Tag Archives: finance

Ok, Boomer

https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2019-11-04/millennials-should-be-happy-they-are-stuck-renting

“Millennials spend a lot of time bemoaning their inability to buy a home, forcing them to keep renting. They should want to stay renters, if they know what’s good for them financially.”

You son of a bitch.

This fucking article, written by an economist, is trying to sell the idea that people are better off renting than owning a house.  And specifically, millennials are better off doing it.  You wonder why young people hate the boomer generation?  Well, this is a pretty good piece of evidence.  Take away the condescending tone and you actually are left with malicious advice.

It’s amazing to me the slight of hand that is performed in order to make the pitch in this article.  The author actually says that buying a house is a losing proposition.  “…it has cost the homeowner 3% per year to own a house before taxes, maintenance, utilities and insurance.  That’s a real negative return.”  A goddamn economist, who manages investing funds, is selling this shit.

Then this paragraph:

“Some millennials were caught up in the subprime mortgage boom and collapse, and remain scarred by it. They believed they could buy houses with no money down and never shell out a dime because continuing rapid appreciation would allow for continual refinancings. So the bursting of the subprime mortgage bubble and subsequent one-third decline in house prices was a rude awakening, especially since it was the first nationwide drop in values since the 1930s.”

This needs some unpacking.  First, not just millennials were caught up in this shit.  Everyone was.  But who was most vulnerable to it?  And that snark about what millennials believed?  You fuckers sold them that belief.  You convinced them.  They had no prior experience in real estate investing and falsely trusted you.  So then we get the first housing crash since the 1930’s.  Thanks for that.

Look, I’m no economist.  I’m just a former renter who became a homeowner.  When I went to purchase my new house, my simple criteria was, “is the same cost as what I’m paying in rent?”  That was my budget and that’s where I went.  I completely understand the issue of house prices being insane, but I also see what rent costs and it’s not much better.  So, I encourage anyone to buy when they can.  If you have to start small, do that.  Don’t hold out and wait until you can afford big.  And don’t listen to this bullshit that you shouldn’t buy at all.

Here’s the truth that the author is not telling you.  It’s very simple.  When you rent, you get nothing for your money.  You get lodging and that’s it.  When you own, you keep what you spend.  People want to argue that housing doesn’t have a high rate of return on investment?  Fuck them.  It’s not supposed to.  They say, what if you own a house for 10 years and sell it for what you paid for it, not gaining a cent?  You fucking assholes, you gain all the equity in the property.  All the money you paid into the loan (minus interest of course) is equity.  You get that back.  If you’re renting, what happens when you end your lease?  What equity do you get from that? That’s “not gaining a cent”.

Then they can argue that property values can fall.  Yes, this has happened once.  Do I think it will happen again?  Probably, but not as extreme as last time.  But here’s the thing.  You don’t lose money until you sell.  I was underwater over $30k at one point.  I kept making my mortgage payments and the property value eventually came back.  And all the payments I made while it was underwater?  Guess what?  They still counted!  Just like every other payment.  It’s all equity.  Stay the course!

So, you want to know why this fucking boomer wants you to keep renting?  He’ll tell you right at the end of the article.

“The trend toward renting over owning should persist and may even increase. I continue to favor investments in rental apartments—assuming, of course, they meet the location, location, location test.”

So you better keep renting, if you know what’s good for you.  And what’s good for you is very good for me.

Losing For Winning

There are some people who are professional sweepstakes players, believe it or not.  They spend an unnatural amount of time researching and entering sweepstakes.  And they can actually make money at this, too.  Or at least get a lot of stuff.  You might wonder how you can actually “win” at this.  It would just seem to be a numbers game where you enter as many sweepstakes as you can and eventually you’re bound to win something.  But there’s actually a somewhat unknown rule that the pros use to get an advantage. (one weird trick!)

Most sweepstakes have some sort of condition for getting an entry.  Buy a bottle of this, visit such and such place, every order you place on this website, etc.  But, in all sweepstakes, there is a way to get an entry without making a purchase or performing some action – it’s legally required.  If you read the rules, they will tell you how to get a free entry.  Always read the rules.  In most cases, you have to send a 3×5 card with your name and address printed on it and they will return you an “entry”.  Some sweepstakes limit the number of entries an individual may make, most don’t.

