Archive for June, 2009
Here are some Blog Carnivals that we participated in over the last week. Enjoy!
- Carnival of Personal Finance #209 was hosted by Living Almost Large and you can find our post entitled It’s the Grocery Game… And I’m Actually Interested listed there.
- Carnival of Money Stories #6 was hosted by Not The Jet Set and you can find our post entitled It’s the Grocery Game… And I’m Actually Interested listed there.
- Festival of Frugality #182 (The Revenge of the Fallen Edition) was hosted by Stupid Cents and you can find our post entitled Better Late than Never: Looking at the Recovery Rebate Credit listed there.
- Money Hacks Carnival #69 (The Dollar Bill Edition) was hosted by Own The Dollar and you can find our post entitled Raiding the Roth: Using a Roth IRA as Your Emergency Fund listed there.
With the academic year approaching, many students and families are searching high and low for ways to keep the tuition bills under control. All that hard work can be a grueling, humorless process. I thought we should take a few minutes to inject a few laughs into the process by noting some really bizarre scholarship opportunities.
Here are 5 of my favorites…
DUCT TAPE PROM: If you and your date are willing to attend your prom wearing nothing but duct tape, you can document your questionable fashion taste and qualify to pursue two $3,000 scholarhsips from the makers of Duck Tap brand duct tape. Back in my day, we rented the cheapest tuxes we could, because we had to pay that one creepy guy with the Camaro a lot of cash to buy our booze. Oh, how times have changed…
JUST LIKE IN THE MOVIES: You’ve seen Caddyshack, right? Of course you have. Be the ball. The gopher. The Baby Ruth in the pool. And, of course, the scholarship competition. The Evans Scholars Foundation hands out schoool money for those who thanklessly tote the bags of duffers. I can hear the Kenny Loggins music already. Apparently, this is serious scholarship and is very highly-regarded. At least that’s what Ted Knight told me.
COMPLETELY UNNECESSARY: We all know that those sci-fi geeks from high school go on to get free rides in the engineering departments of the very best colleges. It’s their revenge for all the crap with which they have to put up. That and the fact that geekiness is sort of becoming cool these days. In any case, it seems wholly unnecessary to give anyone who self-identifies as a “Starfleet member” extra money for school. But it happens. The Star Trek super fans can qualify for $500 scholarships. Live long and prosper.
SOUTHPAW PAYOFF: We wrote about this one a few days back, but it’s so good that it warrants inclusion on this list, too. Juniata College allows students who’ve been there for a year and who are left-handed to apply for a $1,000 scholarship. Not just any lefty will get the money. You need to be a good student and all that jazz. However, this is the one and only scholarship for the left handed!
KNITTING YOUR WAY TO COLLEGE: The American Sheep Industry Association wants to encourage folks to produce the best-looking wool garments possible. And they’re willing to dole out scholarship money for those who knit them. My granny would’ve had three PhD’s if she had known about this one–and I have the scarves to prove it.
These are only the tip of the iceberg. There are scholarships reserved exclusively for those with certain surnames. Every interest group from the NRA to Tall Club International is interested in funding the higher education of its members and their children. There are scholarships for out of the ordinary hobbies like duck calling and alternative lifestyles like nudism.
They’re all good for a laugh, but these wacky scholarships can also be a reminder that there may be more money out there for you to fund your college education than you realize. Hey, if someone is ready to give you school money for creating a gown out of duct tape or because your mom is a member of the Michigan Llama Association, there’s a good chance that you qualify for one or more scholarships that might not be as obvious as those based on athletic prowess or high SAT scores.
I recently wrote a post about the Grocery Game. I was impressed with everything I read about this popular method of saving money on grocery purchases and even decided to risk one whole U.S. dollar on the trial membership so I could try it out for myself.
We’re two weeks into the Grocery Game. That really isn’t enough time to assess its overall value, as coupon accumulation can take awhile, etc. Remember, one of its tenets is using the right coupons at the right time, which means it may take awhile for that perfect moment to emerge.
So far, I’m still optimistic about the whole thing.
As I researched it, however, I learned about its #1 challenger, Coupon Mom.
It seems like the two services are often mentioned in the same breath, so I decided I should probably take a look at Coupon Mom.
