Tuesday, December 16, 2008

How to Save Your Safe Deposit Box From All the People Trying to Steal It

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , ,

comic 68 - safe deposit box

I don’t want to alarm anybody, but at this very moment, someone is trying to steal your money.

Let that statement soak in for a minute. Are you alarmed? You should be, even though I told you not to be. Now I bet you’re wondering what has transpired to cause me to issue such an alarming statement. Well, for starters, I had to write about something, and publishing alarming statements is a great way to get people’s attention. For instance: squirrels cause cancer if they get within 100 feet of you. See what I mean? I bet you’re checking the latest rodentia medical journals right now to verify my claim. Well, I’ll save you the trouble—squirrels do not cause cancer. At least I don’t think they do. Just to be safe, you should probably carry a gun with you all the time and shoot all the squirrels you see.

What was I talking about? Oh yes, everyone is trying to steal your money. And by everyone, I mean the following:

  • The Federal government
  • Your state and local governments
  • Your school or alma mater’s student government
  • Auto manufacturers
  • The banking industry
  • OPEC
  • The United Nations
  • The Washington Nationals
  • The International House of Pancakes

Okay, so I may have embellished that list a little bit. But since I won’t tell you how I embellished it, you’re just going to have to believe me out of fear for now.

One notable entity on that list of groups stealing your money is the banking industry. You might be thinking, “Why would the banks try to steal my money when I’m just as happy to give it to them?” And if you’re not thinking that, then consider all the different ways you give money to the bank during your lifetime:

  • Savings accounts and CDs
  • Checking accounts
  • Mortgage payments
  • Credit card payments
  • School loan payments
  • ATM fees
  • Safety deposit boxes

Of course, for most of those times you give your money to the bank, you expect to get something in return—possibly interest payments to you for your savings, or the right to continue living in your house for your mortgage payment. At the very least, you don’t expect a bank will just up and walk away with your hard-earned money. Even if you just stash tens of thousands of dollars into a safety deposit box, that money should still be there years down the road.

Unfortunately that’s not always how it works, as this story of auctioned-off safety deposit boxes reveals. Apparently these boxes aren’t always as “safe” as their name implies. The article describes how banks, believing some safety deposit boxes to be abandoned, turned over the contents to the state government which promptly proceeds to auction off the contents. In some cases, priceless family heirlooms have been sold at auction without the knowledge of the original owner.

This wouldn’t be so bad if the deposit boxes were genuinely abandoned, i.e. the owners had moved away without providing a new address. But in some instances, “abandoned” has simply meant that the owners of the boxes hadn’t visited the box in a few years. Sometimes the owners of the boxes still had active savings or checking accounts at the same bank! According to the article, while states require that banks attempt to contact the owners before drilling the box contents open for sale at auction, there is no law regulating how hard banks must try to contact the owners of “abandoned” safety deposit boxes, nor is there any punishment for not trying.

Now the article goes on to describe a few common sense ways to protect your safety deposit box such as ensuring your contact information is up to date and visiting the box once a year to check the contents. But that’s not going to do anything to stop banks from getting bored one day and deciding to auction off all the safety deposit boxes that are prime numbers. To do that, you’ll need to take serious preventative measures to protect your safety deposit box.

No, this doesn’t mean to set an explosive trap in your box that goes off when it’s opened. After all, how would you get into the box yourself? That, and we’re trying not to kill anyone here. Fortunately the geniuses over at the FatWallet forums have devised the perfect plan to protect your precious possessions from pesky pilferers—simply add a bag of cocaine to your safety deposit box.

You’re probably wondering how this works to stop your safety deposit box from being auctioned away. Well, it’s quite simple:

  1. Bank drills open “abandoned” safety deposit box.
  2. Bank finds cocaine.
  3. Bank calls police.
  4. Police find you in about 30 seconds, because they actually try.
  5. You, the true owner of the safety deposit box, are successfully located.

Of course, step six of that sequence would be “you go to jail for possession of an illegal substance,” so one way around that would be to substitute a bag of baking powder or sugar labeled as your favorite powdery white narcotic. That said, some places will throw you in jail anyway for wasting their time, but at least your collection of ceramic roosters won’t be auctioned off to the highest bidder.

Your best bet, then, might be to label that fake bag of drugs as “definitely not drugs.” This way, the police will get called in anyway, but you can simply tell them later “the bag said it wasn’t drugs!” You still may go to jail, but it would be under the dumbest charge ever—something like “possession of a not illegal substance.”

