Don’t pay, no access

Received in the mail today a letter from the Secretary-Treasurer of my condo’s Board of Directors. The letter states in pertinent part:

For the past several months most R owners and residents have been enjoying access to our buildings with electronic key fobs. “Why haven’t we done this before!” was the reaction of many. The acquisition of amenities usually has a cost to them – as did key fob access – for the convenience and added safety they bring.

For the past several years, R has dealt with a serious financial handicap prompted by the state of the economy and the inability of some owners to handle the situation. Most did their best to correct the situation as quickly as possible. Others could not and some did not. Fortunately, the worst now appears to be behind us.

At its November 16, 2011, regular meeting the R Board of Directors unanimously approved a Resolution denying access by electronic key fob to 1) owners who have not come to an agreement with the Board on payment of delinquent condo fees, 2) renters of delinquent owners who are not paying their rent to R as permitted by the Bylaws and 3) renters of units who do not have an approved lease on file with the Management Office. Access by metal key at specific entries will continue to be available.

Whoa, I’m glad this doesn’t apply to me.

What’s great about living in a condo: no grass to mow, no snow to shovel, underground parking, 24 hour reception desk (and anything you order by mail is secured at the front desk), etc.

What’s not great about living at the condo: rules, rules, rules and other condo members who don’t pay their condo fees.

Well, the Association had thrown down the gauntlet. Wait and see if these provisions will have to be enforced.

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The Economy is finally turning positive?

Well Wall Street is excited about the high Black Friday sales. And the data is in on the Cyber Monday sales, up 33% over last year. And consumer confidence has seen the biggest increase in about 8 years, 15 point increase (btw, have you been asked questions about your confidence in the US economy? I haven’t. Who are these “consumers” speaking on our behalf?).

So things are looking good, well minus the housing market and the unemployment rate (maybe the rate will fall – report due this Friday). And, what’s going on in Europe is still sketchy.

I hope the momentum continues in the right direction. It would be nice, finally, to emerge from this long-suffering recession.

Hey Folks, it’s just stuff

We have all heard by now the reports of outbreaks of violence with the beginning of shopping on Black Friday. The most notorious is the pepper-spraying shopper at a Wal-Mart in California (guess she was inspired by police using pepper-spray against Occupy Wall Street protesters).

Have we not learned from the Wal Mart employee who was killed (2 or 3 years ago) when shoppers stormed a Wal Mart store as the employee opened the door for those Black Friday shoppers looking for bargains?

It is not worth it.

The retailers need to wake-up. You are attracting certain undesirable characters at these heavily discounted shopping events. In the short term, you may attract more customers to line up at midnight. But over the long term, more Americans will decline to be in a mob like setting and will opt to make purchases online or even pay full price.

Is that heavily discounted Wii so important that you will harm others? Crazy!

Why Isn’t Thanksgiving Day a two day holiday?

Think of all the fuss, all the travel, all the money spent.  So much effort goes into Thanksgiving Day, the most special, family oriented holiday here in the United States.  And, then we must return to work the following day.

When I was in the military, the day after Thanksgiving Day was Family Day and we were “off.”  What a wonderful concept! And, I’m fortunate, in my current position, the work site is closed after Thanksgiving Day.  It’s the way things SHOULD BE.

Who needs to celebrate Columbus Day?  I bet, if Americans were given an option – Columbus Day or the day after Thanksgiving Day off – I’m certain the VAST MAJORITY of Americans would vote for the latter.  It would be like in the United Kingdom, where they have Christmas and the day after Christmas (Boxing Day) off as national holidays.

And retailers would love the fact that Black Friday would be a national holiday.

So what do you think?

Meanwhile, have a Happy Thanksgiving.

Goodbye to Big Banks & Their Fees. Hello to Wal-Mart?

