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How To Complain and Win

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It has happened to all of us. A product breaks and the manufacturer won’t honor the warranty. That big rebate on your new computer is weeks overdue. Your cable TV services has you yelling “Comcast: It’s CRAP-tastic”. And so begins your descent into customer service hell.

A lot of times, the difference between getting excuses and getting want you want is knowing how to complain effectively. MSN Money has outlined some great complaining tips in this article. The basics themes are to know your rights and what you want the company to do, be concise in explaining your problem, and don’t be a jerk about it. They also had a great tip about getting a headset so you aren’t tethered to a phone for the three hours Dell is certain to put you on hold.

The article also mentions keeping notes of your conversations, including names and dates. Their reason is to impress the next rep you talk to, but the better reason is to have a record should you need to escalate your complaint and to let whoever you are dealing with know you are thorough and won’t let the issue die until it is resolved.

I actually prefer written communication to phone calls, but for those instances where you need to talk to a live person these tips should be quite useful.

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August 31, 2007 Posted by | Customer Service, Tips | 1 Comment

$175 in free money from Chase

Close Encounters of the Cheap Kind has a new home at www.CheapEncounters.com!

Free is good. Free money is even better! Starting 9/1/2007, you can earn a total of $175 in free money from Chase.

$125 for opening a free Chase checking account (with direct deposit)

You can use the codes 2971704722166780 or 2971704722166760 either online or in-branch for a $100 bonus when opening a free checking account with a minimum $100 deposit. The codes are valid 9/1 through 11/30/2007. Additionally, use the bonus code 3032712013319022 for an additional $25 bonus. Also, according to the folks at FatWallet if you deposit at least $500 in the account you get 2 free US Open tickets. Make sure you request a Visa check card to take advantage of…

$50 bonus when you make $500 in purchases on your Visa Check card

Simply make $500 in purchases on your Chase Visa Check card between 8/1 and 10/15/2007 and get a $50 bonus. To qualify, the purchases must not be PIN-based and you must register here. As an FYI, any purchases you make during the promotional period count towards your $500 target, regardless of when during the promotion you register. You should be able to take advantage of this on new accounts or existing accounts, as long as you have a Visa check card.

A few points to remember:

  • To avoid fees on the account, you must have “direct deposit”. If you can’t do direct deposit through your employer, usually just initiating a transfer from another account (ING, Emigrant Direct, etc.) or even initiating a transfer through PayPal will be good enough to avoid the fee.
  • You must keep the account open at least 6 months, or they will deduct the account opening bonus at closing.
  • The bonus payments are reported as interest income on the Form 1099-INT at the end of the year, so remember you’ll have to give the blood-sucking IRS their share.

August 29, 2007 Posted by | Deals | Leave a comment

Shelter from the Mortgage Storm? Try Your Credit Union

Close Encounters of the Cheap Kind has a new home at www.CheapEncounters.com!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few weeks, you are probably very aware by now of the issues around mortgage lending. If not, go take a look at your brokerage account and try to come up with another explanation the balance number is so much lower than it was before. As painful as it is for those of us who are investors, it is probably even worse for those who are trying to get a mortgage in this hostile environment.

So what’s a buyer to do to take shelter from this mortgage storm? Apparently, the answer is to head down to the credit union. According to this Marketwatch article, borrowers are turning to credit unions to get mortgage loans after encountering difficulties borrowing from banks and other lenders. Why? Because most credit unions hold their mortgage loans in their own portfolios rather than trying to sell them in the secondary market. That means they don’t really have to care if they can resell the loan or if it meets investment grade standards.

Although it may vary, credit unions often provide better loan rates and deposit products with fewer fees since they are non-profit organizations. There are disadvantages, but for savvy consumers credit unions are typically great places to do business. And membership restrictions have loosened at many credit unions in the last several years, meaning it is easier than ever to qualify for membership. Check out the Credit Union locator for a credit union in your area.

August 28, 2007 Posted by | Debt, Home Ownership | Leave a comment

“Flip That House”?

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In preparation for the upcoming football season, our family has finally hooked up service through Dish Network. We no longer have to crash a friend’s house to watch football games on ESPN! Anyway, unfortunately there isn’t a live football game on 24/7, so we flipped channels and found a show called “Flip That House” on HGTV.

It was definitely an interesting show. As you can guess, the show follows a real estate investor as they buy a crappy house and fix it up to sell at a profit. It is really cool to see the work they do on these crappy houses, but I worry this is giving people the impression this is a sure-fire way to make a quick profit. I found it interesting that on a couple of these episodes they never said what the home actually sold for (if it even sold), just what they listed the house for.

