Happy Monday! Here Are a Few of the Things I’ve Been Up To.

Nothing to do with the post, but I just had to use this badass photo by my man, Jean-Marc! – Image courtesy of Jean-Marc Buytaert

Happy Monday, Everyone! Here are some assorted thoughts and experiences I’ve had lately. I hope you find them amusing or enlightening in some way.

Clean your fucking house if you’re single!

Seriously, I was just eating dinner the other night, just like any of the other thousands of times I’ve done it, when suddenly, I found myself choking. Total freak thing. Somehow, something went down the wrong tube. Thankfully, I was able to cough it all back out. But if I hadn’t been able to, it could very easily have been lights out. And I’m a very healthy man in his thirties. Aside from having an extremely stressful job, I’m nowhere near being part of an “at risk” population. But fate doesn’t care about probability. And if I hadn’t coughed that stuff up, someone would have been walking into a mess since I’ve been on the road so much lately that I haven’t had time to keep up with things like I should. Food for thought.

Everyone knows JD Power awards are bullshit…right?

With football season upon us again, I’m watching some tv again. And with watching tv comes seeing those heinous Chevy ads with that guy I find incredibly irritating. Don’t get me wrong; he looks like a very nice, mild mannered, incredibly beta guy who wouldn’t hurt a fly because he doesn’t have the balls. But there is something about that man that makes me sincerely wish he would die painfully. And soon. A grossly excessive response? Probably. But at least for now, I’m still free to think what I want. Anyway, the ads always feature said annoying man preaching to “real people” about how Chevy wins basically every JD Power award on the planet.

First of all, if you haven’t found it already, head over to Youtube and search for Zebra Corner for a little therapy. The channel has tons of videos where a guy hero named “Mahk” sits in on these commercials and singlehandedly takes them from painful to hilarious. The only thing funnier than his absurd accent is his relentless criticism of Chevy and the situation he’s found himself in. There should probably be a law requiring that Mahk’s work be played on tv in place of the original commercials because it would make the world a better place. Just saying.

Second, JD Power awards are 100% bullshit. They’re based on survey results and those surveys are about “initial quality.” That’s the first 90 days of car ownership. Call me when you’re talking to people about their cars five or ten years down the road and we can talk. But 90 days? I’d be shocked if even a Chrysler product had any issues that quickly. So basically, JD Power verifies that people still like the cars they chose to buy…90 days ago. If you know much about psychology, you know how pointless that exercise is. Also, there is absolutely a financial incentive involved. Chevy, and any other car company that wants to use the “awards” in their marketing, pays to do so. Plus, the proof is in the pudding. Chevy builds mostly crappy cars and would have gone bankrupt a decade ago if it hadn’t been bailed out. If the company is winning awards, those awards obviously have no credibility on those grounds alone.

If you want to find out which cars are good, talk to a mechanic you trust. Or do your research online from a variety of reputable sources (keeping in mind that reviewers may not be paid directly by manufacturers, but if they give out a bad review, they’re not going to be reviewing that particular manufacturer’s cars for very long) and then draw your own conclusions. Ignore all advertising. I cannot stress that enough. Marketing people are clever little bastards who know how to manipulate your mind, even if you’re on the intelligent end of the spectrum. Ignore everything they say. Not a word of it is credible.

SoFi still rocks.

A while back, I recommended the SoFi checking account. While I did provide my referral link, I would only do something like that for a product I myself use and feel comfortable recommending, regardless of financial incentive. Recently, I was using the bill pay feature and I thought of a couple suggestions that I felt would improve it. Ever since I first got the account, I’ve been meaning to try out the “Email the CEO” link at the top of the page. I figured this was as good a time as any, so I emailed him my suggestions. The very next day, which was a Saturday by the way, I got a phone call from someone in his office. She told me that Anthony occasionally answers the emails himself, but that whether by him or a member of his executive team, every single email is answered. As a man with thousands upon thousands of unread emails in my various inboxes without being the CEO of a large corporation, this impresses me. She discussed my suggestions with me a little, thanked me for both them and my being a member, and told me to watch my account because they may be implemented. I’m excited to see if anything has changed the next time I pay my monthly bills.

