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.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Top 10 Things You Should Do With Your Tax Refund or Rebate

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , ,

comic 5 - how americans spend their tax refund

It can be very tempting, even for a cheap-skate savings freak like me, to blow that massive tax refund or economic stimulus rebate on stupid crap. Sadly, that’s just what millions of Americans are doing this time of year when those big checks come rolling in from the IRS.

But for those of you out who aren’t content with merely saving that four-figure tax refund for the future, there are several less idiotic ways you can spend that money and derive both an immediate satisfaction payoff and long-term benefits. Here’s a look at some of those ways, starting with the most least stupidest.

  1. Save it anyway, dingus. Okay, I’ll make a deal with you. Even though this is supposed to be a list of smart ways to spend tax refunds, I’m still gonna top the list with saving it. But on the flip side, everything else on the list will be pure spending. So this item includes every possible way to save your money including long-term savings, retirement savings, emergency savings, investing, paying down debt, and sticking it under your mattress.
  2. Start a home-based business. If you’ve been itching to start a part-time business in that empty room upstairs but the only thing keeping you from doing it is the startup cost, devoting some of your tax return to getting it going can pay off big down the road.
  3. Make money-saving home improvements. Switching to new, energy-efficient windows is a smart home improvement that can pay for itself over time. Having your toilet bronzed—not so smart.
  4. Fix your car. Bad idea: using your tax refund to buy a new car you can’t afford. Good idea: using your tax refund to fix your existing car so you don’t have to buy a new one for a while.
  5. Get cultured. Grab yourself some tickets to a Broadway show, a symphony, or something else entertaining and sophisticated. Or make the trek to Burning Man. Totally your call.
  6. Invest in your health. There are a variety of small purchases you can make that won’t necessarily exhaust your whole refund but will help your body and mind in the long run. For example, if you sleep on a bed of straw, upgrade to a decent mattress. Or if your jagged teeth are digging into your brain, go to the dentist. Or if your last vacation was that weekend you spent in jail in Vegas, go on a mini-getaway to a nearby destination to recharge your internal batteries.
  7. After much consideration, purchase entertainment equipment with long-lasting appeal. This does not necessarily mean to rush out the door and buy the first giant TV you see. Nor does it mean to buy a 12-speaker, surround-sound, sub-woofing, flux-capacitator sound system. It does, however, mean to buy a Nintendo Wii because it is awesome and everyone should have one, even homeless people. Which leads me to the next item…
  8. Give it away. Handing a chunk of your refund or rebate to a worthy charity will not only help someone who might not be getting a refund this year, but it’ll also make you feel really good. And don’t forget to take the tax deduction on next year’s return.
  9. Stock the cupboards. Over the course of a few weeks, keep an eye out for incredible bargains at your local supermarket—sales that are designed to draw you into the store to get you to buy other stuff. Then go buy only those bargains… in enormous quantities. Cereal 10 for $10? Buy 100 boxes! Steak for $2 a pound? Buy the cow! You’ll save money as well as time you won’t have to spend looking for deals on those items for a while. Just make sure your family can consume what you buy before it goes bad.
  10. And for the eternally single folks out there who, through no fault of their own (*cough*incredible-unattractiveness*cough*), have not found the right person for them, I have just two words: Russian brides. This works for the ladies too; simply request one of the “strong, big-boned” types.

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.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Punny Poll #25: Where Do You Keep Your Savings?

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

ah keeps mah money in uh burlap sack

I was shocked to learn that, according to the results of the last Punny Poll, over 90% of you wonderful readers don’t have a business of your own. Not even a side business! And nearly all of you non-businesspersons have no interest in starting a business ever. Yes, starting a business can take some time; but it no longer takes a whole lot of money thanks to the power of the internet, and owners of even the tiniest of side businesses can earn hundreds of thousands of dollars more over their lifetime than their counterparts who solely “work for the man.”

There’s been a lot of talk lately about finding better places to save your money with high-yield savings account rates dropping and the stock market acting more like a random number generator than anything else. It’s interesting to see where people like to stash their cash, so Punny Poll #25 asks exactly that.

How would cutting Saturday mail delivery affect you?

View Results

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Tuesday, October 2, 2007

A Timeline of Rate Chasing Insanity

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

rate chasing piggy says, i no longer know how to feel

With internet banks dropping their high yield savings account rates, I’ve been looking for a better place to deposit our savings. I thoroughly considered my own buried treasure method until I realized I don’t have a shovel.

So I started to look around at other internet banks for a better rate. Fortune smiled upon me and threw up a fantastic deal all over me on a 7-month CD with an effective APY of 9.36%. Since first seeing the deal last Thursday, it’s been a crazy ride full of suspense and anxiety to get this CD opened. I thought you might enjoy looking at a timeline of my adventures in rate chasing.

