This is a rant…
Recently it came to my attention that I was probably paying too much for my car insurance. Not because I saw a Geico commercial or anything, but because I was randomly musing about the fact that we have two cars, one a 1997 Volkswagen Cabrio and the other a 1998 Jeep Cherokee, and they are both (obviously) old, 15 and 14 years old respectively, and that they probably aren’t worth very much, each is worth – in theory – about $2,000 for private sale or maybe $1,500 trade-in value. We currently are sporting a policy with a $1,000 deductible. Given the worth of the cars, any accident which is going to cost more than the deductible to fix is going to be 50% or more of the value of the car, thus the insurance company is likely to just “total” the car and cut us a check instead of paying for repairs. So, it seemed silly to me to pay them what I was paying them for them to not really cover anything.
So, I called them up and cut my insurance payment in half, maintaining the medical coverage and the liability (damage to other people). They were very happy to do it and thanked me for my continued business and all was right with the world. Until…
Like any average American, I have so much, I can do this. Not.
A couple hours later, I’m sitting there smiling about the money I’m going to be saving when it occurs to me that the value of my cars hasn’t changed much in the last couple of years. They’ve hit a sort of “value plateau” where the fact that they are running in good condition is the bulk of the value. Which means that I’ve been overpaying on my insurance for a couple of years. It’s going to total out to probably around $600 a year that I save, which means I’ve probably paid $1,200 to $1,800 for coverage I didn’t need.
Being a software developer, I know that it would be painfully simple to have a program that compares the coverage on a vehicle to the vehicle’s reported value (using something like the Kelley Blue Book as source) and this would generate a list of people to whom you could contact, by mail or email, and make them happy by offering to adjust their rates.
Of course, I know why they don’t do this. Something like auto insurance is seen by people as being required but interchangeable. They have to have it, and they pay more attention to the ads the companies run than to their actual policies. Most people will go to another company, get a quote and switch insurers before ever considering calling their current insurer to see if they can get a better rate. As such, companies focus more effort on signing new customer than on retaining existing ones.
For a non-insurance example, look at your local cable company. When was the last time they called to say they were running a special for all existing customers? Never, that’s when. The half price deals are for new or returning customers. Or for people who call to cancel. If you don’t leave and don’t complain, they’ll happily charge you twice what they charge new people, returning people, or people who threaten to leave.
Lesson: call your cable company every six months or so and threaten to cancel. Tell them you are switching to satellite, and then accept the new rate they offer to keep you.
You can probably do this with your garbage collection too, if you have to pay for it yourself and there is competition in your area. I’ve had the same company for a couple years, but where I was originally paying $30 a month, I’m down to $10 because they’ll “price match” any competitor’s offer, I just have to prove it’s a real offer. But they know who their competitors are, and they know what they charge. Why aren’t they sending out a letter to all their customers saying, “Hey! In appreciation for using us, we’ve reduced our rates!”
The other main reason they don’t randomly call existing happy customers to offer new lower rates is because those customer are, apparently, happy overpaying. Why would they throw away that money? Sure, being awesome for your customers might breed some loyalty, but loyalty is nothing in the face of cold hard cash.
Where am I going with this?
I have no idea. It all folds into that idea of “enough” I suppose. Some of these companies are making lots of money in profits, and they don’t reinvest that money into making the company better, nor do they reinvest it in reduced prices, they take it out of the system. Maybe they spend it back into the system somewhere else, but not at the rate it would get spent back into the system in the form of a few dollars into the pockets of thousands, tens or hundreds of thousands. Despite what the self proclaimed “job creators” tell you, a person, or small group of people, earning $5 million a month aren’t going to spend $5 million a month, but a million consumers saving $5 each on their bills are incredibly likely to spend that $5.
It just seems logical, for the better health of the entire economy… which is probably why I’ll never run a company or be in politics.
You might have noticed that during the entire month of November I did not post, not once, about the NaNoWriMo. Let me tell you why…
I got sick.
Yeah, its a lame excuse, but the wife and I both caught the creeping crud somehow and it put us both down for the count. To be honest, we should have gone to the doctor as bad off as we were, but without insurance those office visits add up. Even if we’d had insurance, what I can afford to buy on my own ends up having such a high deductible and covers so little, its really like not having insurance. Instead we stayed at home and doped up on the OTC medications.
Ultimately, NyQuil with the alcohol in it did the trick. But after nearly two weeks of headaches and congestion, coughing and aching, I just wasn’t in the mood to write.
I tried, a few false starts, but since I started the month sick I never settled on an idea, a place or character or situation, and I wound up doing what I always do, write half-assed outlines. I’ve got about six more of them now, all with plot twists or cool characters and not a single one even remotely close to being a full fledged story. All in all, I probably wrote 20,000 words in November, but spread out over a half dozen stories… well, it just sucks.
