A fee is a tax

During the primary election cycle here in the District of Columbia, supporters of the incumbent state that he has kept his promise and not raised taxes.

Well, if you dip into the City’s rainy day fund, reducing it by half, that is not a reassuring move. But, those proponents are correct, no taxes raised.

However if one increases fees – for parking, for licenses, etc., it may not be called a tax, but it has the same effect.

Anytime I have to pull more money out of my pocket, whether due to an increase in the sales tax or an increase fee in registering a vehicle, IT IS A TAX INCREASE.

Hey, politicians, you can fool some people part of the time, but in a recession, ANY increase is noticeable.


Curb appeal

Besides the phrase, “location, location, location” another popular phrase in the real estate industry is “curb appeal.”

I purchased my house in 2005. There was a problem with the curb in front of the house. I called the DC Department of Transportation and even the office of my Ward representative. I called again in 2006, made an online request in 2007, called in 2008, 2009 & twice so far in 2010.

I’ve requested that the curb be repaired. So far, nothing.

Yesterday morning I e-mailed my Ward representative who responded. He contacted the director of DDOT. Last night I e-mailed copies of photos I’ve taken.

The director’s assessment: it’s a curb abrasion, not a curb repair request.

The director noted the severity of the damage, though he opined it appears more cosmetic. The director noted this cosmetic damage took a backseat to other critical repairs.

Maybe it’s just me but if you repair something EARLY enough, the damage doesn’t become so severe and you will SPEND LESS.

Who wants to buy a home in the District of Columbia with such curb appeal?

Funds restored!

On Thursday I posted that my debit card had been comprised, that I had noticed two small w/drawals totaling $19.88 & the USAA rep told me it would take 3 to 5 days before my account would be reimbursed.

Well I checked my account on Saturday. The balance in the checking account is back to over $1,000. Yes!!

Lesson learned – it’s important to check your bank account regularly to ensure there are no authorized transaction.

2nd lesson learned – say NO to debit cards. Why shoulder the risk of someone stealing your money? It’s smarter to have a credit card bear the risk (those companies have more resources & legal counsel to consult).

3rd lesson learned – if you prefer a debit card over a credit card, make sure the debit card is not linked to your main checking account (where your pay is deposited, where your mortgage payment is debited monthly). Luckily this debit card was not linked to my main checking account.

For the 2nd day in a row – an unsolicited gift

A charitable organization strikes again.

I’ve attached a photo of another gift a charity has sent me. I didn’t see this package until 20 minutes ago. Because of the heavy rain today, I entered my house from the rear instead of the front. When I entered the house I saw mail partially hanging through the mail slot. I grabbed the mail and went about my business.

In preparing to shut down for the night, I opened the front door in order to lock the screen door. I noticed this latest gift just inside the screen door.

Makes you wonder, how much of your charitable money is spent on gimmicks such as unsolicited gifts?

I won’t feel guilty or obligated to donate to this charity. Instead I’ll return this gift to sender.

Debit Card Compromised!

I haven’t used my USAA debit card in months, probably since late January or early February.   I have used my USAA credit card recently.  On Friday I reserved a room at a hotel for an upcoming wedding.  Today I used my credit card for two transactions:  Dell and a local museum.

This evening I was exploring various websites,  including checking my e-mail accounts and my credit union account.  I was ready to log onto Facebook when the cursor hung, literally, over the url for USAA (thank you financial goddess).  I decided to check this account.  I wondered how quickly the credit card transaction from Dell would appear.

There were no charges for the credit card.  However I noticed the balance for my checking account was below $1,000.  Last time I checked the balance was about $1,008.  I had not used my debit card recently or transferred any funds from this account.  I decided to review “recent activity.”

To my dismay there were two, small debits  from my checking account that were listed as pending:  $10.00 debit to T Bone Ranch Inc.  on August 17, 2010 and a $9.88 debit to 365Megavolt.com on August 18, 2010.  I didn’t recognize either vendor.  I suspected fraud.

I recall, from reading articles in the newspaper and personal finance magazines, that thieves will start off by making small charges or debits to the stolen card, hoping the real card holder will not notice these transactions.  If the charges/debits go unnoticed, the crooks will charge even larger sums.

I  proceeded to call USAA.  I ultimately spoke to a representative who confirmed my debit card had been compromised.  She canceled the card.  She told me my $19.88 will be refunded within 3 to 5 business days.

I then told the representative that I did not want a new debit card.  This was the second time my debit card had been compromised.  The first time, the compromise was unbeknownst to me.  No money was debited from my checking account.  USAA had discovered a number of its clients’ debit cards had been compromised and in turn issued new debit cards. 

I obtained my debit card and credit card from USAA at the same time.  I have not had any problems with the credit card (knock on wood),  but the debit card has been compromised twice.  I refuse to be a victim again.

