Late Credit Card Payment Fees

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When I became a widow I had a credit score of 800.

My husband liked to sign up for credit cards.  At his death, there were 33 on his credit report. I started canceling the credit cards in his name. Of course, I was the second card holder on many of those cards.

As I talked to financial advisors, going to classes on financial management and credit, and started purchasing a house, I was advised to STOP CANCELING THE CREDIT CARDS – that it would have an adverse effect on my credit score. Fine. So I stopped. The credit cards are in a drawer. I really don’t know where my credit score is right now. Last time I checked (when I got the mortgage on my townhome) it had dropped to 760.  I suppose I should go to the bank and ask if my current mortgage holder will run another score for me.

Then today, when I picked up the mail, I had a letter from American Express that my last payment was late, and it had triggered the Penalty APR (27.24%). American Express has the fastest turn-around of all the cards/payments that I am required to make. After returning from our cruise in December, I realized that I was close to a late payment on AmEx, so called and made the payment on the phone. I also changed my address in their files.

Imagine my surprise when I got another bill at the old address, and the payment by phone was not recorded as timely.

Soooo…I called American Express.  On the letter where I received the notice of “late payment” there was a number to call to pay online.  However, they could not assist with my late penalty challenge.

So I called the number on the regular monthly bill I had received.  This card is the required Costco Amex. That bill actually had a “Customer Care and Billings” number listed. Please keep in mind that Costco is one of my favorite vendors. The stores are well run, their CEO takes a reasonable salary, the staff are well compensated. I was not surprised that there was a Customer Care number. And I was not disappointed.

After passing through three or four suggestions that I handle my business by computer, I actually was able to talk to a very polite, efficient and effective young man. I explained my challenge with the address change.  He confirmed that the new one was now the one of record, that the latest statement had still gone to the old address , but all future correspondence would be correct.  I also explained to him that as a new widow I was experiencing some challenges with creditors as the changes in address and primary account holder were being made. He could see that I had been a cardholder for sixteen years, and that my payment record was excellent.

Now here was the amazing part – I tried to pay the amount on the statement.  He could see that the prior statement had been paid, and that the only new charge was the $26 late payment fee.  He waived the fee, and confirmed that there was no current balance. He also confirmed that the 27.24% late penalty APR would not go into effect, and that no report would be made to the credit bureaus. It will be interesting to confirm that in the next month or so.

Through all this my little black kitty has been sitting beside me, walking across the keyboard, crawling over the shelves/printer, and making me laugh.  She just somehow knew that I needed some comic relief.

Moving Forward – LOAN APPROVED

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The locomotive that is my move keeps picking up steam. The first “mini-move” is Saturday.  An excellent local moving company is going to take about sixty boxes and all the “extra” furniture to a near-by storage unit (small tables, bookcases, all the art).  The goal is to create a minimal “canvas” in my house, giving the viewers the opportunity to paint their own new family portrait in its rooms.

Amazingly, after the debacle of the earlier “nonloan,” I received notification yesterday from a local bank (in the area of my new townhome) that my loan has been approved. We have a new closing date in two weeks. I hope my baby grand piano (circa 1924 that is being reconditioned) will be ready two weeks after that (dictating my “primary moving day”). The approval came TWO WEEKS after I walked into that bank manager’s office with the same document package that the Regional Bank had not been able to approve after five weeks.

There is daily activity here. Yesterday the salesman provided a carpeting quote to replace the very tired carpet in the family room. The power-wash and interior painting will happen next week, along with a regrout for our older showers and some help for the yard. The Inspector will be here tomorrow.

Keeping all the above in mind, the best decision I made was hiring the Move Manager. He has taken over the scheduling and supervision of all the subcontractors, leaving me (with invaluable help from family members) to do all the packing, donation runs to the local thrift shop, blogging, and work on the curriculum development for the Widows Way course. It is still extremely difficult, on many levels, but at least now it is manageable.

The Non-Close

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Last week I was under a mistaken impression that I was about to close a mortgage loan on a new town home. The close date was set and the loaning bank had been selected through a logical process that included the fact that the bank was the mortgage holder on my “old” house.