I love the fact that Coupon Mom is free. Free is good. And joining was a quick process. However, I was forced to click through (and decline) a series of “special offers” as part of the sign up procedure. These ran the gamut from getting auto insurance quotes to “reading emails for cash”. I can’t begin to explain how much I dislike the whole “read emails for cash” industry, so that was a turn off. Nonetheless, Coupon Mom has to make money somehow, so I didn’t let it drag down my opinion of the site.
I will say this. Saving $5 over Grocery Game is nice, but it isn’t a huge deal for me. I’m interested in the bottom line. Thus, if Grocery Game is worth $6 more than Coupon Mom, the “free” thing is essentially meaningless to me. Still, it’s nice.
I took a look at what Coupon Mom had to offer in terms of savings information for my area. Unfortunately, they only cover one store in my immediate vicinity. Grocery Game covers all three of my local chain grocery stores.
The list of bargains itself is presented intuitively and the “free” stuff his highlighted for quick discovery. It’s not quite on par with Grocery Game’s color-coding system, but that’s not a big deal. It’s usable.
I pulled the Grocery Game list for the same store and compared it to Coupon Mom’s. Much of the data was, of course, on both reports. The differences in calculations, etc. were generally negligible. I did find a few coupon-driven savings opportunities on the Grocery Game list that didn’t make the Coupon Mom version, however.
Coupon Mom does have one thing really going for it, though, if you plan on being a hardcore saver. Their forums are active and seemingly filled with very helpful people who are serious about saving money on groceries. If you’re interested in really becoming “involved” with the process and uncovering savings opportunities you might otherwise miss, this is a huge mark in CM’s favor.
After looking at both options, I’m coming down on the side of Grocery Game, but not be a wide margin. The price difference between $5 and free is negligible and in my case, GG covers my area better. If Coupon Mom was on top of my other local chain stores, I might break in the other direction. As it is, though, I’m going to end up more than $5 ahead with GG.
Overall, I’m impressed with Coupon Mom. For those in the right places who don’t mind working just a little harder to get things done–or those who are ready to get serious about saving and will use the forums, it’s a great choice, too.
Remember when everyone was telling us that home computers would change the world because we’d all find practical things to do with them that would change our lives for the better?
Sort of funny, huh? Those PC evangelists of the late 80s obviously didn’t count on “adult images”, World of Warcraft, Second Life, Twitter, MySpace, or videos of dancing hamsters.
Occasionally, however, you really can use your computer to do something valuable and serious.
A loan amortization table may not be as funny as trying to figure out what happened to Ellen Fleiss, but it can actually provide you with some actionable data.
If you want to make a loan amortization table in Excel, you’ll need only a few things.
- A little time
- A good set of instruction
If you’re looking for a shortcut, you can download a loan amortization calculator template for Excel free of charge.
You can get one here. Or here. There are several other versions of the template floating around out there. If you want to make a loan amortization table in Excel, just click the link and download the file.
That being said, many people who are interested in playing with their loan numbers aren’t going to do that. As Frank the Financially Savvy Atheist notes, there are reasons why people won’t use the freely available amortization calculators on the web, and those reasons probably apply just as well to creating a table in Excel:
1. You can customize your table to suit your needs. See what is your current loan balance. You could even enter in some home appreciation assumptions to see how your equity builds up. This would be important if you are trying to see when you can get rid of PMI payments.
2. Like everything else in life, some people are DIY’ers. For me in particular, I like having amortization tables for all my loans, so I can see where I am each month. It gives me a sense of control, whether it’s a false sense or not.
3. It’s easy! Trust me.
While Frank does provide a tutorial to help you in your quest to make that Excel table (and provides some good analysis about why you’d want one in the first place and what you could do with it), I believe in getting my instructions directly from the horse’s mouth. That’s true even when the horse in question wears glasses and goes by the name of Bill Gates.
Excel is a Microsoft product, so why not start by getting instructions straight from Microsoft? Despite the fact that MS can annoy in a million and one ways, it does offer some pretty decent online documentation for this particular task. It’s a pretty straightforward ten-step process. I know, ten steps seems a little heavy. Don’t worry, some of them barely qualify as “steps” on their own.
