Are you prepared for loss or theft?

blog beprepared

Be prepared for loss or theft!

A friend recently lost his wallet. Another lost his keys. Both had no easy reference to what was lost, and had to spend days tracking and replacing what was lost.

My suggestion? I always have a set of duplicate keys on a keychain in my dresser drawer. Car, house, mail box, and in my case, storage room. When I get a new key I make sure I get two, or I immediately have one made. So if I lose them I instantly have another set, which I would immediately have duplicated again.

I also keep a photocopy of both sides of my credit cards, drivers license, passport and other documents that I keep in my wallet. If lost or stolen, I can quickly stop the cards, and start the replacement process for the other documents.

When traveling I keep a copy of my main passport page in my luggage. If my passport is somehow lost, it greatly facilitates obtaining a replacement from an embassy or consulate. I keep pictures of all my documents in the cloud, too.

Airlines: Do they deserve the criticism?

blog airline

The airlines--my opinion. Undeserved criticism, with a caveat.

The airlines are much maligned these days. Everyone seems to resent crowding, poor service, delays, and make the airlines the culprit. I would be the first to criticize any large company for abusing the public, but in this case, I do not think the airlines deserve the rap.

I go to Florida often. I pay between $300-350 for each round trip ticket. I went to Florida often 25 years ago. I was paying $250-300. A 20% increase in 25 year is not unfair. Crowding? Sure, the flights were a bit less crowded then (it seems today every flight if full), yet what should they do? Take fewer reservations? Increase legroom for all seats? If they did they would have to charge more, obviously. Delays, no more than in days past. They cannot control the weather, which has wrecked havoc on the airlines this new year of 2014.

The airline industry has been one of the most unprofitable US industries in the past two decades. First 9-11, which caused them losses it took them years to recover from. Then a horrible spike in oil prices. Then more and more regulation to cope with. The average stockholder return for US airlines is, as I recall reading, lower than any other major industry. Let’s give these guys a chance to make a buck in the next few years, in return for the amazingly safe transportation, new planes (now with wi-fi existing or coming), and easy on-line booking.

But before I end my praise of the airline industry, I do have one complaint. They have gutted the frequent flier programs. My airline, United, used to upgrade me regularly. Now no more. They give away the unoccupied seats to those paying higher fares than I do, I guess. They do not give me a straight answer. And goodbye to preferred boarding. I used to board with 10-15 people. Now 50-80 people are in the same line as a result of giveaways and credit card offers.

I am not so sure the recent mergers will be good for consumers. There are now three dominant airlines in the US. Those like me near a great airport, Newark, are stuck with United for its convenience. They know that the frequents like me cannot go elsewhere, so they have no fear of dismantling their frequent flier programs. Bad luck for me. Hopefully our great capitalist system will cause more new and existing airlines to start to compete with the big boys, and things will get a little better for us frequents, and everyone else if possible. For those who fly occasionally, it is still a good deal.

ObamaCare Shortcomings

blog obamacare icons

 Obamacare: could have done something really useful, and did not.

I read an article in the Wall Street Journal the other day. It was about a woman who needed a certain procedure and no longer had a policy with the coverage of her prior policy. In effect, she has what is called a “catastrophic” policy, which covers nothing but a very expensive health problem, past a deductible of, for the most part, $5,000.

So she started to call around hospitals in the New York City, where she resides, to get prices, so she could choose the one with the lowest price. The article recounts her enormous frustration in trying to get someone who knew something about pricing. Runarounds, leaving messages (which were not returned), automated answering systems that went nowhere. On that day, she made 45 calls, was transferred or put on hold 56 times. In the end, she got quotes from only 6 of the 10 hospitals she tried. They ranged from $700 to $3000. If only every hospital were required to post their prices on their website, or a common website, for the convenience of those shopping healthcare procedures.

In the same vein, I noticed that my prior healthcare provider, Aetna, was not participating in the Obamacare website. So that means that not every healthcare provider in every state is on the website for rate comparison purposes. So I would somehow have to find a list of all providers in my state, and call them all, to truly get the lowest possible monthly coverage price. And what seems to be the biggest mystery to me, which no one can explain, is why only certain providers can offer healthcare in each state. Why is every healthcare provider not permitted to offer its services in all fifty states?