Next year, I’ll try not to get sick. In the meantime though, I’ve got a few other things going to help get the juices flowing, and with the Writer’s Guild still striking, I soon won’t have much TV to distract me.
Of course, there is always Rock Band…
There was a great quote on Commander-in-Chief a couple weeks ago, and yes, I am aware that the wife and I are probably the only ones watching the show. Anyway, the quote was the mother of the President reflecting back on her days as a young ERA advocate and she said something like, “I preferred spin back when they called it lying.”
Honestly, that is how I feel. I hate that people try to make lying okay by calling it spin or damage control. When you are asked a question there are three answers: Yes, No, and I Don’t Know. “Yes” means you tell the truth. “No” means you lie. And “I Don’t Know” means you cannot answer the question and you side step it or put it off until later. It seems that these days “I Don’t Know” is something people are scared to say, and so they’ll try to twist some lie into the truth they think you want to hear.
My most recent encounter with this is with Home Mortgage Loans. If you can’t afford to put a sizable down payment on a house, you’ll likely be offered an 80/20 loan. This means you get two loans, one for 80% of the cost and another for the remaining 20%. The main reason this is done is to avoid Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI). PMI is basically you paying up to a couple hundred bucks a month insurance for the bank so that they don’t get screwed if you default on the loan. Most loan companies have a rule, if your current monthly debt payment plus the mortgage payment is greater than 45% of your monthly income, they won’t do 80/20 with you, they’ll do 100 with PMI. Pretty standard.
Now here comes the “spin”. The loan officer will likely tell you something along the lines of, “Since you don’t qualify for our 45% debt to income ratio, what we can offer you is a 100% mortgage loan, with a slightly higher APR, but a lower monthly payment.” The lie here is two fold. First off, the only reason you get a lower payment (supposedly) is that the loan is likely to be some sort of Interest Only or ARM loan, which means you pay Interest up front, or at least a high percentage of Interest. The payment is lower because the bank is willing to let it be lower since they will be getting “their” money first, because the bank earns its profit in the interest. See, if your payment is Interest Only, you are not paying anything into principle, and this means you don’t really own anything of your house, except appreciation of value. Buy a house at $200k and pay only interest, when you sell it you will still owe the bank $200k. The only thing you get to keep is anything that is left over $200k after all the fees are paid. And if you just did the math… if your house didn’t appreciate in value in excess of the agent commission and taxes, you could actually lose money when you sell your home. Now the second part of the lie… your monthly payment? It will likely be higher. I know what you are thinking, “Didn’t the loan officer just tell me it would be a lower payment?” Well, yes, and technically, in an I’m-an-evil-banker sort of way he’s not wrong. The PI (Principle & Interest) payment will actually be lower on the new loan as opposed to the 80/20, by as much as a hundred dollars a month. But, with the new loan, in addition to the PI, the taxes, and home insurance, you will need to also pay PMI which is likely to be one hundred fifty to two hundred dollars.
So, here is the logic… you fail their ratio, meaning that they don’t believe you are a worthy risk due to your ability to pay, and in return for not making enough money they will force you to pay more. It just doesn’t make any sense to me. Why doesn’t the loan officer just say, “Given the price of the house and the payment schedule, we recommend you find a cheaper house.” At least that would be honest. It is almost like they want you to default on the loan…
If you read my entry about my wedding, you’ll recall that my car got broken into. If you have read my weblog for a decent length of time you’ll know that this is the fourth time in just over a year that my car has been broken into. The first time, they broke a window. The second time, they broke a window and stole my stereo. The third time, they broke a window, bent the dividing bar between two paines of glass and stole my stereo. This last time, they jammed something in the lock, pushed down until the lock popped, then stole my tire gauge, a multi-tool and three packs of gum.
I have insurance. Sometimes I pay the monthly on it and I think to myself, “What a waste of money!” For many years I paid and got nothing out of it… well, my insurance has 100% break glass coverage, so maybe twice over the years I had my windshield replaced because of a crack caused by road junk. Each time my car was broken into my insurance has paid for it. Each broken window was replaced. Each stereo was upgraded. And when I get around to buying a new tire gauge and multi-tool, they’ll refund me for that too. All in all, as I’ve seen the bills for these pass through my hands, the amounts of damage have been fairly small. Even without insurance I’d have covered it just fine. This time that changed.
I wish I had a picture to show, but the damage to my car looked minor. The door panel around the lock looked bent, and the lock itself wouldn’t turn when the key was put in. However, the lock mechanism worked just fine from the inside, and did in fact lock the door. So when I dropped the car off to have it fixed, covered 100% for vandalism by my insurance, I figured they’d hammer out the door, maybe have to replace the lock cylinder. I was wrong.