I’ve attempted this technique once a few years ago.  A local charity was selling tickets for your choice of two cars.  The tickets were expensive, like $150, and the total number of entries was limited – a rare situation and very valuable because you knew your maximum odds of winning.  And like all sweepstakes, you could get free entries if you read and followed the rules.

I bought two tickets, to keep up appearances, but I then deluged them with something like 100 requests for entry tickets.  They did fulfill my requests, sending thick bundles of tickets in the mail with their drawing receipts torn off.  In the end, I estimated I had a 20-25% chance of winning.  Does that sound bad?  Does it sound better than a 1:2000 chance? (these numbers are all estimated, BTW, don’t try to math them out)

Well, I didn’t win, even with my extraordinary chances.  Whatever, it was kind of a fun exercise.  The local charity has never tried a car sweepstakes since, so I think I really pissed them off.

So anyway, I got a flyer for another car raffle.  $20 tickets, and the rules do say no purchase necessary (as they must), however, they don’t specify how to get those entries.  You have to mail the administrator for information.  This sounds pretty good, too, because that extra step might turn off casual players.  But when I look at the effort vs reward, I’m going to pass on it.  Would you pass on a elevated chance to win a $60k truck?

So, first of all, it’s a truck.  It’s a stupid, jacked-up, fully customized pickup truck.  Not my style, at all.  So what!  Sell it!  Ok, let’s consider that.  First, winning the prize is a taxable event.  The IRS is going to want their share of your $60k windfall.  Let’s generalize at a 30% bracket.  So that’s $18k out of pocket right away.  You need to have that to claim the truck.  Then there’s tax and title.  That’s about another $5k.  Probably you need to insure it for at least a month until you can sell it.  Maybe that’s $100 at most.  So in order to get the $60k truck, you need to spend $23k. 

So then, your new $60k truck rolls off the dealer lot and immediately becomes a used truck.  And it’s worthwhile to note that this is a 2019 model and the drawing is in 2020, making it last year’s model.  Everyone knows a vehicle loses an immediate percentage of its value when it leaves the dealer lot.  Considering this is also last year’s model, shall we say 25%?  Now your truck is worth $45k and you’ve spent $23k to acquire it.

Your truck is worth $45k, but that is not exactly what it would sell for.  You’re in a hurry to sell this so you don’t have to keep paying for insurance on it.  Will it sell for $40k?  Let’s say yes, so we can wrap this up.  So you’ve now made a $17k profit on a $60k vehicle.  That’s quite a discrepancy.

“You suck.  I’d be more than happy with an extra $17k!”  Maybe you would.  But you also need to consider that you added $60k to your gross income this year with that win.  That might push you into a higher tax bracket.  That means the money you earn this year is going to be taxed at a higher rate, more than it would have been had you not won.  17k worth of higher taxes?  Probably not, but your withholding from your paycheck is probably not going to compensate for that extra, so you better save some of that $17k to cover your tax bill next year.

There’s something to be said for thinking things fully through.  In the case of the first drawing for the car, I would have kept and driven that car (not a $60k car, either) and could have absorbed the taxes easily.  This $60k truck has a lot of BS accessories on it that are inflating the value that would never make back their cost if it were to be sold.  It’s a bad deal all around.

Making It More Difficult, For The Better

A little while ago, I saw a post online that was like a little PSA on financial security, which, of course, I am rather big on.  It was warning that PayPal and Venmo were not to be trusted because they were not held to the same security standards as banks.  Both of these sites claim to have “bank-grade” security, but what does that actually mean?

To be honest, I really do trust PayPal.  I haven’t ever had a problem with them or their security.  Then again, I do the maximum I can, enabling 2-factor authentication and having a strong, unique password.  Venmo, I don’t have any history with them, but they are owned by PayPal and from what I can see, they do a lot of the same things.  They also have 2FA, and are very happy to send you email notifications when things happen on their site.