Hmm… I suppose this whole idea goes out the window if the bank personnel drilling your safety deposit box open decide to steal your drugs. But imagine the look on their faces when they try to use the stuff only to find out it’s cooking flour! That’ll teach ‘em to steal from you.

So in summary, drugs are bad, and stealing is bad, but one bad thing can be used to stop another bad thing from happening, and it might be okay.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Stimulus Rebate Payment Schedule Is Racist Against Awesome People

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

comic 23 - social security number

As of tomorrow, about 75 percent of people who filed their last tax return specifying a direct deposit account should have received their stimulus rebate-a-ronis in their bank accounts. This is based on the schedule of payment on the IRS website. According to that schedule, tax filers with Social Security Numbers ending in the digits 00 through 20 would receive their directly-deposited stimulus rebates by May 2nd. Assuming a proportionate allocation of SSNs, that means 20 percent of direct deposit rebate recipients have their cash in hand right now. The majority of rebate-kateers—those with SSNs ending 21 through 75—will get their payments by tomorrow, May 9th. And an unfortunate few with SSNs ending 76 through 99 will have to wait until May 16th to get their rebates credited to their bank accounts. (As for people getting their rebates by paper check, some with unluckily high SSNs may not see their checks until mid-July.)

I wasn’t too upset about this payment schedule until I realized a few things:

  1. My SSN falls between 76 and 99.
  2. That means I won’t get my $1,200 rebate until May 16th.
  3. Two weeks worth of 3% APY interest on $1,200 is almost $1.40.

Thus, the Federal government, by staggering the payment of these stimulus rebates, is cheating millions of people out of their $1.40. By my calculations, that’s about $140 trillion dollars people like me are being cheated out of, more than the entire economic stimulus package amount!

The reasons for the staggering payments have been cited before: the IRS and U.S. Treasury just can’t send out tens of millions of electronic and paper payments all at one time due to the fact that the entirety of the Federal government is still run on Apple IIe computers from the 1980s. So splitting the payment distribution into chunks by Social Security Numbers—which are more or less randomly assigned and evenly allocated by geography, financial status, ethnicity, etc.—seems to make some sort of sense.

Well guess what—it’s inherently biased against a really swell group of folks. That’s right, I’m talking about awesome people.

You see, just about everyone I know who is awesome has a Social Security Number ending somewhere between 76 and 99. For example, me. Here’s a list of just a few of the really awesome people whose SSNs fall in that pitiful 25% range of taxpayers who’ve been shunned by the IRS and the government:

  • Most New York City firefighters
  • That nun you see in the grocery store buying food for the homeless
  • 90% of orphans
  • Vietnam and Iraq War veterans
  • Almost every Starbucks barista east of the Mississippi
  • Santa Claus
  • Spiderman
  • All of the good living former U.S. Presidents

And if it isn’t bad enough that all of these amazing people are being punished just because they showed up too late (or too early) at the Social Security office, it turns out that a lot of terrible people were assigned SSNs with last digits between 00 and 20. Here’s just a sampling of the kinds of scum who are getting their rebate money before fine people like me:

  • 67% of prostitutes
  • 39% of convicted rapists
  • The guys who canceled Star Trek
  • Unwed teenage mothers
  • Zombie Hitler
  • The person you asked to the prom who turned you down because you were a nerd

Just how did so many losers end up with lower-ending SSNs while we monuments to humanity got the high ones? There are many theories, ranging from DNA profiling to covert behavioral analysis. But whichever school of thought you buy into, there’s little arguing that something is amiss with the way we’re being numbered.

By now you’re probably as outraged at this blatantly obvious conspiracy as I am. While the minions of evil are out there purchasing new cars and big-screen TVs with their rebates, people like you and me are stuck at home eating leftover lima beans and reading last month’s Reader’s Digest for the third time. And I bet you wish you could do something about it.

Well, there is. To be precise, there are three things you can do about it:

  1. Write your local Congressman and let them know just how irate you are over the supposed “random” rebate payment schedule. Tell them that you’re just as awesome as, if not more awesome than, people with lower Social Security Numbers. Suggest that the next time there’s a stimulus rebate that payments be issued according to some more noble metric such as number of volunteer hours performed or number of homeless kittens adopted.
  2. Write to the IRS and the U.S. Treasury demanding your $1.40 in interest. And if you’re getting a paper check in July, you should demand as much as $7.00. Be sure to let them know you’re a Punny Money reader so they understand right away just how awesome a person you are.
  3. Refuse to stimulate the economy. The best way to say “screw you” to a government that has wronged you is to do the exact opposite of what they want you to do. For the stimulus rebates, that means not injecting that money into the economy. Put it in savings, stuff it under your mattress, burn it—just don’t spend it. That’ll teach those government number-crunchers to piss off the awesome people.