In the end, they had to replace the lock (which also involved rekeying the lock to match my key), replace a bunch of stuff inside the door, hammer and repaint the door panel (repainting meant redoing the trim and decals as well), and a handfull of other things. $791. Anyway, I’m glad for my insurance.
There is, however, one thing that my insurance can’t replace, and its something I may never get back. I don’t like driving any more. Driving somewhere means parking, even at my own home (this last break in was literally right outside my front door), and parking means leaving my car unattended, which leads to anxiety upon returning to my car. As I approach my vehicle now I’m looking at the windows for breaks, checking the doors for damage, nervously looking in the window to see if my stereo is still there or if my glovebox has been rifled through. Its been suggested that I get an alarm, but even with the alarm my anxiety wouldn’t go away, it would just be a different anxiety… all the break in stuff plus a new “Is my alarm working?” anxiety. I don’t even want to own a car anymore. And I don’t think this feeling will go away until I catch someone trying to break into my car and I beat them soundly before calling the police.
Or perhaps witness a thief getting caught, because I think part of my issues stems from the lack of concern I get from police. I understand that they hear this stuff alot, and that there is so little evidence and statistically my missing objects will never be recovered, but they always take the report with such indifference, they never collect any evidence, they just fill out the form and leave. They never say if there have been a rash of break ins lately and their working the case or anything like that. In fact, the last two times my car was broken into they didn’t even come, instead just took my information over the phone. The is no compassion, no “bedside manner”. I’ve just bee violated, my car vandalized and items stolen and they don’t say a single thing to possibly help me get beyond it. Facts, forms and forgotten.
I guess, all that I really want, is when it happens, for someone in authority to tell me its going to be all right, even if it isn’t true.
“Running’s not a plan! Running’s what you do, once a plan fails!”
-Earl Bassett, Tremors
Its funny… I often find myself quoting Tremors, but this one stands out. Mostly, this quote keeps popping up because of how I have come to apply it to life. Too many people rely on things that should be backup plans or fail safes as their primary plan. You can see it on the streets when you drive. There are people out there who have insurance, and they’ve covered themselves in the safest car on the road, and they drive like they don’t care about anyone else. They trust the car to save their lives and the insurance to cover the damages, and it never crosses their minds to, you know, pay attention to the road. They run yellow lights at high speed, they change lanes without signaling or even looking, and they are more intent on finishing phone conversations than they are on actually driving their car.
Lots of people deal with relationships, jobs, and other things the same way. They run out instead of trying to work on the problems, instead of trying to fix it.
That’s what this quote means to me. And he’s right… running isn’t a plan, its what you do when every opportunity to succeed has failed. Running is a last resort, and should be treated like one.
Its a good thing I don’t write on Mondays, because if I did, yesterday would have been a venomous stream of epithets denegrating the upbringing of a portion of society and a slander of the dubious pedigree of their mothers.
For the third time in six months, I exited work with a skip in my step. Having completed a good solid day of work and embarking on my journey home, ahead of schedule and ahead of the traffic, I came upon my car in the parking lot, minus one window and a stereo. In the morning, I’d had visions of program code dancing in my head, and absentmindedly forgot to take the faceplate of my stereo with me. When I returned in the afternoon, I found my rear passenger door was missing a window, and my dashboard had been skillfully disassembled and my stereo deftly removed. I say ‘skillfully’ and ‘deftly’ because the thieves, as always, caused no damage to the dash or the wiring in removing the stereo. They just popped the dash, pulled the stereo and unhooked all the wires.
As with before, its largely an exercise in annoyance to me… my insurance has been in great standing for years. I haven’t had a speeding ticket in almost a decade, have had only one accident and that was eight years ago, I pay my premiums on time. The last two thefts caused no change in my insurance. This one won’t either. I have a zero deductable for glass damage, and the stereo is fully covered. As of today, just one day later, the glass is already fixed, and the check is in the mail for the stereo. By the end of the week, I’ll actually have a better stereo than the one they stole, for less money than I paid for the last one (and certainly less than what the check will cover). I just don’t get it though… is there really a market for stolen stereos? The one they took, you can buy new for about $100. So the thief will hock it for maybe $20 to a fence or pawn, who will turn around and sell it for… $50? I get $200, buy a new $100 stereo and pocket $100. Hell, if I could just get them to steal my stereo every week, I’d make $5200 a year in non-taxable income.
I could do a lot with $5200. But its still annoying, especially when you consider that I would actually prefer to take public transportation if I could get from here to work with transfer silliness and dealing with two systems that seem to want to refuse to work together. And annoyance leads to fantasy, and I dream of car alarms… no. I dream of theft deterant systems. I dream of spinning blades that cut perpatrators off at the knees, simultaneously cauterizing the wound, leaving them to run away on their stumps.
I’ll sleep pretty well for the next few weeks…