I read this PSA post about distrusting online payment processors with a grain of salt.  The one thing that did strike a nerve with me is the advice: “never link your primary checking account”.  I agree with that.  I follow that pretty religiously with my online bills.  If a payee wants to do an autopay, I’ll allow it only if they allow payment on a credit card.  If they only allow payment by checking account, I use my bank’s bill pay.  Simply defined, I’ll push cash out of my checking account, but no one has the ability to pull cash from the account. 

It sounds convenient to set up my mortgage company to just withdraw my mortgage payment from my checking account monthly, but what if, just what if, they got a bug up their ass, or something went weird, or all hell breaks loose and they decide, we’re going to make your loan payable in full immediately.  And to satisfy this loan, we’re going to make a payment for as much of your balance as possible.  Now, I don’t have $90k sitting in my checking account, but, if they pulled everything they could, it would put a damper on my liquidity.  It’s just not a situation I would like to have happen.  So instead, I schedule a payment from my bank to them once a month.  It ends up working exactly the same.

Of course with online processors, the big fear is getting hacked.  And if your primary account is linked, the hackers can pull all your money just as easily as my mortgage company could.  Even if you have fraud protection, you’re still talking about a big hassle and lost money for a period of time.

The PSA had a poor suggestion to not link your bank account at all, but also had a good suggestion to link a secondary bank account instead.  So that’s what I did.  In PayPal, I had three banking accounts linked, so I removed two.  In Venmo’s website, I began the link to the same account I left active in PayPal.

This is a good thing.  That secondary account only has $15 dollars in it, which becomes my maximum monetary risk in case of being hacked.  But what are the limitations of this?  Well, right now, I couldn’t pay anymore more than $15 unless I transfer more money into the account.  Fortunately for me, like a lot of online banks provide, I have multiple accounts with that bank and I can instantly transfer money between them.  So, there’s no significant time delay on when I can make funds available for payment.  There’s only the delay in having to log in to the bank and transfer the needed money from my main account to my designated “PayPal/Venmo account”.

Still, though, security is always at odds with convenience.  I’m a little more secure now (even more), but I have to do a little more work now.  And note that this inconvenience is only for cash transactions.  Credit card stuff is always protected, so I’ll use that whenever I don’t have to pay the transaction fee.  The PSA also had the questionable advice that paying the 3% fee was worth it for the fraud protection.  Maybe.  But if you can save that fee and still be secure, that’s the best way.

Maybe it’s time to audit all your account links and make sure you don’t have any weak entry points.

Opening The Worm Can

You know what’s really weird?  There’s a shitload of people in the world and yet, every business fights tooth and nail and scrambles over each other to get you as a customer.  You’d think there would be enough for everyone, but when you slow down and consider it, there really is never enough money for some.

So, here we go.  I’m opening myself up to attack.  I’m going to purchase a new car.  You can visualize a million people leaping to their feet with offers and pleas and vague promises.  Hold on, guys.  I know exactly which car I want already.  Now there’s about 2/3 of the people standing, even more excited that they made the first cut.  And as I work further in the process, the number of potential winners decreases and their manic attitude intensifies.

Some of the people clamoring for attention right from the start have never sat down at all.  Those people are the money people.  Buying a new car in cash is a rare occurrence, for those with excellent foresight and planning.  The majority of people are going to finance a car at varying levels of, shall we say, danger.  The more dangerous the loan, the more money for those that get and keep your attention.  So, the money people are relentless right from the start.

I’m currently at the point that I have a car chosen and secured and now it’s time to begin the finance dance.  I consider myself in pretty good shape financially, on many fronts.  I have a top-tier credit score and I keep all my credit reports frozen.  But now I have to unfreeze my accounts – let down the drawbridge – in order to get approval for this new loan.

When I froze my accounts, I had to pay to do so.  Now all of that is free.  So unfreezing the accounts was surprisingly easy and quick.  Maybe it wouldn’t have been if I wasn’t such a stickler on data and didn’t have my unfreeze PINs immediately handy.  Or maybe if I moved around a lot and had different verification data points.  But in the end, I have my accounts unfrozen for a few days now.  Come at me, bro.