Oh, and if you have Microsoft grudges and would prefer to use Open Office to create and use your amortization schedule, the info is still solid. It works with the open source option.
Personally, though, I’ve found that the best tutorial covering how to make a loan amortization table in Excel is probably the one at TVMCalcs. This site, related to the time value of money and financial calculator tutorials, provides a nice illustrated post that will march you right through the process of creating an amortization table.
Joseph Rubin’s Excel tip site provides some extra instruction for those who want to really play with the numbers. If you want to make grace periods and random payments part of your evaluations, you’ll want to look into Rubin’s tips.
There you have it. You can use your computer for something productive today!
Are you a lefty? Have you toiled for years in a right-handed world? Have you suffered the annoyance of having a limited number of golf club options at your disposal? Have you dealt with the oppression of computer labs PC with the mice on the right side?
For a while, you had a chance to even the score by becoming a left-handed pitcher. Major league baseball teams were always in need of a left-handed specialist and were willing to pay through the nose to keep otherwise mediocre hurlers on the roster just because they could deal from the left side. That was your vengeance.
But then the recession left Dennys Reyes without a team until late this spring. Long-term deals for LOOGYs screeched to a halt. Jeremy Affeldt’s $8 million dollar contract over two years was the end of an era.
Lefties are back to being second class citizens everywhere.
Well, almost everywhere.
A small liberal arts college in Pennsylvania is the one place where left-handedness can pay off. Juniata College offers a scholarship grant for one lucky lefty every year. That’s right, it’s the home of the now-famous scholarship for southpaws.
You may have heard about scholarships for left handed people. That’s inaccurate, unless you count the multiple years over which the Juniata giveaway has occurred. Based on all available research, there is only one left handed scholarship.
Here’s an overview:
Juniata offers southpaws of free educational grant through The Frederick and Mary F Buckley Scholarship program. This program was established in 1979 by Mary Francis Buckley. Since then, it has helped and sent over 40 students to school.
The scholarship is worth around a grand. It’s only available to those who’ve already been enrolled at Juniata for a year. Oh, and being a lefty isn’t enough to score the deal.
Apparently, the selection committee looks at things like grades, leadership skills and all that other “regular” stuff as well as the dominant hand of the applicant. Nonetheless, it does remove 90% of the potential scholarship competition, as right-handers are out of the equation (apparently, only 1 in 10 people are left handed).
Alas, dear southpaws, no other schools seem to be embracing the Juniata model. There are no other known scholarships for left handed people. And for all we know, there’s a growing backlash movement at Juniata amongst righties who feel slighted by this act of educational affirmative action. Where are the scholarships for righties, huh?
The interesting thing about the Juniata deal, which is just one of thousands of interesting little scholarships, is the fact that it’s received so much attention. It’s become the child of the wacky scholarship world and the fact that it is so frequently mentioned has led many to wonder about left handed scholarships elsewhere. They don’t exist. It’s all just Juniata echo.
If you’re a lefty and you’re enrolled at Juniata, consider making a move for the money in your sophomore year. Why not?
If you’re lefty who’s looking for ways to trim the cost of a higher education at some other institution of higher learning, however, I’m afraid that the rumors of scholarships for left handed people are just another case of a right handed culture keeping you down!
In the meantime, you still have Rick Honeycutt and Jeremy Affeldt to whom you can look up. Write them fan letters. Just don’t use one of those spiral bound notebooks designed for right handers.
File the “cash for clunkers” bill under “we never learn”.
The last time I checked, there were a lot of pretty smart people making a pretty darn compelling argument that this whole recession is a “chickens coming home to roost moment”. We’re paying the piper now for a long debt dance during which people financed homes they couldn’t really afford and lived with little plastic cards clutched tightly in their hands. We overextended as Jane and John Doe. The big banks went too crazy. Everyone ran around writing checks that they couldn’t cash and finally the entire credit-based artifice began to crumble, crushing many underneath the rubble.
So, what would the smartest possible reaction be to all of the mayhem?
I’ll tell you what it wouldn’t be… It wouldn’t be a government program designed specifically to encourage people to make large purchases on credit.
I mean, really, if you said the best way to create a sustainable economy involved increasing consumer debt loads, you’d be a laughingstock, right?
