Only the United States Postal Service

Today I received in the mail an envelope with a “return to sender” imprinted on the face of the envelope.  The envelope was returned to me because I guess I forgot to affix a stamp (or the stamp fell off).  Looking at the preprinted envelope (with an address for a local church), I wondered, when did I mail this?  I couldn’t recall sending anything to this particular church recently.

When I opened up the envelope, I couldn’t believe my eyes.  Enclosed was a check I had written.  The check is dated 4 NOVEMBER 2010.  Today’s date is 28 FEBRUARY 2011.  The Church is located in Washington, DC and I live in Washington, DC.

Hello, United States Postal Service .  Why did it take ALMOST FOUR MONTHS to return this envelope? Absolutely bewildering!!


Automatic Millionaire Plan implemented!

It was a challenge getting the allotments established but as of last Friday, everything is in order. Ten percent of my pay deducted for TSP, federal government version of the 401k. $100/pay period for my Vanguard Roth IRA. $106.20/pay period for the 2012 furlough fund (at the rate Congress is moving, there will be a shut down of the federal government this March). $50/pay period to reestablish “Baby Step 1” under Dave Ramsey’s plan. $50/pay period to reestablish $1,000 for auto insurance deductible (I’m responsible for expenses up to $1,000). Although not formally part of this series of allotments, I also set aside $100/pay period for car maintenance.

And come late April I’ll set aside $100/pay period for the “new family member” fund (need to purchase supplies for my vegetable garden, hence the delay).

As you can tell, I live on a rather strict budget. But to achieve my goals, I must make some sacrifices.

Implementing the automatic millionaire plan is easy. Once you establish your plan, you don’t have to think about it. Now that’s a personal finance plan anyone can do!

Follow-up: not trusting the Office of Tax & Revenue’s numbers

This morning I visited the District of Columbia’s Office of Tax & Revenue. I wanted to find out why the website states I owe $700.19 for the 1st half of 2010 for my condo DESPITE the tax bill stating the amount owed for the 1st half of 2010 was $840.10, which the credit union paid and which the Office of Tax & Revenue acknowledged receiving.

I showed the employee a printout from the website stating I owe $700.19 as of January 30, 2011 for the 1st half of 2010. She looked at her computer screen, after entering information about the property, and stated that’s the amount owed for the 1st half of 2011.

I then noted that the website indicates $700.19 is owed for the 1st half of 2010, not 2011. She told me there’s an error with the software.

The employee told me the tax bill will be mailed on or about March 1st and the amount owed will be $700.91.

I’m happy this matter has been resolved to my satisfaction.

I have a tip to share for a recently paid off mortgage.

Make sure you save a copy (paper or digital) of the previous year’s payment of property taxes. In case there is some discrepancy, you can demonstrate to your local government agency that the property tax was paid.

I attempted to retrieve proof of payment from my credit union’s website. However, because I paid off the mortgage last October, the account information was no longer accessible.

I thus had to call the credit union yesterday. Still unclear to me why the credit union could not retrieve proof of payment for the 1st half of 2010 from its own database. Instead the credit union faxed to me information from the Office of Tax & Revenue’s website. The database the credit union accessed showed no balance for the 1st half of 2010. Good news but contrary to information I obtained from the website.

But now I understand why there was a discrepancy. And now I know the amount of taxes due March 31st, the reason why I logged onto the Office of Tax & Revenue’s website three days ago.

Nickeled & Dimed by Dell

The saga with my new computer, Dell Inspiron 560, continues.

Since I last posted about my “new” computer, problems with downloading are still unresolved. I spoke with the DSL carrier, Verizon. A speed test was conducted. Normal. Some other tests were conducted. Then the Verizon agent asked me for the model number for my modem. When I relayed that information, the Verizon agent remarked, “that’s one of our oldest model.” Verizon sent me a new modem.

But that didn’t solve the download problem. Back to square one.

My brother-in-law though it was the Linksys wireless card. He removed it from the computer. The download problem persists.

Meanwhile my brother-in-law couldn’t get the printer operating. The Dell V505 is compatible with older operating systems but not with Windows 7. My brother-in-law told me to call Dell. I made the call yesterday.