How stupid! In the 2,500 pages of the Obamacare law, no one thought to require all health care institutions to post their prices for the 100 most common procedures. Or to open the borders and allow all providers to sell their services in all states. And for them to be required to post their rates on the Obamacare website, not just a few??  I will admit the Obamacare website is nicely designed, allowing for easy comparison of rates between a handful of providers. Why did it not go further and 1) open the borders of each state to every provider, 2) list all providers in a given state, not just a few, and 3) require all healthcare institutions to post their prices on some sort of a bulletin board for all to see, and 4) not require someone to “sign up” for Obamacare to see these prices.

The answer to bringing down healthcare costs lies in competition! The same free-enterprise competition that has raised the standard of living in the US to so high a level. When one sees what the other is charging, so clearly and easily, as a consumer will be able to see on his computer in a minute, then it would be forced to lower their prices, or risk having no customers. Couldn’t the drafters of that law have imagined this? Or were they afraid of offending their PAC buddies?

Do lawyers feel the heat from arbitration clauses?

blog Arbitration

Arbitration: A partial solution to runaway legal fees.

I just read an email from the cloud storage service I use. It said there was a change in their agreement with me, some minor things, but most important that from now on I would have to consent to binding arbitration in the event a dispute arises between they and myself. I wrote them back: “good move, I am pleased to agree."

Arbitration clauses, such as this one, are spreading more and more to the dismay of those greedy bastard lawyers, who want to blow up each and every dispute or misunderstanding into a major problem, to guarantee them a fat, cozy living. In another blog I estimate that 1/3 of our lawyers are greedy, insensitive bastards, who would first, encourage you to fight a case that is either unwinnable or can be easily settled, and second, try to soak you for whatever they could by inventing work and papers to file (after doing their “research”). These bums could care less at night when they go home about your unfortunate situation. You are merely a dollar sign to them and they could care less whether you win or lose. Beware of those who ask quickly for a retainer, and mention necessary research.

In arbitration, you and your adversary choose an arbitrator, from a list of qualified arbitrators. You have the opportunity to speak with, or interview, the person beforehand. You each then sit down with that arbitrator, and lay the facts and evidence out before him/her. He/She makes a decision, and both parties live with it. The advantages? You do not need a lawyer as your mouthpiece, saving you $200-400 and more an hour for his/her time. You sit before an impartial person you have had a hand in selecting, who owes nothing to any law firm that supported his selection or election. The arbitrator will generally not allow the submission of time-wasting documents. You are allowed to have an attorney in arbitration, but in small or simple matters you simply do not need one. You have to be able to organize your side of the story, and supporting evidence. If not, a qualified friend can do so, and accompany you to the hearing.

Why are so many companies, especially credit card companies, using arbitration? Because they too are tired of the multi-thousand dollar bills to resolve relatively simple matters. They can send their representative (not a lawyer) to the hearing. Most often the parties in an arbitration, being relieved of the ridiculous legal fees being charges, start a conversation beforehand and can settle things reasonably and simply before the hearing starts. I’ve done that twice.

Here’s an example of a greedy bastard lawyer who almost got his hooks into a friend of mine. My friend advertised a car in a national publication and sold it from New Jersey to a fellow in California. The buyer never came to see the car, but relied on a phone description and wired the money. He felt it was misrepresented when it arrived. He sued in California. My friend panicked, since he had no idea how to defend a case in California. He was never sued before. He went to a lawyer recommended to him. The bum pressed him repeatedly for a retainer of $5,000. He was “confident” he could move the case to New Jersey, but had to do substantial “research” to prepare the papers. Now I know California has a very strict law that disputes such as these cannot be moved out of the state. This lawyer should have, or probably did know that. His aim was to entrap my friend into a long and protracted struggle over the $40,000 car.

If he were decent he would have advised my friend, as I did when he came to me. I told him it was unwinnable, and that any court would eventually tell him to take the car back. I told him to do the same. He agreed. Within two days I had the matter settled, with each side agreeing to pay their respective shipping costs. A decent lawyer would have advised him the same, and maybe charged him $500 for the little work I did to help settle the case.

When a dispute arises, somehow, we are programmed to think “lawyer” immediately. Get that out of your head. Formulate a solution, give a little more than you want to, and call or have a friend call the opponent. You will be surprised how fast you can come to a quick solution. The other guy will normally appreciate your effort. He has the same fear of runaway legal fees that you do!