This experience has made me sour on debit cards.  I don’t want to bear the risk of someone “cleaning out” my checking account.   I thus am no longer persuaded that debit is smarter to use that credit.  Dave Ramsey can continue preaching about the value of a debit card.  After this experience, I think it’s smarter to use cash or credit only!

Loose change

Typically I will stoop to pick up loose change even pennies.

But not today.

It rained so hard this morning – harder than raining like cats & dogs.

Maybe because of the weather, maybe because I was lugging a huge umbrella besides my purse & bag as I took public transportation, I walked by several coins, without regret.

There will be other, drier opportunities. 🙂

Another unsolicited gift

When I arrived home this evening, my screen door was ajar due to an oversized envelope. Great, another unsolicited gift from a charity I never heard of.

No this gift won’t persuade me to make a donation. Will take to post office & request package be returned to sender.

These unsolicited gifts are junk mail to me.

Don’t let your mortgage LINGER this LONG

I spoke with an acquaintance yesterday who resides at the condominium where I own a unit.  She relayed to me that she knows of at least three residents who have taken out reverse mortgages.

A reverse mortgage may be a viable option under certain circumstances.  I understand the fees for such mortgages can be high.

My acquaintance told me that one of the individuals who recently obtained a reverse mortgage, in order to pay for $1,200/ month condominium fee, has an existing mortgage on the condo.  This individual is 80 years old.

I don’t have all the facts, but this 80-year-old individual apparently has sufficient equity in her home to obtain a reverse mortgage.  This 80-year-old is a widow, with no children, and no siblings, so electing to get a reverse mortgage may be a smart move on her part.

But to still be paying a mortgage at age 80?  Heaven forbid.  If I’m fortunate to live that long, I hope I would have paid off my mortgages before I retire (my goal is to pay off my mortgages by age 55).

Life as a retiree would definitely be less stressful, if as a homeowner, you don’t have a mortgage (and thus mortgage payments) still dangling from your neck.

Free movie

Attending the premiere night of the 14th annual outdoor film festival. Tonight’s movie- The Blind Side.

There are ways to have fun or go on an outing without spending money (or spending very little).

Reduce the Federal communter benefit

I read with interest an article in the Monday, August 9, 2010 edition of The Washington Post, in the Metro section, entitled Equity of Metro fare hike disputed: Some pay out of pocket, but many get employer benefit that offsets cost.  The article is written by Ann Scott Tyson and appears on pages B1 and B4.

Here’s some background information about the fare hikes and the federal commuter benefit.

Public comment solicited by Metro before the increase suggested that many riders preferred to pay more in fares rather than face service cutbacks.  But as Metro data show, a significant percentage of Metro riders weren’t bearing the brunt of the fare increase.

According to Metro, more than 120,000 federal employees ride Metro to work daily, and federal workers make up 40 percent of peak ridership.

*                                                      *                                                              *

Federal employees are entitled by law to up to $230 a month in public transit subsidies for getting to and from work.  With the fare increase, federal employees will be claiming more of that benefit, indirectly increasing federal funding for Metro’s operating budget, as opposed to its capital needs.

The commuter benefit, which allows employers to provide workers with a tax-free or pre-tax transit benefit, was increased from $120 to $230 a month in March 2009 as part of the Obama administration’s economic stimulus legislation, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

*                                                      *                                                                 *

That benefit will revert to $120 a month Dec. 31 unless Congress acts to extend it, reducing the maximum tax-free benefit available  to all employers and reimbursement offered to federal workers.

Metro and transit advocacy groups are lobbying to have the higher benefit continued out of concern that cutting it could push some commuters back onto the roads.  A study in the Journal of Public Transportation this year found that transit benefits have succeeded in mitigating traffic over the past 30 years.

page B4

I’m a federal worker.  I received a transit subsidy (though when I first began taking public transportation to my job in March 2008, I was unaware of the subsidy).  I was surprised when the maximum amount of the transit subsidy increased from $120 to $230/month.  Frankly, how is this stimulating the economy, by giving federal workers a larger transit subsidy?

Unlike the private sector or even some state or local governments, federal employees have not had to deal with cut in wages, cut in hours or furloughs.  Despite the ongoing Great Recession, federal employees have received cost of living increases and there’s a proposed increase for the following year (yes, really, despite the Great Recession!).

The economy is not recovering as the Obama administration had hoped.  And the government cannot continue to spend like drunken sailors. Secretary Robert Gates has already announced cuts in defense spending over the next three years.  The federal deficit NEEDS to be REDUCED.

Based on today’s fragile economic circumstances, the Federal commuter  benefit should be REDUCED to its original maximum amount of $120. Cutting this benefit is a no brainer!

« Older entries