Wrong. Enter the “cash for clunkers” law.
This legislative gem provides folks who are driving fuel-inefficient used cars with a voucher worth either $3500 or $4500 (depending on the car’s mpg rating) to use toward the purchase of a brand new chunk of American steel!
Now, as you’ve probably noticed, new cars tend to cost more than $3500 or $4500. The Yugo is long gone. Even the el cheapo, no features standard vehicles run around twice the max voucher amount.
So, you’re tooling around in a 1990 Continental featuring a primer gray, yellow and red color scheme due to the previous owner’s affinity for fender bending fun. You’re sucking gas like a dehydrated guy holding a Super Big Gulp. Even if the car had tires with tread (those little wires poking out don’t count), it wouldn’t be worth $3500. But now, you can get a $4500 voucher to put towards the purchase of a brand spanking new Chevy Cobalt.
Where are you getting the balance of the money? Well, duh, the helpful people at GMAC Auto Finance will loan it to you. Or someone else will. Some dummy will spot you the extra moohlah, even though you might end up paying fat interest on the loan.
End result? You just added big ol’ chunk of change to your debt load. Instead of owning your Continental outright, you’re working part of every day just to pay GMAC.
Now, we can probably assume that you don’t have a ton of cushion in your monthly budget. Most folks limping along in rustbuckets aren’t living the high life. Thus, when something BAD happens (and it will), you’re going to have an issue making that car payment. Or you’re going to stiff someone else. Or you’ll go hungry (which seems like a high price to pay for a Cobalt). Odds are that you’re going to be trying to find a way to stave off the repo man when you become the unlucky person who officially pushes us into 10% unemployment.
More debt without more income? Bad. More debt in an already “iffy” economy? Bad.
Plus, cars are a miserable investment in the first place. Depreciation is faster than a new Mustang.
So, the cash for clunker law exists to encourage people to increase their consumer debt by purchasing an item that will lose value before the ink on the loan agreement dries.
And that’s not all. It’s going to mess with the market value of older cars, artificially increasing their value and making them harder for the working poor to afford. It’s the worst kind of economic engineering.
The silver lining? It might not make a difference. It might be that the reeling credit industry won’t bother writing loans on new cars for voucher holders, anyway.
So, the cash for clunkers law would either make things worse or have very little real impact whatsoever. A loser either way.
If you want to read about the details of who can get what in exchange for what car and other assorted fun facts about this bit of foolishness known as “cash for clunkers,” check here.
Some other good reading: Elizabeth Hovde and I don’t share the same overall political perspective, but she’s so right about this law that I almost want to kiss her.
We’re humans. We make mistakes. Many of us make the same mistakes. Some of those blunders are bigger than others.
Let’s talk about one of the biggest common personal finance errors. Wait. Let’s rephrase that. Let’s talk about the undisputed king of personal finance mistakesb. It’s mistake in which millions of people share and it can have some truly life-changing consequences (and not in a good way, either).
The big kahuna of personal finance foolishness? Failing to have a long-range plan.
It’s hard to think decades down the road. Heck, it’s hard to think three weeks ahead sometimes. When it comes to managing your money correctly, however, you need to develop that long term perspective.
I think the reason so many people fail to come up with a long-term plan is because you can fall into an ugly cycle if you get off on the wrong foot.
Here’s what I mean. You don’t have a plan. As such, you make poor financial decisions. Those poor decisions put you in a tough situation in terms of staying above water. It’s even harder than usual to think “big picture” when you’re in dire straits and living paycheck to paycheck. The lack of that broader perspective, however, insures more poor financial decisions. That leads to… You get the idea. It’s an infinite loop of financial difficulty.
So, how do break the cycle? Short of a few lottery victories or some kind of perspective-altering head trauma, it’s a matter of recognizing that it’s time to get a handle on your money and putting your foot down. Then, you need to combine some good homework with a dedication to taking action.
Realization, research and work. It doesn’t sound like a ton of fun, does it? Maybe that’s part of the reason why people continue to circle the drain in the “no plan–>bad decision–>no plan” cycle. There may be a perception of comfort in the misery of chaotic personal finances.
