wrap the week up with Roger Wohlner’s question – Do You Have a Back-Up Financial Plan? It’s pretty simple, like happens, jobs are lost, people get sick, have accidents, get divorced. Few people get through life with no bumps. What’s your back up plan?

written by Joe \\ tags: ,

Oct 27

With FinCon13 still fresh in my mind, please let me share my fellow blogger’s observation on this amazing conference.

Most conferences will have some kind of SWAG. I had no idea this was an acronym, Stuff We All Get, and aren’t sure if that’s even right. But that’s what it is, and this year, there were some great give aways. Best booths of FinCon 2013 is a post at Bargaineering giving credit to the sponsors who gave away items to remind of of their company long after the weekend passed. Both Ally Bank and Chase Bank were giving away portable USB chargers, a rechargeable battery that you can use to power up your phone or tablet device. This was first conference I’ve gone to where I didn’t grab a shirt, although there were many to be had.

Erin, at Red Debted Stepchild, offered #FinCon13 Recap & Spending, a look at both what she learned and what she spent. Interesting to see her tab, $1115. My ticket and hotel bill added to $500. I used miles to get the plane ticket, and avoided the shuttle. St Louis has a Metro that cost $2.50 each way, and a short walk. Erin lists a number of things we learned, and even if you blog on non-finance topics, there’s some great advice here. (Note to self, fix your 404 page)

StLouisFed

Time to get this out of the way. There was a repeat of a contest I missed last year. Pullups. When I was younger, I was good for ten pullups. Now, I can do one on a good day. The tradition was started, and it presented itself again this year. All went well, the winner was at nearly 20, if I got it right. But. Someone then tweeted, “and for the ladies, the swimsuit contest is next.” I missed this, but soon heard about it. You can get the whole story at Beating a Sexist One Chin-Up at a Time and #Fincon13 Pictures and My Reaction to a Sexist Comment. No, Kathleen, you didn’t overreact. Nassim Taleb, author of The Black Swan wrote, “If you see fraud, but do not say fraud, then you are a fraud.” You see, I can’t get into your head, we each react to things we hear in a different way, but recalling this quote, just substitute “sexism” or “racism” for “fraud” and you see how simple it is for me to acknowledge that you were compelled to react, and had I been there at that moment, I would have too.

CFP Sophia Bera shared Why I Love Hanging Out with Financial Bloggers (Over Financial Planners). It seems we are a fun, welcoming group. Even though she mentions the age clusters at around 30, no one there made this 51 year old feel too old to be welcome. And no, most of us aren’t bragging about our expensive cars, just the opposite, the ten year old car is a badge of honor. Sophia also wrote 10 things I learned at #FinCon13.

US News Money reporter Stephanie Steinberg was there and reported on 10 Things Consumers Don’t Understand About Credit Scores. This was the topic at one of the sessions that focused on Credit. A panel of experts, their advice alone was worth the cost of admission.

Peter Anderson offered a day-by-day recap at The Financial Blogger Conference 2013 Recap: Seeing Old Friends, Meeting New People And Learning. If you think we’re a boring bunch, just listen to Ashley rapping some blogging advice to the tune of Thrift Shop.

At Eyes on the Dollar (A blog I just discovered) Kim wrote Fincon 13: Stepping Outside My Comfort Zone and Loving It. For Kim, it was about meeting new people, and finding how welcoming the FinCon community is.

With 500 attendees, this post can really go on, but let’s close with another blogger I just discovered, Budget & the Beach who posted Fincon13: Inspired and Overwhelmed! The post actually took on the form of a top ten list, which was pretty interesting. Her list and mine, if I would write one, would overlap quite a bit. Except for that 6:30 AM run. Not when I was up till 2 am every night.

That’s it for FinCon. I may refer to it on occasion in future posts and you may see some changes here over the next few months, but that’s it for the reminiscing.

written by Joe \\ tags: ,