But whatever happens, it means a lot to me that I can get a response that quickly. And I think it says a lot about the way the company is run. I am reiterating my recommendation of the SoFi checking account and if anyone is interested, here is my referral link. https://www.sofi.com/share/money/2015744

Speaking of customer service, Marriott is on notice with me.

Lest you think I’m some shill who only gives glowing reviews, I had a very disappointing experience at a Marriott recently. At roughly 9:30AM, someone put a key in my hotel room door and proceeded to open it. If the safety lock hadn’t been there, he would have been in my room looking me dead in the eyes as I toweled off in the bathroom, having just stepped out of the shower. As it was, he had the door open a few inches. There had been no warning of any kind – no knock, nothing verbal, etc. I quickly stepped out of the bathroom, slammed the door back shut, and advised the gentleman in no uncertain terms that the room was occupied and a second attempt to enter it would not be met with as kind a response as the first had been. His response, which was not apologetic in the slightest by the way, was to tell me that management had told him all the rooms on my floor were empty. Admittedly, I was angrier than I otherwise would have been since I was literally standing there naked. However, this guy was in the wrong, and by a wide margin. If it had been a naked woman in the room, there is a good chance he would have been leaving in handcuffs. He may well have been anyway if I had chosen to call the police. So I was a little surprised he couldn’t muster even a half hearted “I’m sorry.”

When I told the hotel manager what had happened, her response was even worse. She told me that a notice had been given to me that they would be cleaning the carpets in the rooms that morning (it was not – I even went back and checked my email to see if maybe it had been sent out that way – and if I had received such a notice, I would certainly have made a reservation at a different hotel) and that I needed to let them in. The fact that there had been two and a half hours until check out when this unauthorized entrance attempt occurred was deemed irrelevant. And there wasn’t even a hint of an apology in anything she said. Needless to say, I told her to cancel the second night of my reservation, which to her credit, she did. However, upon further review, it appears that the rate on my bill was increased by $20.

For a little context, I stay in a lot of hotels – probably about a hundred nights a year on average over the last few years. So I know how things work. The “do not disturb” sign goes on the door before I even set my luggage down upon checking in. But occasionally, a member of the housekeeping staff, no doubt in a hurry to get the job done, does try to walk in before check out time anyway. I’ve even had the safety lock disengaged once and had someone succeed in walking in before realizing her mistake. However, she was immediately apologetic in that case, as was the hotel manager when I informed her what had happened. She refused to charge me a penny for the night and assured me that they would be retraining immediately. I wasn’t necessarily expecting that caliber of response, because it was exceptional, but in this case, the manager’s response to the situation was utterly unacceptable.

I called Marriott’s customer service number immediately after that. The woman who answered was very professional and kind and took down all the pertinent information. She was very sympathetic and ultimately told me I would be receiving a response in 3-5 business days. That’s a little disappointing given that my complaint was in regards to a safety issue, and an egregious one at that. Had this man made it into my hotel room, the outcome would have been one or both of us leaving in an ambulance and a lawsuit being leveled at anyone in any way involved by the most vicious attorney available. It seems to me a much more immediate response by customer service should have been in order. But I will give them until the middle of next week to respond and report back when they do. If the response is less than satisfactory, I will not be staying at a Marriott property again, which would be a sad outcome given that by and large, my experiences with them have been good. I will also be researching which government agency (or agencies) is responsible for overseeing hotels and making a complaint to them. Stay tuned, folks.

Answers to Some Common Questions About the Equifax Data Breach

The mischievous look in this guy’s eye makes me suspect he may be an identity thief. Image courtesy of Jean-Marc Buytaert

You would have to be living under a rock to have completely missed the media frenzy over the recent Equifax settlement. It is still going strong, even though it is nothing but a basically meaningless parody of justice to show the rabble that “the bad guys are paying the consequences.” And as a result, I’ve been getting a lot of questions about the situation and credit reports in general. Here are my answers to some of the more common ones.

How do I claim my $125?

Unless you signed up for credit monitoring services, nothing. Because that’s exactly what you’re eligible to get. If you did, you can claim your pittance here:

https://www.equifaxbreachsettlement.com/file-a-claim

What if I had my identity stolen?