At some point, though, people do hit bottom. They wake up and realize that they’ve had enough. They finally bite the bullet and get started with the process of devising that long-term plan, even in the face of short-term challenges. If they follow through, they can break the cycle. They can start making progress. They can tame a little chaos and feel much more secure in their futures.
I doubt any of that is particularly controversial. We know that good money management improves both immediate and long-term qualities of life. We also know that a lot of people are running around without an end goal in mind. It’s a mistake and it’s a common one, but is it really the undisputed king of all financial blunders?
Let’s ask around, shall we?
Simple Dollar did a piece on “The Twelve Biggest Personal Finance Mistakes People Make Over and Over Again”. They’re top slot went to, “Concern rarely extends beyond the next paycheck or two”. In other words, living in the moment without a bigger goal of a plan is a huge no-no.
The Bankruptcy Law Network explains their version of the “Top Ten Personal Finance Mistakes”. They startthis: “Rule #1: Have a personal financial goal and a plan to achieve it. The pressure of bills and getting the income to pay them typically causes you to lose sight of your personal financial goals. Sounds familiar, right?
Almost every time you look at a list of the worst common personal finance blunders, lacking a goal and a plan almost invariably sneaks up toward the top. Dallas Morning News columnist Pamela Yip sums it up nicely:
Without a plan or goal, your financial behavior will lack focus and you could spend your money – a dollar here, a dollar there – not knowing where it’s going or how the expenditures are affecting your financial security.
She wrote that as part of an article entitled “Top Ten Personal Finance Mistakes”. Her number one, predictably, was ” Not having a goal and a plan for how to achieve it”.
If you’ve busted out of the cycle and have put together a plan, kudos. I hope you’ll share what led you to take action and how you managed to get started. If you’re still floating around without a good plan, there’s no better time than now to start putting things into perspective and planning a way out of your current financial turmoil and into a future where money errors don’t cripple the quality of your life.
Like the song says, “little things mean a lot”.
When we make the decision to reduce and/or eliminate our debt loads, our initial instinct is to go whole hog.
It’s the New Year’s Resolution mentality in action. No one says that they’re going to find a way to lose 30 pounds over the course of 6 months at the beginning of the year. They think big. They want to lose 60 pounds in 3 months instead. They come up with a draconian calorie-counting scheme, a workout regimen that would be perfect for an all-pro NFL cornerback and prepare to remake themselves completely in record time.
Oh, and they fail. Why? Because old habits die hard and the best of intentions have a way of getting steamrolled by them.
It’s the same thing with money and personal finance decisions. If you wake up one morning hellbent on completely eliminating your debt through intense austerity measures and weekly belt-tightening, you’re going to get off to a great start for about a week before everything falls apart and you retreat into your comfort zone. It’s human nature. You can have an academic understanding of money and what to do with it, but that logic and reason aren’t enough to win out over habit and the emotional/psychological history that goes along with it.
There are exceptions. Some people get whipped into a frenzy of Dave Ramsey-esque “gazelle-like intensity” and make massive strides quickly. Most of us, however, don’t. We might be able to get there, but it’s going to require some initial successes that don’t turn our world completely upside down from square one.
In that spirit, I’d like to show how an average person who may not be prepared to make a giant move can still put a real dent in his or her debt load–almost without noticing any changes. I’m not going to detail every little thing I did and how I did it. That’s not the point. It’s about finding the easy adjustments you can make in your own life and putting them into place. It works. I can vouch for this. I’ve been through it.
After a few dozen New Years Resolution-style plans to solve my financial woes within short timeframes, all of which failed, I noticed that I could make a difference once step at a time. While some may want to go whole hog and won’t find enough motivation in “baby steps”, I think my story provides proof that anyone can start improving their finances. I’ll also add that seeing the progress was enough to encourage me to “add on” other approaches to reducing my debt. For me, finding the right track required avoiding the boom and bust of BIG PLANS.
Here are a few examples…
I’m saving over $100 on Dr. Pepper over the course of a year. Instead of picking up a 12-pack of Dr. Pepper every week at the grocery store, I started reaching for the store brand version. Somehow, the makers of Dr. Pop have avoided a lawsuit while making a solid reproduction of the real thing. I save right around $2 on each 12-pack and I don’t suffer at all.