Since this is like a solar eclipse-type of moment for me, I decided to take advantage of it.  I went to Credit Karma and checked out what sort of auto loans I could be eligible for.  I was pitched Capital One and Bank Of America – both of which I already had credit cards with.  The broker that was assisting me with the car purchase said the best I could get a loan for was 3.5%.  Credit Karma told me BoA could get me a loan for 3.29%.  Ok, let’s try it.  So I went to Bank of America’s site (affiliate linked from Credit Karma, so they get a spiff) and filled out the application.  It was pretty easy since they pulled a lot of my info from my existing account.  And sure enough, I was now pre-approved for a loan at 3.29%.

Well, that was easy.  Addictingly easy.  I tried the Capital One offer from Credit Karma and was highly disappointed.  CapOne said, yeah, sure, you’re approved for a loan up to $60k (WTF!), but there was no mention of rate or term.  That’s absolutely useless to me.

While still in eclipse mode, I made the poor decision to try out LendingTree.  You’d figure that a company with so much name recognition would be fully on the up-and-up.  Well, no.  I did their “quick and easy” application, which asked enough questions to be a full credit application.  And let me tell you.  It was BULLSHIT that they structured the questions in a way that made it look like it would be a non-intrusive questionnaire, but as it went on, it got more and more personal and you’re like, “I’ve already gone this far, this should be the last question.  It can’t get more invasive that this.”  But, you see it to the end and you’ve essentially given them everything to fill in a complete credit app.

So LendingTree then sends that information to their partners and gives you results.  I got something like three offers with rates of 5-7%, which was infuriating and insulting.  Then, below the firm offers, were a few that said, “we need more information – click to complete the application”  And being pissed about the shitty offers I initially got, I wanted to see if this shittiness was universal.  So I clicked one named Autobytel.

To be honest, I don’t remember the results of that, and since I don’t remember, it couldn’t have been anything worthy of mention.  But here’s what is worth mentioning.  I’m now in spam hell.  I’m getting emails and texts from lenders and dealers.  They still think I’m car shopping, so they all have people ready to help me find my next car.  All of you – fuck off!  If there is a positive to any of this, at least all of the places LendingTree sold me out to all use the same unique email address I provided in my application, so I can shut them all down at my mail server in one go.  The text messages and (probably soon coming) phone calls, I will just have to block as they come in.

So now, what did that whole exercise get me?  Well, on the plus side, I do have a competitive loan rate that I can use to bargain with the dealership.  On the negative side, I have a bunch of new email and phone buddies I’m not thrilled about.  And a little later, I can see what kind of change to my credit score all this experimentation caused.  I am curious about that because supposedly multiple inquiries of a certain type (auto loan in this case) shouldn’t have the same effect as if they were multiple inquiries of multiple types.

You All Fail Economics

https://www.ibtimes.com/nasa-asteroid-tracker-eyes-giant-golden-asteroid-could-make-all-humans-billionaires-2803286

Have you seen the headlines for this news story?

NASA Asteroid Tracker Eyes Giant Golden Asteroid, Could Make All Humans Billionaires
NASA to explore heavy metal asteroid 16 Psyche that could make everyone rich
Golden Asteroid Could Make Everyone on Earth Wealthy

Who?  Who believes this?  First of all, who thinks that anyone, corporate or government entity, is going to spend the money to capture a distant asteroid, haul it back to Earth, then distribute the asteroid’s contents to all people on the planet, making everyone rich instantly?  Like they will do it out of the kindness of their hearts?  Just trying to make everyone’s life better, you know.

Then there’s the simple economic reality that gets in the way.  Let’s say that this crazy idea is implemented.  Is everyone rich now?  Of course not.  Everyone is exactly where they were before, because all that happened was the floor was raised.  Your net worth increased by two billion dollars – you’re rich, bitch!  But your neighbor’s increased by the same amount.  Are you both rich?  You’re richer than everyone you were richer than before.  Good job!

The sad reality is that the one(s) that will be rich beyond comprehension will be those in possession of the asteroid.  And even then, will they be rich?  Kind of.  Because wealth is really just an illusion.  Maybe you’ve read some fringe articles that express disbelief that our world economy even functions.  How does it function?  It’s all on faith.  We all agree a dollar is worth so much.  What makes it worth that much?  Agreement.  That’s it.