Finally, if the wait for your stimulus rebate is too painful to bear, feel free to print out the following simulated stimulus check and hold it in your hands for as long as you like.

fake rebate check

Just don’t try to cash it at the bank or you might end up in Federal prison where the only stimulation you’ll receive will be of the surprise-from-behind variety, probably from someone with a low Social Security Number.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Search and Ye Shall Receive: Audit Freedom, Paperless Statements, and College Superstars

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , , , ,

comic 19 - tax return

You search for it, you get it here at Punny Money with our not-too-frequent feature Search and Ye Shall Receive. Today we look at three search engine queries that brought some people seeking financial enlightenment to this humble quadrant of the internet.

Since the IRS Gave Me a Refund, Will They Not Come After Me For Deducting My Hair Extensions?

If you get your tax refund, will you not be audited? (via Google)

Oh if only it were that easy. No, my friend, when you get that delicious little refund check in your hands, your IRS worries are only just beginning. Uncle Sam has three years from the day your tax return is filed (or the April 15th deadline, whichever is later) to audit your return. If it establishes that you owe money, it has up to ten years to come after you for it. And if it determines that you filed a fraudulent return (i.e. you claimed your weekly visits to the local brothel as a “medical expense”), there’s absolutely no statute of limitations.

So always live in a state of paranoia because you will get audited and chipmunks are waiting to steal your car keys when you go to work tomorrow.

What Benefit Is There to Not Having My Account Information Sent By Pieces of Paper Anyone Can Steal?

What are the benefits of paperless statements? (via Google)

Well, I kinda gave away one of the answers to this question in the snarky headline; getting your bank and credit card account statements sent to you online is about 83 thousand times safer than having them molested by half the U.S. Postal Service before being deposited in a mailbox that’s about as easy to break into as a papier-mache ATM machine. But there are other benefits than just security to keeping stacks and stacks of statements from hitting your home:

  • It takes up less room in your trash can.
  • It saves you time spent weeding out junk mail from important account information.
  • It’s easier to store electronic statements for years than shoe boxes full of papers.

I Can Has College?

Can I go to college? (via Yahoo!)

Without knowing anything else about your situation, and basing my answer solely off your question, I would say no.

Oddly enough, someone else searched for the phrase “I can go to college” shortly after this query was received. To this person, I say congratulations and I look forward to having my Big Macs served by you in the future.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Wachovia, My Arch-Nemesis Bank, Offers Very Tempting 5% Plus Bonus Savings Account Deal

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , ,

wachovia is on the prowl for your savings

I haven’t been chasing savings account rates as much as I used to lately, mostly because the bulk of our savings is sitting in a nice 9%+ APY 7-month CD that still has a few months left on it. We have since picked up a few more liquid bucks that have been bouncing back and forth between savings accounts averaging only 4.5% to 5% APY, waiting for the next wild deal to appear.

It looks like Wachovia, my banking arch-nemesis, has decided to issue that deal.

I used to have all of my accounts at Wachovia—checking, savings, CDs, safe deposit boxes. Then I realized they were shafting me with sub-1% interest rates and horrendous customer service, so I jumped ship and took all of my loot with me. Now it seems they’re offering a crazy savings account promotion that may even be too much for this hardcore Wachovia-hater to pass up.

More details are available on this FatWallet discussion and this Bank Deals post, but I will summarize:

  1. Open a Wachovia checking account and the new Way-2-Save savings account. You need both. Existing checking accounts are fine (including their Free Checking option).
  2. The base yield on the Way-2-Save savings account is 5.00% APY.
  3. You get an end-of-year bonus of 5% of your balance, up to $300. (Second- and third-year bonuses are 2%.)
  4. You can’t just deposit money at will into the Way-2-Save savings account. In order to get money into it, you can: (1) deposit up to $100 a month directly, (2) automatically have $1 moved from your attached checking account into the Way-2-Save account for each debit card purchase, online billpay transaction, or other debit deductions.

So say you have 100 qualifying purchases or billpays or other debits on your checking account each year, and you put $100 into the savings each month. That would be $100 x 12 plus $1 x 100, or $1300. The 5% bonus on that would be just $65, but that’s still a very nice bonus. Even if you don’t do any debit transactions or billpays, you’d still get a $60 bonus just doing the maximum $100 monthly transfers. And don’t forget the 5% APY that $100 a month earns, though that rate could change at any time, in theory.