Read an interesting article today on NPR.org entitled Wal-Mart Lures Bank Customers Frustrated by Fees.  Apparently Wal-Mart offers a debit card called the “Money Card” with a flat monthly fee of $3.00 .  The article quotes a waitress named Lisa Barnes who claims she is saving money with the “Money Card” because overdrafting is not allowed.  “You can’t spend what you don’t have, so you can’t go over,” Barnes says.  “You [just] don’t get in trouble with it.”

With this “Money Card” one can make ATM withdrawals and direct deposits.

Of course, after reading the article, I read the comments.  Some good points were made.  The deal Wal-Mart offers with its “Money Card” is much better than the payday loan operations.  I’ll give Wal-Mart some credit if it drives those blood-sucking operations out of business.  One person expressed concern that the deposits with Wal-Mart are not secured with the FDIC, so if Wal-Mart’s banking goes belly up, these customers’ funds have no safety net.  Some questioned why an individual would select Wal-Mart over a local bank or credit union.  Here’s one reason as noted in the article: “Wal-Mart is open a lot longer than just about any bank I know of,” [Richard] Grant [of Lipscomb University] says.  “I guess the way to say it is Wal-Mart doesn’t have banker’s hours.”

Of course there were comments about eventual out-sourcing by Wal-Mart, or the  low wages Wal-Mart pays its employees or how Wal-Mart has driven out many mom & pop business.  Others stated they never have and never will set foot inside of a Wal-Mart because of its corporate practices.  But these comments don’t concern the heart of the story.  Wal-Mart is filling a void in banking services.

Hmmm, this indeed may be a smart move on the part of Wal-Mart.  The working poor can kill two birds with one stone:  shop and bank.  And Wal-Mart’s hours are convenient for the worker’s schedule, not the other way around.

But is this new program by Wal-Mart just a passing fad, in light of the negative American attitude toward Wall Street and the Big Banks and the attention Occupy Wall Street has galvanized?

Not according to Ben Jackson, who watches the debit card market (there is such a thing?) for Mercator Advisory Group.  “The banks lobbied very hard to prevent Wal-Mart from getting a bank charter and in a lot of ways I think . . . their worst fears came true in that Wal-Mart is still competing with them,” Jackson says.

Jackson estimates 2 million individuals presently  have the Wal-Mart “Money Card.”  Obviously, that’s just a tiny drop in the buck of the United States’ banking world.

But banks are doing their darndest to slap fees on their customers, in order to generate revenue, in order to stay in line or ahead of Wall Street quarterly estimates.  Banks are so keen about meeting or beating expectations.  These big banks want to show a profit anyway that they can and the big banks don’t care if they hurt their customers in the process.

Well, bank customers have had enough!  And big banks are driving some of those customers into the open arms of Wal-Mart.

Now, the question is, will Target toss its hat in the ring and attempt to go “toe-to-toe” with Wal-Mart by offering a debit card?

Yes, that’s a depost of $24

Had a dental appointment in late October.  Several days later I mailed forms seeking reimbursement for my out-of-pocket dental expenses – to my primary insurance plan (Blue Cross Blue Shield) and my dental plan (Aetna).

I received the reimbursement from BCBS first – $24.  Since I detest debt, I decided the best use of that $24 is to apply it to my 2nd trust.

So, I endorsed the back of the check, filled out the deposit slip form, including writing the words “principal payment only” next to this loan account.

Despite taking these steps, the bank teller asked me, do you want to deposit this $24?  YES.  And I said, as a principal payment only as written on the deposit slip. 

Maybe he thought, why bother, it’s just $24.   He doesn’t know The Money Heifer.  For a year I made principal payments of $2.21 on the 2nd trust.  This year the principal payments were $9.82 monthly.  And starting in December, I’ll be making, I believe, an even higher monthly principal payment. 

When I arrived home this evening, in the mail, was my reimbursement check from Aetna of $146.  Between the two insurance companies, $170 of $180 out-of-pocket dental expenses were reimbursed.  Not bad.

And, tomorrow morning, another principal payment on the 2nd trust.  This one will be large enough that the teller won’t question it.

