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Minding the Store

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With the turmoil of the world’s markets and the uncertainties of a future that does not look too bright, the last thing we need right now is the additional pressure of policing every transaction. We used to trust financial institutions until we learned better. (To the very last minute before collapsing, banks kept on reassuring us that they were solvent.)

I always had the “bad habit” of looking at my every bill line by line, mostly because I wanted to know where I stand. Through the years I have learned that mistakes (intentional or not) happen frequently. Her are some examples:

Bank of America
In 1996 I made a deposit for $2,384 meant to cover in full my credit card payment due in three days. My next statement showed a cash advance for that exact same amount, considerable interest charges, plus a late fee for not making the minimum payment on my credit card were applied.

I went immediately to the bank with the receipt on hand and asked for a correction. It took the bank over two months to make the correction and reimburse me for the charges; needless to say, they did not pay me interest in the meantime.

My mother had an account with Bank of America and her Social Security check was deposited directly into the account. She passed away on March 28, 2006, but a payment for $836 posted to her account on April 1.

About a week later, I closed the account. In late November, I got a letter from the recovery department of the bank, stating that I have to repay the $836, which has been taken back by the Social Security Administration.

On December 14, 2006, I repaid the amount in full.

To my surprise in July 2007, I got a letter from a collection agency in behalf of Bank of America for the repayment of the $836 withdrawal; phone calls to the bank did not solve the problem and neither did the photocopy of the cashed check since January 3, 2007.

At the end of February 2008 I got another letter from the same collection agency requesting the money I have paid since December 2006. (Bank of America failed to inform them about the restitution.)

It took over two years and a lot of letters and phone calls to solve this problem. I closed all my accounts with Bank of America and moved to Washington Mutual in hope of better service and more accurate accounting.

Washington Mutual
In March 2008, a charge of $6.34 showed up on my checking account; it was made to E-Bay. I have no dealings with E-Bay through this account and I disputed the charges. WAMU did an investigation and found out it was an unauthorized charge and reversed it, but I am still asking myself: How could this happen and why? How good is their accounting and how safe is my money? The fact that Washington Mutual is one of the latest casualties of the financial mess has nothing to do with the way they do business?

Sprint USA
While in college, my son used Sprint as his carrier. The phone bill was coming to my house and I was paying it. I noticed calls that were overlapping (he only had one line, so that should have been impossible).

I made phone calls for over three months and talked to every Sprint supervisor at the headquarters in Hawaii. They admitted the phone only had one line, but did not admit to the obvious mistake and the impossibility of making overlapping calls.

Only after writing to the president of Sprint USA and to Los Angeles Times was the bill was finally corrected and the money reimbursed. We are talking less than $30 here, but is a question of principle more than anything else. I spent time and energy fighting something that should have never happened in the first place.

T. Rowe Price
On April 21, 2008, forced by an emergency, I made an early withdraw from my IRA account held by Ameritrade, knowing that if I put back the money within sixty days I would not be charged a penalty.

At the beginning of June, I decided to put the money back into a different IRA account held by T. Rowe Price. I made it as clear as I possibly could that the $3,090.12 deposited was to be considered a rollover so I would not be charged any penalties for early withdraw since I am not fifty-nine and a half yet.

To my surprise and disappointment, my next statement showed a deposit considered to be a contribution to my IRA for the year 2008; more phone calls, more faxes, more proofs, and plenty of aggravation for over a week in order to rectify the mistake. I still don’t have an official letter from T. Rowe Price confirming the transaction as a rollover rather than a contribution, so let’s not even talk about apologies.

Chares Schwab
Being in the stock market at this volatile time when all fuses are short is scary enough, but not having faith in their accounting is even worst.

I sold an Emerging Markets mutual fund on October 7. The day before, the closing cost of this fund was at $5, so I was expecting about $1,900, depending on the fluctuations of the day.

That evening I looked at my account; was I happy or what? The fund showed $2.54 gain to close at $7.54 and as a consequence, I was more than $600 ahead. I slept well that night, but I did have some doubts; the market has lost 368 points that day; how can my fund be up? Mutual funds do not fluctuate that much. The next morning I looked at my account again and the “history page” showed that the sale was made at a price of $4.90 a share. It definitely made more sense, but I had to go online and verify the closing price with American Century.

Since the trust I once had in Schwab accounting accuracy was now in question, I just multiplied the number of shares I had in this mutual fund by the closing price of $4.90 and I subtracted the $6.87 redemption fee.

The dollar amount did not match up so I did it again a few times; $72.27 was still missing.

I called Schwab immediately and I talked to three different representatives: nobody could explain, but they promised to do an investigation and they did. The money eventually showed up in my account two days later, but again, the fact remains; we need to police those famous financial institutions and fight for what is rightfully ours.

It takes time and it takes energy; thank God I have both, but I would rather put them to better use.

None of the above mentioned mammoth financial institutions, with less than orthodox business practices and dubious accounting, will ever be my first choice for “charity donation.”


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