Monday, March 31, 2008

25% TurboTax Discount – Fidelity Customers

If you have brokerage or netbenefits account with Fidelity, they have an online link entitling you to a 25% discount on TurboTax products. Not bad.

Thanks Comcast

Although I would love to fire Comcast, they occasionally do something right/nice. Thanks to a free preview of MLB League Pass, I am watching my beloved Texas Rangers on opening day. It almost makes me forget the high prices and bad service I am forced to endure.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Thanks Calphalon and Bed Bath Beyond

The other day, I found my bride cooking eggs in a pan instead of the nice, Calphalon griddle we have. When I asked why, she said the eggs run to the sides. It turns out it was bowed up in the middle.

After checking out Calphalon's website, I called the warranty line to find out what to do as I no longer had the receipt. After my experience with Citibank, I was pleasantly surprised to get quickly connected to a pleasant CSR. During our conversation, he quickly determined it was probably a warranty related issue and asked me to mail it back to them. When I said it didn't make since to spend $10 to pack and ship a $27 item, he offered to pay for postage. Nevertheless, I asked if I could take it back to the retailer, Bed Bath Beyond, instead. Although he couldn't speak for them, he said BBB had great return policies and would probably take care of me.

To make a long story short, BBB took care of me, no questions asked. Makes us glad we are registering with them for most of our wedding gifts.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Citibank Cards = Poor Customer Service

In today's mail, I received an incredibly unprofessional letter from my friends at Citibank. According to the notorious customer service representative "S. Larsen," they "would like to assist me; however, your request is not clear. Please send a signed letter detailing how we may help you." With the exception of my account number, the letter contained no other information. It doesn't say what prompted their letter or what or even how I requested their assistance.

With no information to go on and having little idea what the letter was about, I was forced to contact customer service (Thankfully, I had my card with me because S. Larsen didn't think providing a contact number was a good idea).

When I finally reached a CSR, I was informed the letter was generated after my request to transfer available credit limits from my American Airlines Card (which I rarely use) to my Driver's Edge Card (which I often use) had been rejected. When I asked how my request was "not clear," she admitted my request was quite clear and the letter was not an appropriate response to my request.

When I asked why my request was rejected, she informed me that the Driver's Edge account had an available 0% balance transfer on it and "company policy" precluded making my requested change. Of course, I responded by saying I did not request, need or plan to use the balance transfer and asked that it be removed. After she gave me an idiotic story about how it was impossible to remove the balance transfer offer and do what I asked, I got a supervisor on the line and got the request completed.

Bottom Line:

  1. Citibank sent a letter to a customer (and shareholder) that conveyed little or no useful information. What little information it did convey was incorrect.
  2. Citibank failed to comply with a request from a customer (and shareholder) to do something that had little or no cost to Citibank, but would have met the customers' needs.
  3. They had a CSR answer the phone with no clue about actual company policy or how to assist a customer.
  4. They wasted at least 30 minutes of CSR and manager time (and my time) dealing with a request for no particular reason. Including overhead, it probably cost Citibank $10-15 to handle my call.

Wonder why my stock price has gone down?

BTW = professional correspondence from a top-notch company is often mailed in an envelope addressed by hand and with the return addressed affixed by a stick on label created on a dot matrix printer. My plow guy sends correspondence on more professionally prepared envelopes.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

CIGNA Health Insurance – So Far So Good

Often (for good reason) health insurers are the focus of criticisms from policyholders. As I work my way through paying for my medical procedure, I certainly expect problems with things like what is covered, co-insurance, deductible, and in/out of network providers.

Having returned from the hospital, I called CIGNA to find out what is necessary to file a claim under my HSA-style health plan and to find out my deductible/co-insurance performance.

Having dealt with the hassle of dealing with a knee surgery, I was expecting the worst. Nevertheless, I have to give the CIGNA CSR a thumbs up. When I explained what happened, she verified the surgeon and the hospital were "in network." With respect to other professional services, she warned me that they might charge me the "out of network" deductible for the anesthesiologist; however, she said I should appeal the charge. Under the circumstances, they usually waive the "out of network" charge since I was at an "in network" hospital.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

HSA Account – Real Life Example

Later this year, I am getting married. Once we are married, I will cancel my health insurance and go onto my wife's plan. Overall, this will give us the best combination of benefits and cost.