Hey, thanks, Vanguard

I received the following letter from The Vanguard Group last Friday.  The first three paragraphs are quoted below.

As the only client-owned mutual fund company, we’re always looking for ways to pass cost savings on to you.  That’s why I’m pleased to let you know that one or more of your Vanguard funds now qualify to be promoted to Admiral Shares, a separate, lower-cost share class of your existing funds.  These lower-cost shares are available exclusively to investors who hold a minimum of $10,000 in certain broad-market index funds, $50,000 in certain actively managed funds, or $100,000 in certain sector index funds.  Nearly 75 funds now offer Admiral Shares, including six stock index funds that just added Admiral Shares in September.

Your savings from Admiral Shares could really add up

By switching from Investor Shares to Admiral Shares, you’ll remain invested in the same funds you’re in now, but you’ll enjoy much lower expense ratios, leaving you more money to invest-an advantage that can compound over time.  Note that promotions from Investor Shares to Admiral Shares of the same fund are tax-free.

For example, if you invest $50,000 in a fund’s Admiral Shares with a 0.07% expense ratio instead of its Investor Shares, with a 0.18% expense ratio, you could save approximately $1,200 more in your account over a ten-year period, assuming an average annual return of 8%.  (This hypothetical example doesn’t represent any particular investment.  Actual savings for your specific funds may be higher or lower.)

Boy, that’s sweet!  And I don’t have to do anything.  Vanguard will automatically transfer my funds from Investor Shares to Admiral Shares and the expenses charged will be a rock bottom 0.07% (hey, that’s the rock bottom rate of savings at a lot of banks – and that sucks!). 

 I selected Vanguard years ago thanks to Eric Tyson’s Personal Finance for Dummies and Bob Brinker’s Money Talk (radio program).  One of the wisest financial decisions I have ever made.  And that decision continues to pay dividends.

If you are looking for a mutual fund company to invest with, consider Vanguard.

Looking for a new tenant

My tenant informed me last week that he will be vacating the unit in early January. Bummer 😦

He has been a great tenant – pays the rent on time & promptly notifies me of any maintenance requests. He’s been renting my condo for two years. His job is taking him to Europe (boy, am I jealous).

Now the search begins for a new tenant, in this sluggish economy. Do I raise the rent? I checked for comparable units and decided to raise the rent $100.

When I began renting my condo back in 2005, I did “everything” – clean the condo, advertise the condo for rent (through Craigs list & local newspapers) and host “open house.”

Now, I can turn over the task a finding prospective tenants to Urban igloo. Some landlords may find the cost of Urban igloo’s full service too pricey – one month’s rent, but it is worth it to me (plus that’s a deductible expense).

Just hope I’m fortunate enough to find another great tenant.

$10,000 in 2012; $2,500 in 2013

These are the maximum limits to help defray medical expenses in the Health Care Reimbursement Account (HCRA). Received an e-mail today from HR reminding employees about the annual enrollment period.

I discontinued participation with the HCRA two years ago. But now I’m reconsidering.

Pre-tax dollars you can set aside for medical expenses and then seek reimbursement for expenses not covered by insurance. A friend of mine calls the reimbursements “free money” which she spends as she pleases.

Received a check today for $24 from BCBS for my dental examination & cleaning. A paltry sum indeed. Hopefully Aetna will reimburse the balance ($156).

Dental is covered with Aetna, but those out-of-pocket expenses for contact lenses and glasses – they take a big bite out of my disposable income.

Hmmm, I’ve just convinced myself to enroll in the HCRA.

Free flu shot

One of the benefits of my job is the annual flu shot (of course, a benefit for the employer too). We don’t have a nurse on site at my job, but a wellness nurse comes to the site at least quarterly.

Well, for the 1st time in 10 years, I missed the annual flu shot at my job because I was on vacation. So I had to travel to another government agency to obtain the flu shot. I’m not complaining. Well worth the effort. The Money Heifer is a happy camper if she avoids getting the flu!

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