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May 21 2012 As we pulled into my cousin's driveway in Durham, NC after having spent two weeks on the Outer Banks, I got a mobile phone call from American Express security. The robo voice asked who I was and did I have my card with the following digits in my possession. "Yes." Then the robo voice asked if I had made a certain charge at The Home Depot. "No." From there, I got an agent on the phone. Same questions about my name, billing address, and whether I had the card in my Possession. I actually opened my wallet to verify what my mind knew - it was where it was supposed to be. Not bad to check, though. The Home Depot charge was from the New York area and had been made about 15 minutes ago. Since we were in NC and had been, no way.

You know the drill. They have to cancel the current card, I need to look at all the charges that come through on the charge to verify.all are okay, etc. And they will send me a new card within 48 hours.

So, my hat is off to the security system at American Express to be able to pick up one errant charge and a quick contact to me (also had an email from them when I went online later).
May 14 2012 We’ve all read about the $2 BILLION loss that JP Morgan-Chase suffered and the trading that led to the loss. I’ve been reading the news reports as well as the op-ed stuff about how this kind of trading was supposed to be illegal after the financial crisis, but how the regulations and the legislation had been watered down given the strong bank lobby … and especially the head of JP Morgan-Chase. He’s derided the kind of regulation that would have prevented this practice, actually been unkind about the people who are for it.

Now, here’s the question. If you own stock in JP Morgan-Chase and, let’s assume, you have a good gain on it since you’ve had it quite a while (and, shall we also mention that it avoided the same difficulties that drove other banks into default and government bailouts – until now) should you sell?

The stock fell almost 10 percent on the news of the bank’s loss and the behavior of its executives. But it will recover and it’s still way above what it had been a year ago, etc. Thus, this really isn’t an economic choice unless you think the market will continue to beat up on financial institutions in general and JP Morgan-Chase in particular.  

It’s an ethics, morals question. Do you want to own stock in a company that condoned this kind of trading? Are you willing to (1) pay the capital gains tax if you sell, and (2) forgo any possible upside to the stock? Are you?

Apr 28 2012

My lawnmower wouldn’t start. It’s been wonderful over the several years I’ve had it. A Toro. Bought from The Home Despot. Dependable. Well, it just wouldn’t start. So I folded it up and jammed it into the back end of my SUV and drove down to the local branch. They took it in for “diagnosis” and told me a technician would look at it and call me if the repair was going to be over $100, an amount I had to authorize to leave it there.

Time passed. I heard nothing. I called. The guy in Tool Rental told me they had done the minor repairs they could at the store and wanted to send it to the repair facility in Indianapolis for a carburetor rebuild. I told them they could and was informed it would take about two to four weeks door to door.

Four weeks passed and I heard nothing. I called. After some “hold, please” time, the Tool Rental guy called back and told me that my mower had been lost in the system and was still sitting at the store having never been shipped out for repair, But, he said, he would fix it “like new.”

Read more: Running With The Bulls

May 03 2012

Trip insurance. You know, the insurance your travel agent really wants you to get in case you cancel your trip (for listed reasons on the policy), the cruise line goes bust, and so on. While lots of stuff can be cancelled with little or no fees within a couple of days of reservation dates, other things are either non-refundable or have a long cancellation policy. So, you get travel insurance.

Let’s assume, for the sake of this discussion, you are taking a trip that has non-refundable costs of $5,000. Maybe a cruise. If you’re under 60, that would cost you about 4% of the trip cost (say, $200+). If you’re 60-69, up that to about 6-7% (say, $350+). If you’re over 70 (me), it’s about 12%+ (oh, about $730). And when you reach the ripe old age of 80, it is over double that!

Guess they think us old geezers get sick more often and have to cancel. Well, guess we do. So, it’s the old trade off of risk vs. return. Insurance premiums, like on your house and your car and your health, you pay hoping do so wards off the evil spirit and that you never have to collect on the policies.

Mar 29 2012

Ah, now I know how the new BP VISA rewards program works. I wrote earlier about how confusing it is, but here's the scoop. You earn "cents per gallon" based on a formula (so much for BP gas, 2% for dining and travel, 1% for all else). Rewards can be taken in a discount per gallon for BP gas for a fill up of 20 gallons or can be taken as a credit on your VISA bill.

So, let's say you've spent enough in a month or so to have the rewards program show you have earned "$3.24 per gallon." Let's just look at $3.00 of this. What this means is the following (gotta read the fine print here):

1. I can go to a participating BP dealer and get a discount at the pump of $3.00 a gallon for up to 20 gallons. If my gas-guzzling SUV takes 20 gallons, I'd get a credit of $60 right there at the pump. If I only fill up with, say, 12 gallons since that's all my gas tank will hold, I'd get $36 credit on the purchase, but would forfeit the rest.

2. If I choose to take a credit on my VISA statement instead of getting a discount at the pump, I can get $15 credit for each $1 "per gallon." So, for the same $3.00 as above, I could get $45. That's it.

So the real catches are:

1. Can't fill up with 20 gallons and give them back some of the rebate.
2. Get a credit on my VISA statement instead and give them back $5 for each "$1 per gallon."

They win, they win. And you? Hahahaha.