When I called and spoke with a Dell technician and asked for the “patch” or “update” so my V505 printer would communicate with the new Windows 7 operating system, the Dell technician commented, you don’t appear to have the warranty for software. The what? I said I believe the computer came with a year’s warranty. The Dell technician told me the warranty is for the hardware only, not the software. Apparently, to get that update or patch for the Windows 7 operating system, I would need a Dell technical specialist to handle the request. That service can be provided with a one year’s warranty for software at a price of $249.00. I began seeing RED.

Hmmm, why would I pay $249.00 for one year warranty on software? It’s cheaper to buy a new printer that’s compatible with Windows 7.

During the conversation I had explained to the Dell technician that I continued to have problems downloading Java and McAfee. He told me by purchasing the software warranty, a Dell technical specialist could assist me with problems related to Dell software. Well, Java and McAfee aren’t Dell software. The Dell technician became a little too pushy so I told him I would not make ANY decisions about purchasing the software warranty without consulting someone. The Dell technician was willing to wait on hold.

Long story short, I spoke with my brother-in-law, then conferenced him into conversation with Dell technician. My brother-in-law asked all the technical questions and was pretty dissatisfied that Dell would not provide the patch or update without me purchasing the $249.00 software warranty. I ended the call with the Dell technician.

But I still needed a printer. I checked Dell’s website for a printer and then called the sales department. I explained to the Dell sales rep that no one told me my V505 is not compatible with Windows 7 (I purchased the V505 less than two years ago). The Dell sales rep apologized saying that person should have so notified me.

Can’t do anything about that now. I was forced to get a new printer. And I asked the Dell sales rep for a discount since I now had to purchase a printer compatible with my new computer. She had to speak with a supervisor. I was given a $5 discount (there was already an instant discount of $20). The total cost for the new printer, just under $59.00

The Dell sales rep had the audacity to ask me if I wanted a warranty for the printer. I responded, Windows 7 is a new operating system. How long do you think it will be around before there’s a replacement? She responded, in about three years. I then stated, no use in getting a warranty for a printer that, in essence, will be obsolete in 3 years.

I am SO DISSATISFIED with my recent experiences with Dell, I refuse to buy ANYTHING else from Dell (just ink cartridges which I’ll buy at Staples).  My next computer will be a Mac!!

Can an “address” to recently freed slaves have meaning today?

On July 1, 1865 the Head Quarters Assistant Commissioner of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands for the Commonwealth of Virginia addressed the freedmen of Virginia. The text of this address states in pertinent part:

Having been appointed Assistant Commissioner in the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands for the State of Virginia, it becomes my duty to look after all matters that pertain to your welfare, to endeavor to teach you how to use that freedom you have so earnestly desired, and to prevent the abuse of it by yourselves or others.

The difference between your former and your present condition is this: formerly your labor was directed and the proceeds of it taken by your masters, and you were cared for by them, now you are to direct and receive the proceeds of your own labor and care for yourselves.

Can you do this is the question you must now answer to the world. Your friends believe you can and will. The Government and charity will aid you, but this assistance will be of little advantage unless you help yourselves. To do this you must be industrious and frugal. You have now every inducement to work, as you are to receive the payment for your labor, and you have every inducement to save your wages, as your rights in what you possess will be protected. You have now no master to provide for you in sickness and old age, hence you must see the necessity of saving your wage while you are able to work for this purpose.

Frugal, industrious, save your wages (prior to the Great Recession, many Americans had forgotten these values).

During February, Black History Month, are these values taught? Economic independence, self-sufficiency, not relying heavily on the government or charity. These concepts should be a fundamental part of celebrating Black History Month. More importantly, these concepts should be taught to children and teenagers on a regularly basis, not just during the month of February.

I guess certain elected officials have forgotten: there’s still a recession and also the city has a deficit

Sometime last year I discussed on this blog how I would not vote for a certain politician (Kwame Brown) running for office in the District of Columbia because of his poorly managed personal finances (among other things, three credit card companies had sued him). When I voted in the primary & the general election, he did not get my vote.

Yesterday I received an e-mail from the Executive Chair of the DC Republican Committee entitled “The ‘Fully Loaded’ Democrats Just Don’t Get It.” The e-mail referred to an article in The Washington Post about the Council Chair and the Mayor leasing vehicles at taxpayers’ expense. I stopped subscribing to The Washington Post several months ago. Today my mother gave me the article (on her own volition because she too was disgusted by what she read).