Since I did not expect any large healthcare charges before the marriage, I elected to sign up for my company's HSA instead of the traditional plan. By combining my contributions with my company's funding of the HSA balance, I expected to save money on premiums and end up with a small balance in my HSA when I switch plans.

Unfortunately, I had an unexpected trip to the hospital for emergency surgery and even had to spend the night in the place. In terms of cost – that is gonna leave a mark. I figure I will have to come up with the entire deductible (I think $1,200) + 20% of everything above that up to $2,400.

Despite my bad outcome, I still think a HSA is a good choice for many single people. Had I been in the plan a few years, I would certainly have had enough money saved in my HSA account to pay off the entire deductible.

If you have an HSA, I would recommend the following strategy:

  1. Do not tap your HSA for small, infrequent charges such as a one off doctor visit (cold, flu, etc) or a one off prescription.
  2. Build up the HSA balance to the deductible amount so any large loss (such as a hospital visit or surgery) doesn't impact your normal lifestyle. Remember, this fund is for emergencies, not a $10 prescription for generic antibiotics.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Boston Globe – Horrible Customer Service

A few weeks ago, we received a letter from the Boston Globe indicating the paper was now available for home delivery in our area. With weekend only delivery available at good price, we called the subscription office and signed up.

Three weeks later, we have received exactly ZERO papers. We have, however, been hit with two charges against our credit card. When I called to complain last week after the first charge hit our credit card, the customer service rep promised us home delivery was available and promised to refund our account. She even promised to call the delivery department to find out what went wrong.

Of course, this weekend came and went with no paper and another charge against our credit card. Because their customer service department is closed on weekends, I was forced to send an e-mail about our problems. To date, they have not responded with an e-mail or with a phone call.

And newspaper management wonders why traditional newspapers are losing money.

  1. When a customer enquires about service promised, but not delivered, the custom (unless you work for the cable company) is to respond.
  2. It is not customary to bill someone every week for their newspaper. Most companies have figured out how to do monthly/quarterly/bi-annual billing to reduce costs to the company and hassles for the customer.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

State Farm Dividend – 2008

As a Mutual company, State Farm is owned by its policyholders. Earlier this month, they announced a $614m dividend for many of their life insurance customers/owners.

Unfortunately, it looks like P&C customers won't get big dividends we got last year. According to their news release, the combined companies had a net income of $5.46 billion. Although the press release is not clear, it looks like they will be investing the profits in growing their loss reserves. Given the decline in underwriting profit on their large auto book and the uncertainty in the investment market, it is probably a good strategy.



Idiotic Housing Market Plan

According to, the idiots in Washington have come up with a plan to save us all. They are considering a tax credit for buyers of new home construction and foreclosed homes.

If your home is not in foreclosure and you want to sell it, you will have to compete against banks and homebuilders who have a "tax credit" in their pocket. In order to compete, you will have to lower your price by the amount of the tax credit.



Thursday, March 20, 2008

Funny Bear Stearns News

A little dark humor from the guys and gals and Sick, twisted, and funny.

Nice Bounce – What to do?

Despite the market bounce, I am going to keep my portfolio's bear bias in place for another 6 months. Nevertheless, I will do a little strategic buying on down days.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Wall Street Wizards - Not

How many Harvard MBA's does it take to destroy all the value in one of the world's premier investment banks?

Because they failed mitigate risk properly, thousands of people (many of whom are not rich) are going to lose their jobs.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Microsoft Home Use Program – MS Office for $20

If you work for a large company, check your intranet site before you purchase Microsoft Office for your home computer. Your company may participate in the some sort of discount program with them. I purchased a full version of Office Professional for only $20.

If your intranet site has a search function: Try "Home Use Program" or "Microsoft Discount"

Bear’s Run on the Bank

In the Depression a "Run on the Bank" occurred when shareholders literally ran to the bank to take their money out before they got stuck holding the bag.

Yesterday, the Fed and JP Morgan worked to prevent the modern equivalent. Because of the perception of financial instability, Bear Stearns was perceived to be a risky trading partner. Because of the perceived counterparty risk in dealing with Bear, trading partners vanished and its ability to earn money evaporated.

Although the Fed sponsored bailout will buy them some time, they are unlikely to survive on their own. Unless someone buys the bank, they are likely to go away soon.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

IRS is Taunting Me

Why is the IRS sending out letters saying they will be sending out stimulous checks sometime? Why not just send the checks and be done with it? Since I am unlikely to get any stimulous (no Spitzer jokes please), it felt like they were taunting me.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

3 mo savings ideas?