However, as the loan package made its way through multiple levels of review, there were continuing questions on every “unusual” transaction.  Now, when your husband has just died , you are establishing retirement income,  you are applying for Social Security, insurance is coming in, you are changing insurance vendors, and your daughter is changing colleges, there are OFTEN unusual transactions.

But the big stumbling block became the fact that my debt to income ratio was too high.

I still have my family home and its mortgage (even though it has been paid down to less than a third of its value). There is the mortgage on the new town home, and I bought a new car (which I borrowed money to finance to get some credit in my name alone).  Therefore the total of those three payments is too high for the regular income I have from retirement and social security.

The “silliness” here is that there are also significant investment holdings which could totally pay ALL of the above loans. 

My frustration with this process was that there are MULTIPLE levels of review, nothing was changing through the process, and that ratio was imminently obvious from the first submission. I was not advised of the cancelation of the close until I had already traveled the five hours to the close location.

The town I am moving to is a small town – the largest part of the attraction after fighting rush hour traffic for many years.  Along with the smaller town is the establishment of personal relationships. The owner of the real estate firm acting as the agent for my new town home knew one of the loan officers at a regional bank, and suggested that I go talk to him. I had brought the loan package I had submitted to the larger banks with me after learning of this relationship.  So, after the introduction, and an interview related to my background and future plans, I left the three inch document stack with him.  A day later, after providing a few more pieces of information, he had run the numbers though his software, and said that he did not see a problem.  I have continued to say that if I need to pay off the car loan to improve the debt to income ratio, I will do so.

I left his office, and started back down the mountain.  Prior to leaving the new banker, I told the loan officer that I was now putting all my eggs in his basket.  From the car, I sent an email cancelling my application for mortgage loan from the prior entity (interestingly, I have received no acknowledgement of that email).  Now it will take another three weeks for this new package to make its way through the system. I have rented the townhome, and have time to plan the location of furniture prior to close. But I sure wish I had the loan in place. On to preparing the old home for sale.

Happy Birthday

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I woke on my birthday with only two things on my “to do” list:

Prepare the documents for the lender I have chosen for the mortgage on my new house, and drive to the mountains for the weekend.

Silly me.

The first challenge was the microwave issue.  It wouldn’t work. The control panel was dark – so I went out to the breaker box (in a room off my garage), read the labels, and looked to see if any of the switches were out of line.  None appeared to be, but I selected the one that I thought controlled the microwave, switched it back and forth, and went back inside.  Still no life in the microwave.

Unfortunately, the “handyman” whose amazing talents were praised in an earlier post has since retired. But I texted him, and the person who recommended him to me, asking for a referral to someone who could help. They supplied the name of a local store that employed electricians, with the name of a person to chat with.

My daughter had since joined me in the kitchen, declaring “You can’t leave me here without a microwave this weekend!” So…next to the cousins, my two guardian angels who live about 45 minutes away that are helping with moral support and decluttering. Unfortunately, I knew one was out of town.  When I connected with the other, she was standing in front of a hotel in another city, waiting to go in to a conference – BUT – reminded me that her (retired) husband was an electrical engineer and had wired their house – YAY!!

Now – the true hero of my story appears.  When I call the cousin’s husband (Knight in Shining Armor) is temporarily stumped, and we hang up.  BUT – five minutes later calls back. It turns out that the problem was a “ground fault breaker” (go to this link – there are pictures http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/electric/gfi.html). I pushed the designated button, and my microwave magically reactivated.  Life was good. [Now, for future reference, keep in mind this is a temporary fix. If the breaker clicks off again, it’s time to call the electrician].

The truly amazing occurrence surrounding this activity was that my “Knight for the Day” called back not long after and volunteered to come and re-label my breaker box and put it on an excel spreadsheet.  Then he volunteered to paint the inside of my house prior to my putting it on the market. 