The article is written by Mike DeBonis, appearing on the front page (A1) of the Sunday, February 20, 2011 edition. Following is an excerpt from the article.

Several weeks after Kwame R. Brown was elected D.C. Council chairman in November, city officials were asked to order for him a “fully loaded” Lincoln Navigator L with DVD entertainment system, power moonroof and polished aluminum wheels.

It had to be black – all black, inside and out – and it had to arrive in time for his inauguration Jan. 2, never mind the District’s projected $400 million budget shortfall.

Later, when he was asked on television why taxpayers should foot the $1,900-a-month lease payments, Brown (D) said he had merely requested a black sport-utility vehicle and was driving the vehicle that the District had procured for him.

E-mails written by members of his staff and city officials – and obtained by The Washington Post through the Freedom of Information Act – tell a different story, beginning with a Department of Public Works solicitation in November for a 2011 Lincoln Navigator L series, an extended wheelbase version of the Navigator. The e-mail specified “Fully Loaded Required” and indicated that the vehicle was being sought at Brown’s request.

Paul D. Craney, executive director of the D.C. Republican Committee, asked why Brown is leasing a luxury vehicle when the city is under serious financial pressure.

“It shows his set of priorities, and it’s totally ridiculous to anyone who pays D.C. taxes when they hear this type of story,” Craney said of Brown.

Brown said last week in an interview that he had asked only for a “black-on-black SUV” and regrets the whole affair. “If I had known that this truck was $1,900 a month, I would have never, ever, ever had accepted it,” he said.

As it happened, the District was stuck paying for two Lincoln Navigator L’s after the first arrived with a gray interior and Brown insisted on the black-on-black color scheme, touching off a scramble for the model he wanted. A car dealer ended up driving Brown’s Lincoln from Coldwater, Mich., to the District on Dec. 29 – for an additional $1,500. The District cannot return the one with the gray interior until October.

Why black-on-black? Vehicles with dark interiors, Brown said, tend to hold their value better.

What an OUTRAGE!!! Why do some politicians believe they are kings or millionaires upon entering public office and expect to get whatever they want at the snap of their fingers? Politicians are PUBLIC SERVANTS (they work FOR the taxpayers) and are paid by the taxpayers.

My suggestion – instead of taxpayers paying for the 2nd car (with the gray interior) that Brown did not want, the District government should deduct the $1,785/month lease from Brown’s paycheck.

If Brown wants a life of luxury, GO TO THE PRIVATE SECTOR. Come up with a great idea such as Facebook, YouTube or Twitter. Then, Brown, you can have all the “toys” you want because YOU can afford it.

You can’t trust the Office of Tax & Revenue’s Numbers

It was just three years ago (I believe) when it was revealed that the District of Columbia’s Office of Tax & Revenue lost between $50 – $60 million over more than a 5 year period due to a handful of employees stealing money. What a huge scandal! And I, as a taxpayer in the District of Columbia, was outraged.

I’m even more outraged about something I discovered today.

I decided to check the Real Property Tax Assessment Database for projected taxes I would have to pay on my condo and my parking space by March 31, 2011. When I entered the square and the lot numbers for the condo unit, the records of the Office of Tax & Revenue stated I owed $700.19. Now, that’s odd. I then entered the square and the lot numbers for the condo’s parking space. I didn’t owe any money. Then I checked the property tax information for my house. I am current and owe no money.

Now, all three properties taxes were paid by my credit union. Before checking my account with the credit union, I sought further details about the condo’s unpaid property taxes. The Office of Tax & Revenue’s records indicate that property taxes in the amount of $840.10 was paid on or about March 31, 2010 with an unpaid balance of $700.19. These figures concern the 1st half of 2010. For the second half of 2010, the property taxes totaled $936.10 which was paid, leaving a zero balance. So, in short, the Office of Tax & Revenue’s records state I paid all taxes owed for the 2nd half of 2010 but only part of the taxes for the 1st half of 2010.