I saved around $200 with Red Box. I like to watch a few movies every week. I was relying on my cable company’s pay-per-view system to check out new releases (so convenient). Then, I noticed that a store right on my morning route to work had one of those Red Box machines. Instead of spending $5 or more on PPV, I started spending $1 for my rentals.
I saved $200 by paying attention. I’m not the world’s most organized guy and I had a nasty tendency to make late payments on some accounts. It wasn’t a matter of not having the money, it was a matter of oversight. I spent an hour creating a good calendar online and made a point of looking at it at the beginning of every week and of adding new bills to the schedule. No more late charges and fees. Plus, it feels good to be organized and to know that I’m no longer damaging my credit numbers month in and month out.
I saved $100 when I slept. I like to run the air conditioning in the summer and I enjoy a toasty residence in the evening. However, I reached the conclusion that I really wouldn’t notice a minor temperature change while I was sawing logs. I adjusted the thermostat at bed time and saved about $100 for the year even though the per unit energy prices were higher than usual.
You get the idea, right? Little things.
Here’s the trick, though. If you aren’t paying attention to these changes, you won’t realize the benefits. You have to make a point to notice what you’re saving over your typical expenses and then you must actually put those savings to productive use. Pay down that Visa card, don’t spend your recaptured bucks on an extra dinner out, right? I keep a little running total of the ways I’m saving and I make sure I use that money as part of my debt reduction plan at the end of every month.
It’s making a big difference and I’m not intense like a gazelle or over-optimistic like a post-holiday weight watcher. I’m just paying a little attention here and there. It’s getting easier, too. And that’s beginning to make me feel like I can make even more positive adjustments.
Well, the last of the 2009 snows are melting (we hope). It’s time to start looking forward to green grass and fresh produce again. For some of us, that means a weekly visit to the local farmers’ market. If you’re still hitting the supermarket for your chow during the summer, you might want to consider a regular sojourn to the bargain fresh stuff you can find at a farmers’ market. The food is great, the prices are good and the savings can pile up.
Why do you save money at a farmers’ market? The answer lies in the removal of the always-reviled but ubiquitous “middle man”. When you buy tomatoes from the guy who grew them, you’re not paying for supermarket overhead, coast-to-coast shipping, the produce broker who made the deal happen or a variety of other hidden costs that go into grocery store prices. It turns out to be a bargain.
The result can be some very impressive savings, especially if you live in an area where it’s affordable and efficient to grow vegetables. The savings on local specialties can be stupendous. I dare you to find fresh corn cheaper than you can at an Iowa farmers’ market or a bucket of blueberries for less than what you’ll pay in New Jersey at the height of growing season. It can’t be done.
There’s a secondary way that shopping at the farmers’ market can save you some bread. Generally speaking, people turn the whole affair into an “outing”. You’ll see families trapezing through the market and couples holding hands. It’s a social thing, a family thing and even a potential day date. If you turn your grocery shopping into a fun weekend outing, that might just displace forking over the cash for a movie or an expensive dinner out.
If you do a little homework, you’ll find that people have a few recommendations for saving even more money at the farmers’ market than you can based on “sticker prices” alone. Based on personal experience, I can recommend some of these strategies while others deserve to be ignored.
Here’s a good one: If you can reasonably buy in bulk (for instance, you might be interested in freezing or canning a big ol’ load of a particular offering), ask if the vendor might have a little wiggle room in the price tag. You might be able to shave a little off your bill. Please realize that buying 4 tomatoes instead of 2 is not buying in bulk. Unless you’re doing some serious shopping, don’t bother insulting the people who are trying to make a living with those foodstuffs.
Here’s a bad tip: Many people will tell you that the best way to save is to show up about 1/2 hour before the market shuts down. At that point, they reason, the farmers will be willing to wheel and deal in order to dump their excess merchandise. They advise consumers to do their best to negotiate a reduced price based on the fact that the clock is ticking.
