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Archive for May, 2009

The Good, the Bad & the Ugly of credit card companies

May 29th, 2009 at 03:46 pm

So today has been a virtual cornacopia of success and failures in my interactions with various credit card companies.

About a week ago I went to update my credit card info for my Kroger card. The expiration date was this month, and the company had sent me new cards. Well, I apparently destroyed the wrong one, so I called the company to tell them I couldn't find my new card, and they said that they would close the account and send new ones. No problem, I was going to have to update all my automatic payments anyway. The ugly thing is that the first of the month is rapidly approaching, and I still haven't received my new cards.

So, I spent the morning transferring all my automatic payments to our bank debit card. Now here's the good. Apparently as soon as I hit "update" on the Cingular (now AT&T) website, they sent out a "pre-authorization" request for $1 to see if the card was authentic. That in turn somehow triggered the vast computers at Visa to stop and go "hmmmmm...interesting". Scant minutes later my DW gets an automated call for me to check in with Visa on some questionable activity to my card. She calls me, I call them, and we all come to the conclusion that it's probably OK, since the nice lady at Visa says that the charge was 16 minutes ago, and that was almost exactly when I hit "update" on the Cingular page. Sometimes technology works...

...and then sometimes it doesn't. Remember that new BoA checking account I opened? The one that comes with $75 free? Well, unbeknownst to me and every other well meaning BoA customer who has automatic payments set up for their BoA credit card, when you open a checking account, it automatically cancels all existing automatic payments. I go to check my accounts today and find that yesterday's automatic payment wasn't made, and I have a shiny new $39 late fee charge! And a note saying that the automatic payment was cancelled on May 26th. "Well, I certainly didn't do it", I say to myself. ("are you REALLY sure?" I say back..."you're memory has been wrong before...heck, you're talking to yourself right now, and that can't be good")

Anyway [/quiets-the-voices-in-my-head] I call in and talk to a very nice lady who looks into the situation. Then she lets out a knowing *sigh*, one that says "that OTHER dept. in BoA is SOOOOO incompetent, but you didn't hear ME say that". And tells me about what happened. She then proceeds to reverse the $39 charge, and re-instate my 0% interest. ACK!! I hadn't had a chance to think of that. Not only did one side of BoA's lobotomized brain cause me to be charged $39, but it also killed my 0% interest! On $9000, losing that interest rate could have been VERY expensive.

It all worked out in the end, but still...

Oh, and remember that $104.15 that I found yesterday? I was going to apply it to the Kroger card? Yeah, the Kroger credit card website is down....

.......


......!!!!!!!!!!!

One of these days, I'm going to switch to bartering goats for everything and be done with this techno-lifestyle!

Hidden Treasure

May 28th, 2009 at 06:31 pm

I found something interesting today. I was updating my financial software (I use Money Matters from Crown Ministries, founded by the late Larry Burkett) and I discovered some extra money in the auto insurance envelope. As it turns out, through a quirk in my policy auto-renewal, I didn't have any money taken out for April, yet my policy is current, and there was a payment for May. So, there's an extra $104.15 that will get sent straight away to the Kroger card...as soon as I get paid on tomorrow. It's funny, but there's always a difference between the money I have on paper (or on screen) and the money in my account.

I also had two more sources of found money today. The electricity bill came in, and is for $8 less than last month, which is odd since I'm on the "levelized" billing plan. Apparently "level" is a relative term. I also had two more "bank verification" deposits made today totalling $.72.

So all told I have an extra $112.87 that came my way today, out of the blue! Add to that the $110 that I'll be savings from the Kroger checks and coupons this weekend, and I'll be able to get the Kroger card down below $4000 by early next week!

Change in plans (already?!!)

May 27th, 2009 at 04:03 pm

First the good news. DW deposited my re-imbursement check from the Scout Pack for our recent campout last night. Also newly arriving in the old checking account were four small (less than $1 each) deposits.

I had signed up for two online accounts the other day and had them link to my checking account. One was a BoA checking, which will give me $75 after 3 months if I fund my account with at least $125. The other is an online savings account that pays 2.25% (paltry, but the best out there). It's Ally bank, formerly GMAC bank. Anyway, in order to link to my checking, they each made two small deposits into my checking. Total of $1.28. So the entire amount of $133.56 got sent to Kroger today, briging my total down to $4246.37. That alone will save me $1.67 in interest. Not a lot, but it all adds up.