Value is determined by scarcity.  If there is less of something and with the assumption that demand for that something remains equal, the value rises.  If supply increases or demand falls, the value falls.  It’s simple supply and demand equations we all should have learned in school.  Now, take a mega-millionaire like Bezos, Gates, or Zuck.  They are mega rich because they have tons and tons of stock in their respective companies.  Yeah, they’re rich, but what if they wanted it all in cash, right now?  If they sold all their stock, the supply of stock for the company would explode and because it’s not scarce anymore, the value falls.  They aren’t as rich as they are on paper, when they control the supply.

And that’s what would happen to the golden asteroid owner.  They can’t cash all the gold in right away, because the price of gold would plummet.  Even if they dole out the gold over a period of time, it’s still going to affect the quantity available, reducing scarcity, reducing value.  Just like a company owner, it’s a stockpile of wealth that can’t really be utilized directly.

I could go on about this, but my only real point was the stupidity of the headline suggesting that everyone on Earth could be made a billionaire.  While it may technically be true, it doesn’t mean that anyone would be wealthy as a result.

How To Save Money When You Have Too Much Money

https://www.msn.com/en-us/money/realestate/how-mortgage-recasting-works-and-how-it-can-save-you-money/ar-BBPNazf

I read this article the other day.  It taught me a new financial term: mortgage recasting.  This particular action is taken when you want to reduce your monthly mortgage payment… only.  The term stays the same and the interest rate stays the same.  Contrast this with a mortgage refinance, when you are changing either the term length or the interest rate in order to get a lower monthly payment.  If recasting sounds like a solution in search of a problem, you’re right there with me.

Some people may not have whatever it takes to go through a refinance.  Maybe a hit to the credit score for a hard inquiry, the closing costs, the appraisal costs, the additional fees, the potential negative change in interest rate to get a longer term.  There’s plenty of reasons.  But a recast is simple.  It’s a lower fee and doesn’t even involve any other invasive actions.  Everything is simplified because all you are doing is lowering your payment.

Here’s the concept of recasting in a nutshell.  You make a very large payment on your mortgage, then the bank recalculates your monthly payment on the new principal balance until the end of your loan term.  It will be lower.

If you feel confused by this, let me reiterate the example in the article and see how that helps.  You have a $200k mortgage balance and your mortgage payments are $1200/mo.  You make a $50k payment on your mortgage, then recast it and your monthly payment drops to $900/mo. and you’ll save $35k in interest.

Maybe you’re still with me on this.  But, I can’t wrap my head around the idea of lowering your payment when you have surplus funds.  As if your thinking is, “I have 50,000 dollars in emergency savings.  I should use it all at once to save some money later.”  You’re saving $300/mo.  $50k is almost 14 years of $300 monthly savings.  And if you put all that money into your house, and you need it later, you’re looking at a HELOC or refinance to get it back out, both have a lot of fees to go with them.

I can understand how the concept works, I just can’t see why anyone would want to use it.  Why not just throw the $50k as an extra payment and shorten the loan term dramatically?  Because you can’t afford the $1200/mo and need it to be $900/mo?  You have $50k!  Why can’t you afford $1200/mo and still have almost 14 years of the difference on-hand? 

Crying poor with a stack of Benjamin’s in each hand.

Two Wrongs Making A Right

I read a lot of financial articles and I find it interesting there are a lot of “confessional” types of posts, like “I did this and this was the result” or “What I learned when this happened”.  I’m gonna write me one of them post types now.

Usually the author wants to admit a dumb thing they did or reinforce common knowledge on a best practice.  I don’t think my story really qualifies for that.  Mine is more of a “don’t be afraid” story.  A couple of wrong things were done, but in the end, it’s going to work out.  Could it have worked out better?  If the circumstances were different, sure, but that’s the point exactly, I did what I had to do to make this happen.

This story is all about my house and its financing.  On one level, that’s kind of personal information, but on the other hand, being able to share some real-world numbers will add authenticity to the story and can provide a benchmark for others to compare to, for better or worse.  If you’re doing better or much better than me, bravo.  I’m perfectly fine where I’m at and I’m not going to let a thousand finance articles make me feel bad because I didn’t do it better.