If you had actual, quantifiable expenses resulting from it, you can theoretically recover up to $20k. You probably won’t get nearly that much, even if your expenses exceeded that amount. After all, there are hungry law firms at the front of the line, tons of people who will make claims, and a finite amount of money to cover it all. But again, if you want to make a claim, go to the link above. 

I never even gave Equifax permission to collect my data. How did they get it?

Yes, you did. Any time you signed up for a credit card, auto loan, mortgage, personal loan, or basically anything else that would show up on a credit report, you most certainly agreed to let all three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Transunion, and Experian) collect your data – and to allow many other things to happen as well. However, like any normal human being, you didn’t read it and like any human being who isn’t an attorney with an ass ton of time on your hands, you wouldn’t have understood most of the terms and conditions even if you had. Don’t like it? You can try “living off the grid.” As for me, I’ll keep my electricity, internet, car, home with an address that can have mail delivered to it, having living, breathing women willing to have sex with me (and that’s really the only reason for any of that other stuff to exist in the first place if you think about it), and so forth.

Should I sign up for credit monitoring?

Nope. Credit monitoring is just one more way the credit bureaus, including the one that potentially lost your data in this case, profit by selling the information you unwittingly gave them right back to you. It won’t give you an ounce of data you can’t get for free but you will pay for it anyway. Unless you’re determined to be part of the settlement. Then you can get the information that is already available to you for free…for free. Long story short, credit monitoring is bullshit.

Ok, then what SHOULD I be doing to stay on top of things?

1. The credit bureaus are each required to give you your credit report for free once a year. Go to www.annualcreditreport.com to get them. Get one every four months and keep track of which ones you’ve gotten and when. This way, you can space it out over the course of the year and be as on top of things as possible. They won’t have scores, but I have at least half a dozen credit cards that give various versions of my credit score for free and you probably have at least one. Besides, that isn’t the point. The point is to go through everything on the report and make sure it’s correct (or more likely, that the mistakes that are there aren’t materially adverse). Like any faithful churner, my credit reports have dozens and dozens of accounts, active, historical, etc. But even so, it takes me no more than ten or fifteen minutes to scan through them (again, this is three times a year) and make sure there are no issues. The point is, it’s not difficult, especially for someone with a more normal amount of financial activity.

2. Know what to do if identity theft happens. You should already be monitoring all your existing accounts weekly. So even if your finances are absurdly complex like mine, you will quickly realize if something happens that you were not a party to. Call your credit card company, bank, or whatever entity issued the financing ASAP and ask to speak to someone in the fraud department. It is a simple process from there. If you find an account you didn’t know about on your credit report, you have a bigger problem. But you just have to work through the process. First, make absolutely sure that you’ve really been a victim of identity theft and this isn’t just something you did when you were drunk and since forgot about or that is reporting differently than you would have expected it to. Then, call the police. Not 911 obviously. File a report with them. Go to www.identitytheft.gov and file a complaint with the FTC. Report the issue to the credit bureau in question. Freeze your credit with all three bureaus. This step will create additional hassles any time you want to do anything financial, but it is almost certainly necessary at this stage. You may even have to get an attorney involved. But if you pay attention, you will almost certainly learn something from the situation too. So at least it’s not a total loss.

I have the first form happen about once a year on average as I would imagine most people with a ridiculous number of credit cards do in an era where identity theft is so rampant that I once read that credit card skimmers with a thousand numbers on them were going for about thirty bucks on the black market. But thankfully, I have never dealt with the second. I’m sure I will eventually and when I do, I will attack the situation with great vengeance and furious anger (anyone else remember Pulp Fiction?) and maybe I will write a post about it and turn it into a net positive. But until then, I will just keep watching. And waiting. Keep that in mind, identity thieving assholes.     

How worried should I be?