Now for the "not so good" news. I did the math yesterday, and although my Kroger card says that my APR is supposed to be 13.74%, I figured that my effective rate is much higher. If you take where last month's bill started, subtract what I paid, and add what I charged, you get $3782.63. I paid $48.93 on this amount.

That's just over 15.5%!!!! This is because of the "average daily balance". I undestand that this is a normal accounting procedure, where they calculate what the average balance was over the last 30 days, then apply the 13.74% on a daily basis (broken into 365 "daily percentage rates"). But from a practical standpoint, from the way that it affects my budget, the balance that I carry on this credit card is being hit with 15.5% interest! I'm going deeper and deeper into debt each month. This is not the "slow and steady" that I was looking for!

So, I've decided it's time to send that balance out into the wide world of promotional offers again. I had wanted to avoid getting any more credit cards, but the benefit well outweighs the costs, which in this case is just a hit to my principles.

[Principles? We don't need no skinkin' principles]

So I'll apply for some credit cards that have "0% for 12 month" offers. I'll have to pay 3% for the "privilege" of transferring the balance, but even then I'm still ahead on the balance sheet. I'm also probably going to start transferring out that $9000 balance on the BoA card...perhaps even to another BoA card!

Oh, one other positive. We received our checks in the mail yesterday from Kroger from our bonus points. I can just hear it now...

...is that all the points a store can give? NOOO!!! What time is it! BONUS POINTS TIME!!!

[....anyone? Anyone?! aw c'mon. Some of you have kids. I'll give you a hint...it's on PBS, and features a talking dog]

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, BONUS POINTS...er...sorry...cash rebate checks from the Kroger Corporation. A total of $100 worth of them.

Add to that the personalized coupons we get (which are great because Kroger prints them based on your purchase history) which includes a "$10 off a $100 purchase" coupon, and I can send $110 to the credit card company next week!

Until next time...

Slow and steady wins the race...hopefully

May 26th, 2009 at 08:13 pm

About two years ago I had whittled our credit card debt down to less than $1000, and was on the way to being free. Now...not so much. Through a series of unfortunate dental events, home repair needs and outright reckless spending, it's skyrocketted to just over $10,000.

I have two credit cards right now. One is our Kroger card (grocery store). We use it for all purchases, and get money back every quarter for grocery purchases. Originally, I only used it for things that I would normally use my debit card for, and was transferring the money each day from the checking to an online savings account, and then back to checking once a month to pay the card off in full. That was the plan, and it worked for several years.

Then, I'm not sure what happened. But I put some things on there that weren't normal monthly charges. And a few more. Now I have about $2300 extra that I'm carrying on the card, and no longer can pay off the balance every month.

As for the other card, it's a Bank of America card, and it is the repository of all my other credit card debt, condensed into one card, enjoying a 0% interest period that expires next month. I've got right at $9000 on it. What I had been doing for the last few years was taking any credit card debt I had and transferring it to a new card with a 0% interest promotion, and stashing it there to wait while I worked on other debts that had higher interests. At the end of each promotion, I would apply for a new card, transfer the balance, and close down the previous account. I was also using this as my emergency fund. Well, emergencies came, and the card filled up (or close to it), and I don't think I'll be able to get another card with that high an initial opening balance with a 0% interest. I'm sure I could get one, but it would probably be for only $2000 - $3000, and I'd have to split the balance up. I may end up having to do this anyway.

But, I've prioritized recently. Before I can do anything about the BoA card and its balance, I need to get the Kroger card back to a balance that I can pay off every month. It's still worth it to use the card. It has a point system, but rewards you most for shopping at Kroger and buying Kroger brands, which we do anyway. And we get $60-$80 in Kroger checks every 3 months.

So, taking a page from the Tortoise and the Hare, I've decided to take the "slow and steady wins the race" approach to paying it off. I will never pay it off if I wait until I've got lump sums at the end of the month. I need to just chip away at it, paying little bits every time I have them. Even if it's just $1 a day, every little bit helps. Because the compound interest is just going to keep accruing.

So my goal, and my blog's plot, will be to discover those little ways to find money, and then immediately send that money to pay on the Kroger card. And track how I'm doing. With each amount paid, my overall time-to-payoff will go down, as will my overall estimated interest paid. I hope I can crunch the numbers enough to tell the tale.

So, I start today. Or yesterday, rather. I average aboout $1500 a month in total monthly charges, things that I pay every month, within the budget. My balance as of yesterday was $4398.71. But, I then cancelled XM radio, for several reasons. And had a refund of $18.78, so my balance today is $4379.93. Only $2879.93 more to go...