What triggered the decision for this post is the realization that I have less than 10 payments on my 401k loan left – I’ll be done with it at the end of this year.  Finance geniuses, go ahead and begin cursing me already.  401k loans are the devil and evil and should never exist and I’m a fool for even taking one out.

Why did I take out that loan?  I used it to pay off my second mortgage.  When I originally bought the house, we took out 80/20 loans to avoid PMI.  More cursing, yeah, yeah.  But, by paying off the second mortgage, I reduced the interest I was paying by over 2% and also reduced the term, and also avoided a balloon payment at the end of the term.  I will take responsibility for not realizing there was a balloon payment on the second mortgage – go ahead and take your shots on that one.

Aside from the benefits of lowering the interest and term, there was another critical reason for eliminating the second mortgage, refinancing.  At the time this was happening, I was divorced, but the house was in both our names.  I was making all the payments, so my ex was getting free equity out of the deal.  Around that time as well, the real estate market was cratered and HARP was available to refinance those who were underwater.  I attempted the HARP route, but my second mortgage made me ineligible.  So, there wasn’t any refinance option while that second mortgage was still in play.

After the second mortgage was paid off, my 401k loan payments were about $40 more than my old second mortgage payment.  It would still be two more years before I could get an agreement from the ex on buying the house out completely.  During that time, I was saving up other money for the buyout and as you would expect, keeping current on my primary mortgage.

When it was time to settle on my buyout, the refinance was greatly simplified because I didn’t have the second mortgage.  Additionally, at the time, interest rates were abut as low as they would get.  I was able to get a 15-year mortgage with a payment even lower than what I was paying previously.  Again, it was an interest drop over 2% and lopped 5 years off my term.  By simply paying the same amount I was already paying, that will also take an extra year off the term from the extra principal payments.

It’s been 2 years since I did the refinance and it’s kind of amazing to think there’s only 13 years left, 12 with the extra payments.

It’s Happening Again, In Reverse

Back in 2011, I wrote a post about how my savings account with HSBC had reached a point of uselessness.  There was a steady stream of email notifications saying my interest rate had been cut.  I left that account a long time ago and went with Ally Bank.  Ally has been really good to me.

Although it is a symptom of the times, Ally continues to be good to me, sending me frequent emails that my saving interest rate is getting better.  That’s a lot more pleasant than HSBC’s emails, which were, honestly, a product of the times as well.

My old post about HSBC spanned about 3 years, where I’ve only been noticing the more frequent emails from Ally for a couple years now.  Like my old post, I’ll summarize the changes I’ve been notified on.  Enjoy.

4/24/17: …And in the spirit of doing it right, we wanted to let you know that your rate just went up. 1.05% APY

9/7/2017: This just keeps getting better. The rate for our Online Savings Account went up again! 1.20% APY

10/31/17: It’s happening again. The rate on your Ally Bank Online Savings Account went up even more! 1.25% APY

1/23/18: It’s time to celebrate! The rate on your Ally Bank Online Savings Account went up again! 1.35% APY

2/12/18: With this increased rate on your Online Savings Account, it’s a great time to stash more cash.  1.45% APY

4/27/2018: At 20X the national average, your rate gives you greater earning power – so every penny is working harder. 1.50% APY

5/11/18: Now, with another increase on a rate that’s already more than 20x the national average, you won’t just be saving money – you’ll be making it.  1.60% APY

6/15/18: Good things are happening again with your Ally Bank Online Savings Account. The rate just increased so you’re now getting more for your money. 1.65% APY

6/29/18: We’re back with another rate increase for the 6th time this year! Within the last 6 months, the Online Savings Account rate has gone from 1.25% APY to 1.75% APY, which means your money is working even harder.  1.75% APY

8/3/18: It’s only been a little over a month since we raised the rate on your Online Savings Account, and we’re already back at it again with another increase.  1.80% APY

8/31/18: Celebrate our 8th rate increase of the year by maximizing your savings so you can earn more. 1.85% APY

This sounds awesome and all, but if you’ve looked at my HSBC post, you’ll see my savings account there started falling from 3.50% APY.  We still have quite a way to go.  What I have a slight nagging worry about is that the stock market is floating in space with not much support under it.  A lot of the gains are from corporations buying back their own stock to reward executives and stockholders.