Not. This shit happens almost every single day. There are twelve year old computer geniuses, in horrible countries where their gifts are being tragically wasted, coming up with new ways to hack into the most secure databases on the planet as we speak and many of them will succeed. It’s an inevitability. But luckily, you live in a country where the consumer is basically the only thing keeping our vastly overinflated economy afloat. No one, and that includes most politicians, has any interest in seeing what would happen if consumers lost that precious confidence that keeps them borrowing money to buy shit they don’t need to impress people they don’t like (I believe that one is a bastardized version of a George Carlin quote – that guy was a genius and he was right about 89% of the time, which is way more often than almost anyone, ever). The economy is basically the only thing keeping people just happy enough to prevent them from realizing (or caring) how corrupt those politician pieces of shit are and thus, consumer confidence is to be kept sky high. And it follows that the laws are extremely in favor of consumers when it comes to matters such as identity theft. Do your basic diligence and you will be fine.

Should I get identity theft insurance?

Probably not. Insurance is an industry run by a combination of typically beautiful crooks and people who are extremely good at math. It wouldn’t be so bad if insurance companies didn’t do all they could to screw the marks customers out of the money they should be entitled to at literally the only time they’re expected to do anything whatsoever in exchange for the money they collect year after year in the form of premiums that consistently go up for literally no fucking reason at all. But they do. Ever make a claim on your car insurance or homeowner’s insurance? Remember the experience? Now imagine trying to get those bastards to pay for something intangible. If I recall correctly from the last time someone tried to upsell me on my insurance (talk about barking up the wrong tree), it’s about a seven dollar a year premium addition and there’s probably an excellent reason for that. It’s bullshit and they will never pay you a dime, no matter what happens.

Why was this post so sarcastic and profane? My delicate sensibilities are offended.

I don’t care. This is my blog. Get out. And to answer your question, I’m not sure. I’m in a funny mood tonight. I hope I succeeded in providing some worthwhile information and entertaining at the same time. Maybe more people would read this blog if I could master that skill. I guess this post will serve as a test.

Would You Like $50 for Doing Almost Nothing?

$50 could buy you an unlimited shrimp dinner at Outback Steakhouse for a pair of gluttons like my friend and I if you time it right. Bonus points if your friend says everything in an awesomely obnoxious Australian accent the entire time!

My most faithful readers may have noticed that last week, I missed the Friday post in the Monday, Wednesday, Friday pattern I’ve been following for a while now. This was one of the results of a little adventure I had while on a trip to the oil country. I plan to write a post about that trip next week because I think there were some worthwhile things to mention about it. But for now, just know that I wound up spending an extra night in a hotel room there. For some reason, I decided to read through some emails and for a less mysterious reason, I decided to act on one of them.

Not too long ago, I wrote about my new SoFi checking account. I’m happy to report that it has been a great experience so far. I haven’t been charged any fees (not even for checks, which most banks do charge for now), the bill pay functionality has worked smoothly, transfers to other accounts have been likewise, and I’ve been paid 2.25% interest on the money I’ve run through the account. So I’m very happy. But like any company that truly finds a place in my heart, that wasn’t good enough for the people at SoFi. So they found a way to put a little more money in my pocket and emailed me their idea. And on a scorching evening in a west Texas hotel room, I read that email.

Simply put, SoFi will pay me $50 for everyone I refer to them who starts a checking account. But they didn’t just give me an incentive; they wanted to welcome new customers into the SoFi family in style. And they’re going to do that by depositing $50 into the new accounts of everyone I refer to SoFi who starts one. That’s right folks, everybody wins! And it gets better. Once you’ve gotten your free $50, you can turn around and make $50 more for everyone you sign up. This means that anyone with a spouse or significant other who also likes free money has just been handed $150…or more! You can multiply that $50 times as many friends as you have who are interested in having a free $50 of their own.

Up to this point, I have written this blog for zero compensation. No advertising, no referral links, nothing. Simply put, income is not my goal in doing this. That said, if you have enjoyed reading my blog to such an extent that you’d like to toss a little cash my way as a thank you, make a little for yourself in the process, and try out a checking account that comes recommended by someone who has had them at literally dozens of different banks, feel free to use this link – which will do all of those things. If not, I will probably still manage to survive and will definitely keep writing this blog as long as I continue to enjoy doing so. And either way, I wish you a wonderful Wednesday!

P.S. As an extra little bonus, if you click the link above, you will learn what the B in B. Money stands for.