Also, all of the episodes we saw were in Southern California, where the property values are way inflated anyway. In most of the rest of the country, I don’t know that you would be able to put $50,000 into a house and still make a profit since the values are relatively low.

August 27, 2007 Posted by | Real Estate | Leave a comment

How to handle a financial windfall

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How often to do hear about the poor sucker who was just scraping by, wins the lottery, and a few years later is right back to the same financial position he was in before (if not worse) due to poor decisions? As someone with a background in accounting and finance, it is the story that really makes me bang my head against the wall and ask the question “Why?”.

Thankfully, this is not one of those stories – in fact, it is just the opposite. In the August 27 issue of The Sporting News, columnist Steve Greenberg writes about Philip Ozersky. Although you may not know his name, you would certainly know the source of his good fortune. On September 27, 1998, Ozersky caught Mark McGwire’s 70th home run ball, and 15 weeks later sold it at auction for a cool $3 million.

So did Ozersky go out and spend all the money on fast cars and other frivolous items? Nope! According to the article, his big expenditures from his windfall were:

  • A new house, across the street from his sister.
  • A vacation home in Florida. The two bedroom villa is mainly for use of his father who had a debilitating stroke years ago and likes to escape the Midwestern cold five months a year.
  • Frequent trips to Arizona to visit the in-laws.
  • Season tickets to the Rams and Cardinals.
  • About $250,000 in charitable donation.

No new fancy cars, women with plastic parts, drugs, or the other typical trappings of the “lucky” recipients of a large windfall. He still works at his old job in genetic research and drives the same 1994 Ford Probe he bought after he graduated from college.

It is nice to see good things happen to people with enough sense to make the most of it, even if he is a dirty Cardinals fan! GO CUBS! =)

August 26, 2007 Posted by | Basics | Leave a comment

Every Year, Everything You Buy Costs More

Close Encounters of the Cheap Kind has a new home at www.CheapEncounters.com!

As anyone who knows me well can attest, I read a lot of magazines. My wife doesn’t hesitate to tell me quite often that my magazines are “out of control”. I get a lot of them, but don’t have much time to read unless I am traveling. Well, I found an article I liked so much when I was traveling a few months back that I ripped it out, folded it up, and put it in my pocket with a bunch of receipts. This made for a nice little surprise as I was going through a pile of receipts this weekend.

The article is from the May 2007 issue of Financial Advisor magazine. In the article, Nick Murray summarizes the baby boomers’ lives in seven words: “Every year, everything you buy costs more.” Murray uses the simple example of the postage stamp, which as recently as 1980 cost 15 cents but now costs 41 cents, almost triple. After going through a few other examples, he ends the article by exclaiming three great truths:

  1. “Longevity risk is synonymous with purchasing power risk.”
  2. “The great risk of modern retirement isn’t losing one’s money, it’s outliving it.”
  3. “Every year, everything you buy costs more.”

Murray also astutely points out that the risk of principal loss over the long term is entirely overblown, citing that in the 188 rolling 30 year periods since Hamilton became the first US Treasury secretary, equities have had a negative return in exactly ZERO of those periods. Certainly food for thought.

His writings and materials are aimed at financial advisors and professionals, but you can read more of his writings at www.NickMurrayInteractive.com.

August 25, 2007 Posted by | Retirement | Leave a comment

Follow-up: Buy.com and Connect3D STILL not honoring valid rebates!

Close Encounters of the Cheap Kind has a new home at www.CheapEncounters.com!

I posted previously about the Buy.com and Connect3D rebate fiasco. The short version is that Buy.com heavily advertises multiple memory cards for free after rebate in emails and on their website, the manufacturer disappears without paying out the rebate claims, and then Buy.com refunds a few customers who complained early about the situation and then shifted positions and now will not provide any refunds or allow for product returns. Any inquiries of Buy.com through customer service produce the same canned responses denying responsibility. Likewise, the BBB has shown themselves to be absolutely useless as hundreds of victims have filed formal complaints about buy.com on this issue, yet the BBB simply accepts the canned response as resolving the issue and closes the complaint, meaning that Buy.com’s official rating with the BBB is still very positive despite hundreds of unresolved complaints. So I ended up submitting my complaint to the California Attorney General’s office. Unfortunately, no action seems to be pending based on the responses received.