Just how good is this deal? Well, on a scale of 1 to 50 million, I’d give it a 39,194,942, which is pretty good! I deducted 10 points off the top just because it’s Wachovia, but the rest of my deductions are because of Wachovia’s attempt to get you to use your debit card more. As everyone knows, debit cards are evil and should not be used, even for what works out to be a 5-cent bonus on each transaction.

Wachovia does give you one extra option that could allow you to make up to $300 a year just doing the $100-a-month transfers: you can have up to 5 Way-2-Save savings accounts at once, each hooked up to a separate Wachovia checking account. I don’t know what kind of weirdo has five Wachovia checking accounts, but I’m told it’s possible.

The deal officially starts on January 15, 2008, but some people have reported success opening the Way-2-Save account already by calling their local branch and getting transfered to a call center operator who helped them open the account. I might give this a try with one or two checking accounts to put some miscellaneous funds to good use. I’m just hoping I don’t get the customer service runaround from Wachovia as they were so fond of doing to me.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Thank You For Managing Your Account Online; Here Are Twelve Paper Letters Containing Your Full Account Number

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , ,

you are approved... to suffer!!!!

Ah Monday. The return to a wonderful job after a long weekend. The joy of sharing the highway with thousands of other happy individuals. The return of the mail carrier after a heart-breaking two-day absence.

Normally Monday means a slightly heavier load of mail since it hasn’t been delivered since Saturday, but yesterday I was greeted with an obscene number of envelopes bearing those familiar logos of the likes of Capital One, Bank of America, Citibank, and various other financial institutions who want my money, my blood, and what little space remains in my recycling bin.

But yesterday was different from the usual deluge of 0% balance transfer offers and $50 for opening a checking account advertisements. There were no ads or offers in yesterday’s mail. What was there? Confirmations. Confirmations of my online internet activity. Credit line increases. Balance transfer executions. E-mail address changes. I counted 12 separate confirmation letters in all. All on paper, all in separate mailings.

I’d received similar paper mailings before, but never more than one on any given day. I have been fooling around with my various credit card and savings accounts lately, requesting larger credit lines and taking advantage of account opening bonuses and interest-free credit card loans. I guess all of that fancy online accounting converged into a single day of mailing.

But this huge batch of confirmation letters irked me in a way that no single confirmation letter has ever irked me before. I counted three separate causes for my irkyness:

  • Paper letters for online activity. Thanks to the power of the internet, I can do pretty much anything imaginable with my credit and bank accounts from the comfort of my couch. All it takes is a few mouse clicks, a couple of keystrokes, a swig of gin, and all my finances are in order. So then why must I get all these paper confirmation letters when I do something online??? I know you sometimes need 5-7 days to qualify me for that massive credit line increase, but have you ever heard of e-mail?
  • Every letter had my full account number. “Your credit line increase for account number XXXX YYYY ZZZZ WWWW has been approved.” You won’t even show my full credit card account number on your website when I’m logged in from my laptop—something nobody’s going to get their hands on in the next 10 minutes without breaking down the front door and brandishing a shotgun. But you’ll gladly plaster it all over your paper confirmation letters. Mailboxes are so easy to rob that I just robbed my neighbor’s right now while typing this sentence. Maybe if credit card issuers wouldn’t send out umpteen mailings with full customer account numbers for anyone to see and steal, there wouldn’t be so much rampant theft and fraud and pain. Just a thought. (Morons.)
  • Two separate letters for one request. Twice. This was the straw that broke my electronic camel’s back. For one credit line increase request, I got two letters: one saying “You’ve been approved for an increase to $10,000,” another saying I’ve been rejected for an increase to $20,000. I had requested the increase to $20,000; but much like a first-grader who can’t combine two thoughts into a compound sentence, Bank of Name Omitted to Protect the Stupid Bank couldn’t combine the good news and the bad news into a single letter. Similarly, another bank decided that it took two letters to confirm my e-mail address change—only the content of both letters was identical. Yay, double the chances for a mailbox thief to steal my account number!

Banks and credit card issuers be warned: If you send me another paper confirmation and I happen to paper cut myself on it, I’m going to sue you soooo much for assault with a deadly weapon. And if you don’t believe me, just check your mailbox for a confirmation letter written in myyyy blooooood.

You know, from the paper cut.