With wedding expenses about 3 months away, I would like to park some money somewhere VERY safe. Any ideas? So far, the best, reasonably convenient rate I have found is my ING Savings account. 3 month CD's don't seem common.

Sprint Contract Terminated!!

My fiance wanted to drop Sprint and join Verizon so we could share minutes on a family plan. When we called to cancel, the idiot CSR claimed her contract didn't expire until November. Luckily, I don't take BS for an answer. After browbeating the first and second CSR into getting a manager on the phone, I got them to admit they couldn't prove she had a 2 year contract. As a result, Sprint is gone and Verizon has both our accounts.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Spitzer's Fall

NY Governor Elliot Spiztzers fall from grace is sad. As AG of New York, he really did some great things for the retail investors out there. Unfortunately, he tended to be an arrogant, bully who could do no wrong (in his own eyes). With the fanaaticism of "certainty," he attacked his political enemies without mercy (or regard for the law). If news reports are true,it is is a sad fall.

Hopefully, someonew without his persoanily problems, will pick up the mantle of everyday investors.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Splurged on Laptop - 10% Discount

The hated iBook finally was giving up the ghost. Before it totally failed, I bought a new Dell laptop to replace it. By using my bride's rewards card, we get 10% back in the form of a coupon.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Black Friday Tomorrow

With the turmoil in the credit markets, tomorrow is going to be a very bad day. Between the hedge funds being squeezed by lenders to Jefferson County, Alabama facing bankrupcy, the only safe havens appear to be oil, gold and treasuries. Can you say Black Friday 2008?

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Fiance Credit Report Results

Before our wedding this Summer, my fiance and are working to clean up our fiances. As part of the project, we ordered her free credit report from Equifax. Thankfully, there were no nasty surprises.

In terms of clean up, she had a couple of old credit cards we didn't know were still open. Although they have zero balances, there is no reason to keep them open and we will close out the accounts.

By staggering our free credit report requests over the next 6 months, we can have all three reports for free and be very confident everything is fine.

Bought $90 in Lottery Tickets

With the jackpot at over $160 million, my officemates and I chipped into a pool with hopes of winnings. Because of my luck in the Super Bowl pool, I was picket to get the tickets.

While winning the lottery is not a good personal finance strategy, it can certainly be fun. Wish us luck.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Health Insurer Loses $9m Arbitration

An arbitrator recently awarded a California woman $9m dollars in damages from health insurer, Health Net Inc. for rescinding her policy while she was fighting breast cancer. Although news reports provide some interesting information about the incident, I took the time to actual judgment issued by the arbitrator. It made interesting reading.

Summary of Facts:
Patsy Bates, a hairdresser, had health insurance through another carrier when an agent approached her about saving some money. While she was busy cutting hair, the agent completed the Health Net Inc. application and she signed it. Mistake 2: For reasons that are not clear, the agent changed her weight listed and “he” initialed the change. Although it had an authorization to pull her medical history for underwriting purposes, Health Net chose not to do so and issued the policy. Ms. Bates canceled her old policy and everything should have been fine. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.

Instead of underwriting policies properly before issuance, Health Net had a program where employees investigated applications for possible rescission. Ms. Bates application was flagged after she had a health problem. Her policy was rescinded and she was stuck with $129,000 in costs from cancer treatments.

My Conclusions:
1. The agent could probably be prosecuted for violating California law by changing the application. Nevertheless, the evidence suggested he was guilty of a mistake and not an intentional attempt to defraud Health Net or Ms. Brady.
2. Health Net got what it deserved. Her weight was obviously changed on the application by the agent. If it was a big deal to Health Net, they had a legal obligation to investigate the issue BEFORE they issued the policy.

Despite Ms. Bates “win” in the arbitration, she wasn’t a winner. She was lucky California had a program to help her get the treatment she needed. Without it, she could have died. Please be sure to read any insurance application carefully (even if you don’t fill it out). Insurance companies take applications seriously and so should you. If the application has inaccurate information (even if you didn’t intend to lie), the insurance company may deny your claim and/or rescind/cancel your policy. If it is accurate, it is nearly impossible for them to rescind a policy, cancel the policy, or otherwise deny a valid claim.

Link:,0,187355.story (a link to the order is included at the site)