What caught my attention was the huge difference in taxes owed: $1,540.20 for the 1st half of 2010 but only $936.10 for the 2nd half of 2010. And, let me make clear, I had no unpaid taxes from previous years which carried over to the 1st half of 2010. My next step to resolve this issue was to retrieve the Real Property Tax Bill issued by the Office of Tax & Revenue.

Upon reviewing the Real Property Tax Bill for the 1st half of 2010, the amount owed by March 31, 2010 was $840.10. That’s the TOTAL AMOUNT OWED. And that was the amount the credit union paid on my behalf. So where did the phantom $700.19 come from? I don’t know. It’s very suspicious.

Based on previous encounters with the District of Columbia government, I decided to log onto my credit union’s website for proof that the credit union paid the taxes as invoiced by the Office of Tax & Revenue. But, I realized I couldn’t retrieve the information because I paid off the mortgage and the account no longer exists. Darn it! Will have to call the credit union on Tuesday.

I plan to visit the Office of Tax & Revenue in person Wednesday morning. I plan to take with me a copy of the Real Property Tax Bill showing the amount owed for the 1st half of 2010 was $840.10, not $1,540.29. I want an explanation about the phantom $700.19. This must be done in person because I don’t TRUST the Office of Tax & Revenue. I want this matter resolved promptly. I can be much more persuasive in person versus speaking to someone over the phone.

But there is a fundamental problem here. How DARE the Office of Tax & Revenue slap an outstanding tax balance on my property! The tax bill, as assessed, was paid. What if I had not happened to look at the website today? I may have received a real property tax bill for the 1st half of 2011 with a much higher amount owed, maybe with accrued interest.

The District of Columbia government is QUICK to sell properties (including mortgage free properties) for unpaid property taxes. I worked HARD to pay off my condo and now the District of Columbia is playing games. Well, that agency has picked on the wrong woman.

To protect my property rights in the future, I will log onto the Office of Tax & Revenue’s Real Property Tax Assessment Database once a month to ensure the government hasn’t slapped any additional phantom tax on my properties.

I definitely don’t trust the Office of Tax & Revenue. The agency was clueless about its employees robbing the agency (& in turn District of Columbia’s taxpayers) blind. And now I’ve discovered a major discrepancy with my tax bill. You can’t trust ANY numbers from the Office of Tax & Revenue.

Maintainig present car & saving for its replacement

Good friend and I exchanged e-mails the other day. She is on track to pay off her credit cards by the end of March. She will then be debt free (she rents her housing).

But what concerns her is her 15 year old Honda Civic. The time to replace the vehicle is definitely on the horizon. Don’t believe she’s looking for a new car but instead a good used car.

But presently she has to pay periodically to maintain her 15 year old Honda Civic. And simultaneously how will she fund the purchase of the replacement vehicle? It’s difficult to do both, especially when one should be contributing to a retirement account, have an emergency fund, establish a college fund for one’s child/ren.

Taking public transportation is not available in all areas of the country. Thus having a car is definitely a necessity for some.

So how does one set aside money to cover maintenance of present car but also set aside sufficient money to pay for car with cash? It’s really tough! That’s why some people truly believe they will always have a car payment.

Why I would not buy or lease a Mini Cooper

Three words: requires premium gasoline.

The Mini Cooper is stylish, compact (great for parking on packed city streets) and provides sufficient storage space. My sister is leasing a Mini Cooper.

But being forced to buy premium gasoline every time I have to fill the tank? Sorry, not worth it.

100% Reimbursement

In December a tooth felt weird, there was some discomfort, so I saw my dentist. The visit cost $70.00. In January I filed my claim seeking reimbursement from BlueCross BlueShield (my primary insurer) and Aetna Dental (my secondary insurer).

Last Thursday I received two checks from BlueCross BlueShield – $9.00 and $5.00 (curious – why did BlueCross BlueShield issue two checks rather than one checking totaling $14.00?). On Saturday I received a $56.00 check from Aetna Dental. A rare 100% reimbursement!

I love to celebrate the rare occasion when I am reimbursed 100% for medical or dental expenses (come to think of it, I’ve never been reimbursed 100% for medical, only dental). And, I have put that $70.00 to good use. Yesterday I visited the credit union and made a $70.00 principal payment on a mortgage. A reason to smile 🙂

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