So, I went back to the primary activity for the day. Documents for the mortgage lender. The documents that I needed to provide were the following:

_____    30 DAYS OF PAYSTUBS (if applicable)

_____    SOCIAL SECURITY AWARDS LETTER

_____    PAST 2 YEARS W2’s

_____    CHECKING, SAVINGS, RETIREMENT ACCOUNTS-LAST 2 MONTHS (all pages even if blank)

_____    2 YEARS PERSONAL AND BUSINESS (if applicable) TAX RETURNS (all schedules signed)

_____    COMPLETED SIGNED SALES CONTRACT

_____    CHECK FOR APPRAISAL AND CREDIT REPORT ($425.00+18.00=$443.00 made payable to the bank)

_____    CURRENT HOMEOWNERS POLICY (for the residence you live in currently)

The gathering and copying of the above documents took me until mid-afternoon (I had hoped to be on the road by noon). Surprisingly enough the most time consuming were the two months statements for the various checking/saving/retirement accounts – going online to find them, print them, etc. And of course, I couldn’t find one of my 1099’s for last year (I still have not filed my 2013 tax return yet) and had to request a new one, which, miraculously, came within a short period of time. And they needed to be delivered to the bank and copied there.

So I made the decision to just go finish packing quickly, take the documents with me, and see if I could deliver them to a branch close to my mountain get-away. So – thirty minutes later I am out of the driveway, started on my five hour drive.

Except – that I texted my daughter “good bye” at a stoplight on the way out of town and she is distraught because we probably passed each other on the road as she returned from work. “No, we can’t meet, I have to get on the road” – rush-hour traffic around a large town is now a possibility, and I really could not delay. So…FINALLY on the road. I make it traffic free, and then the National Weather Service warnings started about heavy thunder storms and possibility of tornadoes.

At about two hours away from my goal, the rain starts…but, luckily, it is only rain, and not nearly as bad as it was in other areas. I was very glad to be driving the new Subaru with all-wheel-drive.  The traction was noticeably better than in prior cars I had driven.

And then I reached my favorite exit.  There is one on the interstate where you crest a hill and the mountains are there before you like all those lovely postcards.  It was clear driving the rest of the way.  And my dear brother-in-law had a toddy waiting as I drove in. 

Finally, the banker returned my email explaining that the documents would not be in until  the next day (and then only at an out of town location) and said she would just meet me in my local branch on Monday morning. 

Life is good.  

The Big International Bank

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I have finally decided to fire the Big International Bank.

I have too many bank accounts, and my needs have changed. For a couple of years I have kept my accounts opened at the Big International Bank (henceforth “BIB”), thinking that perhaps I would need that flexibility again, but today have decided that I can let it go.

My favorite BIB interaction happened when I was traveling in Alaska a couple of years ago.  At 4AM my BIB banker called because they had been bought out, and my bookkeeper (NOT in Alaska) had attempted to complete a transaction that did not meet the new conglomerate’s criteria. As politely as possible, I first told my banker friend that I really did enjoy waking at 4AM, and yes, please do give my bookkeeper the access she needed to complete the transaction.

Last summer another BIB moment came when I called my BIB to tell them that I was taking their credit card to Europe. Instead of thanking me for the information, they asked to speak to my husband so that he could verify as the primary account holder—even though I was the one who opened the accounts, and was indeed the only person who ever talked to them about our finances!  I (not very politely) informed him that I would NOT ask my husband to come to the telephone. Nor would I be taking his card to Europe with me nor, indeed, ever using it again! Even though I am now the de facto Primary Account Holder, my card and my money will be l housed in a less male-centric environment.

In stark contrast, yesterday my daughter and I spent the better part of an hour opening a new account for her at the State Employees Credit Union (so she could close her BIB account). It was a delightful experience – and not a word was said about my lack of a y chromosome.  I cannot use their credit card in Europe, unfortunately… but I have found that need met through other means.

The Estate Account experience

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With Death Certificate in hand, I retrieved my husband’s final paycheck from his employer. Then I went directly to the bank, thinking that I would be able to open an Estate Account and deposit it. Silly me.  I already had requested and received an Employer ID Number (form SS-4) from the IRS <very quickly and efficiently, I might add>, so….I presented EIN, death certificate and check…but it didn’t work.

I need a Letter of Testimentary from…the Clerk of Court, I think…this is in my lawyer’s hands. We’ll see where this leads.