So either the companies are taking out loans to do these stock buybacks or they are spending their mountains of cash built up during the recession.  If it’s the former, well, we have rising interest rates.  If it’s the latter, well, that money could have been spent in other ways – just sayin’.

So yeah, the thing I’m worried about is another market crash and recession, but without the extreme efforts taken by the Fed last time with regard to interest rates.  So what we’d have is another episode like the 70’s where home and auto loans were like credit card interest rate levels.  I was too young at the time to be impacted by the “Great Inflation”, but I have read a nice summary of the event.  And they say history just keeps repeating.

Too Big To Fail, Too Big To Succeed

I was browsing my old posts and found a semi-promise to relate a story about a massive keyboard I didn’t want anymore.  And the thought of that coincided with something I’ve given thought to in the past with collections.

But first, the story.  At one point in my studio, I had five keyboards.  Two 88-key and three 61-key synths.  On one rack, behind my desk, I had the General Music Equinox and the Casio CZ-1.

dsc_1929

On the wall to the right of my desk, I had the Roland RD-600 and a CME UF6.  The CME did not have any sounds; it was just a performance controller.  Sadly, the computer drivers went out of date before I could ever use it.  I’ve actually forgotten where it went or what I did with it.

dsc_1933

And in storage was an old Ensoniq ESQ-1, my first professional-grade keyboard.  It was awesome to the end.  That keyboard was eventually sold for a pittance to a guy I was in a club with.  I should have just kept it in storage.

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Anyway, I didn’t have a real use for all these keyboards, especially two 88-key controllers.  The Equinox had to go.  I wasn’t looking to make money on it, I thought it would be a fair trade for a mixer, which is something I did need at the time.

I have a Guitar Center in my town, so I loaded up the Equinox in the GF’s car and we headed down to make a deal.  This keyboard is a beast, all metal case, weighted keys, hard drive, floppy drive, sequencer, the works.  But when I get to the equipment guy at Guitar Center, he looks it over and just says, “nah.”  Not literally, but he said as politely as possible that they did not want it.  I explained that I didn’t want cash for it, I wanted to do a trade.  That didn’t change his mind.  So I was bummed out and got ready to pick the monster back up to haul it outside again.  But then the guy asked, “What were you looking to get for it, anyway?”

And I can’t definitely explain why that question caused me to see red.  Maybe I thought he was mocking me after telling me my keyboard was worth nothing to them.  It was a pointless question, completely unnecessary.  Like, if I said, 50 bucks, he would change his mind?  Did he want to see just how desperate I was?  Was he looking to either take advantage of a low price or laugh at me for an unrealistic price?  All these thoughts rushed through my mind and I just snapped at him.  “Nothing, if you’re not interested in taking it!”  And things got awkward, partially because my outburst didn’t really make any sense.

I stormed out of Guitar Center carrying my massive anchor under my arm and the GF followed me out, silently and probably sheepishly.  I’m not one for making a scene (unless someone forgets my SPOON), so it was just bad all around.  And you know what kind of hurt the most?  I bought that keyboard used from the Guitar Center in Plymouth Meeting before I came to Florida.  They’ll sell it, but they won’t trade for it.

So fuck Guitar Center.  After calming down and reassessing, I decided to try the other option, Sam Ash Music.  This would require a longish drive, like an hour away.  So I loaded the Equinox up and headed out solo.  This sales guy tried to set my expectations low.  He said that nobody really wanted these old synthesizers anymore and the best he could do is try to sell it as a MIDI controller.  Yeah, yeah, I hear ya.  He said he could give me $150 for it.

As insulting as that was, I pressed on.  I asked if I could do a trade for a mixer and he warmly agreed.  We walked over to the mixers and I reviewed what I could get for $150.  There was an ok model, but a much better one was there for $200.  So I asked him if I could get the $200 mixer.  He said yeah, we could do that.  We had a deal.  (Spoiler: we didn’t.)