Thursday

1:30pm. During lunch, first saw the thread on FatWallet about a 9.36% 7-month CD at SECU, a small Maryland credit union, starting Saturday and running until whenever.

4:45pm. Finished lunch. Remembered I lived in Maryland!

5:10pm. Filled out an online application for SECU membership. Started second lunch.

Friday

8:30am. Finished second lunch. Received confirmation e-mail that SECU membership application has been received; a form requiring my signature before account opening would be mailed to me.

9:20am. Contemplated transferring savings from current internet bank of choice (we’ll call it Bank of Crap to protect the names of the innocent, crappy bank). Decided against it because Bank of Crap still had a high APY until Saturday.

Saturday

2:50pm. Woke up. Checked the mail. No SECU signature form.

2:55pm. Went back to bed.

Sunday

12:30pm. Sent usual weekly e-mail to Bank of Crap letting them know how much I hate their crappy bank and would leave it if their savings account rate weren’t so high.

4:45pm. Reply from Bank of Crap: “You’ll never leave us, you rate-chasing loser. Har har har.”

6:10pm. Read various responses on the FatWallet SECU CD thread. Lots of happy people with CDs. Some started posting pictures of themselves with their deposit slips. One person named his 7-month 9.36% CD “Franklin.”

7:30pm. Saw the CD listed on SECU’s website. It looked so beautiful.

11:15pm. Cried myself to sleep with no CD to comfort me.

Monday

10:45am. Memories of CD that could have been almost gone. Resigned to let my money sit in Bank of Crap at their new, lower crap savings rate.

4:50pm. Home from work. In the mail: Victoria’s Secret catalog (filed for later), credit card offers (ew, AMEX), and… the signature form from SECU.

5:00pm. Checked online to see if the CD was still available. Saw that CD was pulled from SECU website. Some FatWallet forum members say deal is dead; others: “deal ends Tuesday.”

5:10pm. Called SECU’s 800 number. Operator says I can bring my signature form to a SECU branch location Tuesday to open the CD.

5:20pm. Initiated a wire transfer for full balance from Bank of Crap savings account to my local checking bank. Wire fee supposedly $15. (An ACH three-day transfer would have cost me $23 in lost interest; irrelevant since time was of the essence.)

5:30pm. Read that Bank of Crap’s cut-off for same day wires is 5pm. Crapped my pants.

6:00pm. New pants. Meticulously scoured deal forums for more information on SECU CD. Found a PDF of the CD application; printed, signed, caressed.

7:15pm. A call from Bank of Crap. “This wire transfer… it’s a joke, right?” “No joke,” I responded. From Bank of Crap: “You’ll pay for this, Captain Planet.” Realized entire bank was on drugs the whole time. Worried I’ll never see my money again.

11:45pm. Bedtime. Set the alarm for 7:50am so I could get to SECU when it opened.

Tuesday

7:55am. Breakfast: wife still asleep, so I ate a jar of basil.

8:00am. Checked Bank of Crap. No sign that wire has been initiated. Decided to take my chances and go to SECU.

8:45am. Arrived at SECU branch a few minutes before opening. One person ahead of me; crazy woman mumbling something about “must withdraw, dig hole, bury money, Punny says so.”

9:05am. Met with SECU bank girl. Membership activated. I wrote a check from my local checking account, not sure if they’d verify the funds are in place.

9:15am. SECU girl tried to talk me into opening a checking account. Replied: “Thanks, I don’t even have any money in the ones I have!” Got a funny look back. Crapped my pants in fear.

9:25am. Left SECU, CD opened. Funds weren’t verified. Terrified that Bank of Crap will screw up something and the check will bounce any minute.

10:30am. Still no sign of wire transfer. Called Bank of Crap. Confirmed wire transfer in progress. Could have sworn operator concluded call with “thank you, have a crappy day.”

12:05pm. Local checking account shows wire transfer received. Crapped my pants in relief.

12:30pm. Deal forum members indicated that SECU closed the 7-month CD deal at noon. Rubbed my CD opening receipt all over myself.

Epilogue

A few additional funny moments in this SECU CD comedy:

  • Some people on various deal forums were weighing the cost of a round-trip ticket to Maryland just to open the CD versus the interest to be earned.
  • Several people out-of-state signed up for Maryland community college classes in order to claim credit union eligibility. Cheapest class found was $12: “TIS THE SEASON TO BE SINGING,” a zero-credit music course. I suspect the entire class will drop before it starts.
  • At least one person paid upwards of $70 to FedEx their CD applications overnight. Many of us (myself included) took wire transfer fee hits in the $5-$20 range. Before the $12 community college class was discovered, lots of folks paid $55 to become an honorary University of Maryland alumnus. (They never did anything to confirm my eligibility, but I am a genuine graduate of a Maryland public university.)
  • One person considered marrying a UMD alum to get in on the deal. Now that’s creative!

Lesson learned: rate chasing is not for those faint of heart… or those short on pants.