CA AG Response - July 26, 2007CA AG Response - August 9, 2007 (Pg. 1/2)CA AG Response - August 9, 2007 (Pg. 2/2)

As an FYI, it seems a user over on SD has filed a class action suit against Buy.com in hopes of forcing them to fulfill their obligation to their customers. Hopefully that will work, as everyone seems content to have the little guy take it up the tailpipe at this point.

August 24, 2007 Posted by | Rebates | 4 Comments

A Visit From the Police This Morning

Close Encounters of the Cheap Kind has a new home at www.CheapEncounters.com!

So here’s one to make you scratch your head. The wife and I are getting ready to leave the house for work this morning when the doorbell rings. Being about 9:30 am on a Thursday morning, it is kind of strange for anyone to come to the door. So I look to the door to see two HPD sergeants in uniform standing at the door and a marked patrol car parked on the street. Of course you can’t ignore the po-po, so I answer the door to see what they want.

They had received the angry letter I sent to the mayor’s office (with cc’s to the chief of police and my city councilman) to talk about the horrible service we received from Houston Police when our home was broken into last month, and stopped by to discuss with me and address concerns that we had. Not a whole lot useful came from the discussion of 45 minutes, but here were the key points:

  • A simple alarm call is not considered to be a priority and is regarded as a burglary that had already occurred. Either the alarm company did not indicate it was an active alarm with motion, or police dispatch failed to note that so the call was not given priority, although based on the circumstances it should have. When asked if we had called personally and told them it was an active alarm with motion would it have been given higher priority, they indicated it would have. They indicated the delay was due to dispatch and not the responding officer.
  • When asked why we pay an alarm permit fee if alarm calls are given low priority, they could not give a straight answer. They gave us a line about that just allows you to have an alarm legally, but could never articulate any benefit we actually receive for our money.
  • They could not speak to the officer’s conduct in taking a civilian into the home with him the first time through and answering “well, I hope you can scream loud” when questioned about the possibility of a perpetrator still being inside. They indicated because of the delay it would be highly unusual for someone to still be inside, but just said they would talk to the officer about the incident.
  • Supposedly there would be no benefit to contacting the pawn shop detail, as the officer stated their role is making sure the pawn shops are following the laws regulating that line of business, not finding reporting stolen property. The officer stated that this would be performed by the burglary and theft division, who should have contacted us to follow up on the case (which they never did).
  • The patrol officer would not do any real investigative work or evidence gathering. They would simply make a report and an assessment if fingerprint or other evidence could be gathered. The patrol officer also would not talk to neighbors or potential witnesses. It would be the responsibility of the detectives in burglary and theft to do investigative work, which of course is pretty difficult if they never follow up on the case.
  • They also cited a manpower shortage in hampering response times and patrol hours.

My wife made a really good point that they complain about manpower shortages, yet they send TWO sergeants out to our home to discuss a letter to the mayor. Yup, that’s an effective allocation of resources! Also kind of odd that they would show up around 9:30am, when most people would have already been gone for work. Oh well, I guess we should be thankful that someone actually read the letter instead of just throwing it in the trash.

August 23, 2007 Posted by | Crime | Leave a comment

DHL Crack Smokers?

Close Encounters of the Cheap Kind has a new home at www.CheapEncounters.com!

Here’s an odd one for you. I had to overnight some documents via DHL yesterday. Apparently the concept of the shortest distance between two point being a straight line is totally lost on them.

My shipment was going from Houston TX to Baton Rouge LA. Via ground, it is about a 4.5 hour journey. By air, it is about an hour. Instead of going the direct route, the package went from Houston to Wilmington OH and then to Baton Rouge. According to Yahoo Maps it is about a 2000 mile journey for a distance of 300 miles.

dhl.jpg

Of course this is the same outfit that took several weeks to return several Dell laptops my brother-in-law refused shipment on, so I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised by this one.

August 22, 2007 Posted by | Off Topic | 6 Comments

8 Free Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Credits (New Users)

Close Encounters of the Cheap Kind has a new home at www.CheapEncounters.com!

Here’s a pretty good promotion for those who haven’t signed up for Southwest Airline’s Rapid Rewards program. Enroll in their program using this link and they give you 8 RR credits to start your account:

https://www.southwest.com/rrenroll/sfo/

Also part of the promotion is they give you double credit for flights into and out of San Francisco (SFO).

The program is pretty simple – you get 1 credit for each one-way flight, and after 16 credits in 24 months you get a free round-trip flight. So with this you are already halfway to a free ticket.

August 22, 2007 Posted by | Deals, Travel | 3 Comments