The sales guy gets the mixer, does up all the paperwork for the keyboard trade and he sends me off to the cashier.  She punches everything in and says that’ll be $54.  Excuse me?  This was a trade.  She says yeah, the keyboard is a $150 credit and your mixer is $200.  The sales guy gets called back over.  I ask him what’s going on and he reiterates that we agreed the keyboard would be $150.  I explain that I thought when we were looking at mixers and I asked if I could get the $200 mixer, we were negotiating.  Nope, we were not negotiating at all.

I didn’t want to storm out of a second store in a blind fury, so I sucked it up and bought my $200 mixer for $50 and unloaded an anchor.  In hindsight, I should have kept the keyboard in storage.  I could have gifted it to someone who really wanted to play music.

So that’s the story of the Equinox.  I said that that the circumstances of that story made me think of collections.  The other night I did a quick Craigslist search for CDs and found someone selling his collection of “over 750” CDs.  First of all, you don’t have an accurate count, that’s strike one.  You don’t have a list of albums or even artists, strike two.  You can’t make out any titles from the photos you posted, strike three.  And for your strikeout, what were you looking to get for it, anyway?  $2,250?  hmmmm. Ok.  $3/CD is fair, if I want ALL the CDs.  But at this point, from what I know about the collection, I want zero.

This is the curse of all collections, that the bigger they get, the less aggregate value they have and the more individual value they potentially have.  It’s the same problem with thrift shops and many flea market dealers.  They make the incorrect assumption that every CD is worth the same.  Any intelligent person would agree that is not true at all.  And as the valuable CDs are snatched up, you are left with nothing but junk that is worth far less than the price you are asking.

Tip Fraud

Again.  Fucking AGAIN.

A restaurant altered my credit card charge post-sale.  This time, it wasn’t the usual $1 tip added on.  This time, they took a $2 tip.  Just for the record, this bullshit happened to me only 3 months ago.

Ok, ok.  Calm down.  After talking to the restaurant manager, it turns out that it wasn’t a case of theft, just incompetence.  Another person’s tip was put on my card.  But it still remains that tip fraud is a very real and a very easy-to-do form of credit card fraud.

I have an issue calling out these restaurants for this fraud.  The places certainly have a small hand in the problem in that they’ve hired a piece-of-shit thief, but it’s not their policy to hire thieves and I’m sure they would be fired once exposed.  So, you know, I can dispute the charge with my CC company, but that just hurts the restaurant.  The thief gets away with their scam.  I could write a yelp review calling the place out, but again, that just hurts the restaurant.  I need a name.  I want to expose this person and make it difficult for them to just move on to another restaurant and continue their scamming operation.

As I’ve said multiple times in the past, I log my receipts then reconcile them with downloaded transactions from the bank.  If you aren’t doing this, you will be unaware that you are being stolen from.

There is a way to retroactively check and see if you have been ripped off.  But it will require that you remember how much you tipped, if you tipped at all.  First, you need to enable alerts on your credit card so you get an email or a text message for every charge on your card.  I originally had mine set to alert me for charges over $20, but now I’ve set it to $2.  When you have this alert set up, you will then have a record of the pre-tip amount.  You can then compare the amount in this notification to your CC statement to see if it differs from your finalized amount.

I have an idea to assist in exposing cases like this for people who do not log their receipts.  With many people relying on online-only solutions like Mint or their bank’s website, there needs to be a way to capture the tip amount prior to finalization.

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My Capital One card shows me pending transactions.  What if I could view the details of the transaction and enter the tip amount I charged, then that new total could be used when the transactions settles to see if there was a discrepancy?  Sounds pretty wonderful right?

But I know that many people aren’t going to log in to their CC website and enter their tips any more than they would use MS Money to track their transactions.  So here’s another idea.  Bots are the new hotness in the programming world.  People are also very responsive to talking with computers now.  What if Capital One texted me with new transaction notifications?

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Doesn’t that sound amazing?  So if the transaction settles for anything other than $14.48, you would get an alert of the discrepancy.