LifeLock--Is it a Ripoff?

blog LifeLock

We have all seen the LifeLock ads on TV with dire warnings about our credit identities being stolen, and the terrible consequences. They have even persuaded poor old Rudy Giuliani to do ads for them. For only $25 (and for the barebones plan-$10) a month, they will guard against us being violated. What a bunch of hooey!

The fact is it is almost impossible for your credit identity to be stolen. Everyone today asks for photo i.d. when committing to anything more than a basic purchase. Yes, someone can steal your credit card number and make purchases, but you would know the minute you get your credit card bill, or you mysteriously go over your limit. The bums at LifeLock do not offer to unravel the mess, they merely offer to email you every time something changes on your credit report. Then it is in your hands. And a few other unnecessary functions, like their $1 million guarantee. I bet they never paid that out yet, but it makes good advertising banter. A big waste of money.

In March 2010, LifeLock was fined $12 million by the FTC for deceptive advertising. The FTC called their prior marketing claims misleading to consumers by claiming to be a 100% guarantee against all forms of identity theft.  LifeLock agreed to pay $12 million to settle charges, by the FTC and 35 states, that the company's identity theft prevention and data security claims were false.

Check your bank statement monthly, or on line weekly. Check your credit report often, although under the current system you can do so free only once a year, a government agency is trying to change that as I mention in a prior blog. LifeLock will not discover anything you cannot discover yourself. Despite their fancy TV ads. And Rudy Giuliani’s grave concern in their ads-he seems on the verge of tears.

Finally, it may be hard to unravel a stolen credit card or other credit report problem, should it happen to you. The three credit agencies that maintain these reports are very slow to correct such fraud and errors, because it costs them money, and they care more about their profits than your well being. If it happens to you, and it is very unlikely, then hit them between the eyes, and make them act quickly.

 The Justizz site has a hard hitting function to force those big 3 agencies to listen to you quickly.

Is a Living Wage best for society?

blog LivingWage

The Living Wage Issue

I thought I would weigh in on this popular subject. First I should say I am a Libertarian Republican. I believe in small government and allowing private enterprise to prosper, which eventually makes things better for all--“a high tide raises all ships." But I think those arguing on how tragic a rise in the minimum wage would be are misguided.

I did some checking. I found a study done by Berkeley University in California:

I read through it and it seemed properly researched and prepared. It claims to calculate that a rise in the minimum wage would cause a 2.7% rise in the cost of the operating expense of, say, a fast-food restaurant. So I did a calculation of my own. 

I assumed that a typical restaurant would gross $1 million per year (Macdonald’s is 2-1/2 times that) but let’s keep it this way for simplicity. I estimated that such a restaurant would have say, 12-15 full time minimum wage employees or the equivalent. A rise in wage of $2 per hour would cost that restaurant $80 per week per 40 hour a week employee, times 12-15, or $960-1200 per week, or $48,000-$60,000 per year, or 5-6% of their annual sales volume of $1 million. The Berkeley study said the increase would be 2.7% per year. My calculations show double that. 

The company would probably raise their prices to cover this additional cost. So what would such a raise affect the cost of, say, a $3 hamburger? Under the Berkeley study, the price of the  hamburger would go up to $3.10. My calculation, double that, to $3.20. What would this mean? Would those who patronize the fast food joint go eat elsewhere to save money? Where else, as these restaurants offer the cheapest priced meals that are to be found? All the competition would be absorbing  the same increase in the labor cost, and, presumably, will all pass the increase on equally. Would the company layoff employees due to the higher labor cost? Hard to believe, if their business remained the same. If they did, who would cook the burgers?

It becomes a matter of opinion. If the minimum wage went up, I think things would go on just as before, except the lowest paid laborers in our society would now have to live on $400 a week, instead of $320 (assuming an increase from near $8 to $10 an hour). Sorry guys, I think you are being greedy, and you should take the higher road, consider your fellow man, and make this happen. Great businessmen not only accumulate great wealth for themselves, but should also take responsibility for raising the standards of their fellow man, who is not born as fortunate as they are. It is only right.

I do not eat fast food; I am a more healthy eater (that’s another topic for the future). But if, when I go to the ethnic restaurants I like, the price of my $22 meal was upped to $23, as a result of a national law giving the lowest paid workers a couple of bucks an hour more, I would not mind. Who would?

I do not agree with Obama on much, but I think he has this one right.