This technique is a non-starter. First, the vendors generally anticipate a level of waste. They don’t necessarily expect to sell out and they set prices based on the assumed waste. Second, these people aren’t rubes or hayseeds. They run businesses and they understand all too well that offering weekly “firesales” in the waning moments is nothing more than a way to train potential full-price customers to wait them out. Third, many farmers’ market vendors have alternate means of selling their leftovers to others. You’re not the only game in town. Fourth, many farmers will attend multiple markets over the course of a week. What doesn’t sell today doesn’t rot overnight. They can still try to move it the next day elsewhere. Fifth, if you’re waiting until the end of the day, you’re dealing with the merchandise others didn’t buy. The best pieces are already in someone else’s vegetable crisper by the time you show up. Finally, and this is just a matter of opinion, it’s sort of obnoxious!
You can get great deals on food at the markets based on their fundamental structure and you may be able to negotiate even better arrangements if you’re “going big”. Enjoy a nice day out, enjoy the savings, enjoy some great food. But don’t bother trying to swoop in at the last minute for a great deal.
Not too long ago, I wrote a post about Wells Fargo auto finance. I noticed a few complaints about their practices and decided to find out more about them. I concluded that they had some pretty significant shortfalls and certainly were far from perfect, but that they were probably miscast as 100% unadulterated evil devil spawn. Many of the complaints were of the “I don’t like the fact I borrowed too much money and they’re not nice about my inability to pay” variety.
So, I asssumed the same thing would probably be true of Chase Auto Finance. “CAF” is a division of the big ol’ JP Morgan Chase Bank conglomerate and they’re in the business of loaning folks money when it’s time to pick out a new set of wheels. After looking at the situation with Chase, my initial suspicions were basically confirmed. They certainly aren’t perfect, but they don’t appear to be sadistic evildoers hellbent on crushing the spirits of borrowers.
If you look through the list of complaints about Chase at sites like ConsumerAffairs.com, you’ll find that most of them fall into one of two categories.
There are entirely legitimate gripes about things Chase has screwed up. Clerical errors, annoying miscalculations and other problems litter the list. These are black marks against a lender and those “little” mistakes can produce monumental migraines for the consumers who are just trying to do things the right way. There are some pretty credible arguments out there about Chase’s lack of consistency and customer service abilities.
At the same time, we’ve all learned to expect that sort of thing from big giant, faceless companies. It stinks, but it’s true. The bigger a company gets, the more bureaucracy they have and the more likely they seem to be to screw up the details. It’s a good reason to look for the personal touch. It’s a good reason to have reservations about dealing with Chase, Wells Fargo or any other Big Bank. It’s not a sign of hate, vindictiveness or pure sleaziness, however.
The second group of complaints are the kind that REALLY irritate me. They are based primarily on the desire of consumers to do whatever the hell they want, regardless of the terms of their loan agreement. You’ll see people whining about Chase’s repossession fees, the fact that they now owe more on cars than what they are worth (which, as we all should know is about as common as snow at Aspen) and the fact that Chase isn’t willing to “work with them” enough when they’re unable to pay their bills. There are also those who aren’t very happy that Chase Auto Finance is pretty serious about getting paid and will take an aggressive collections posture when people don’t pay.
These complaints are annoying for a few reasons. Initially, they allow real complaints to get lost in the shuffle. It’s hard to discover the real reasons to be wary of some lenders when you’re sorting through page after page of “I made a bad deal and wish the lender would adjust the terms to meet my whims” stuff. Additionally, it makes you think of all the time Chase and others need to spend with these people–time that could be devoted to doing other things correctly, thus decreasing the number of legitimate gripes.
I’m beginning to think that the bottom line when it comes to Chase Auto Finance or any other auto finance company boils down to the following…
The customer service is weaker than it should be. Errors are more common than they should be. You can’t expect them to help you out if you need a hand and the odds of experiencing some kind of annoying, head-spinning incident involving tons of phone calls, lost paperwork and confusion is directly proportional to the number of things you do that might be even slightly out of the ordinary.
If you pay every month at the same time in the same way without making any special requests or doing anything out of the ordinary, you’ll probably have a nice smooth go of things. If you deviate at all from that course, you’ll probably want to invest in a bottle of Tylenol.
That’s the annoying truth about Chase and all of the other big lenders out there. If you want personal service and a little more human interaction from a smaller-scale company, take your business elsewhere. Be forewarned, though, you might pay an extra point or so in interest for the privilege.
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