Maybe if I were more financially savvy, I’d be alarmed by the collapse of several banks over the weekend. As it stands, I’m mostly just preparing myself to ride out some choppy financial waters in the short term. The markets don’t currently seem to be in a panic, so I’m opting not to be either. After all, if the markets do decide it’s time to panic, it’s mostly too late for me to do anything about it anyway.
Over the last 20-odd years, I like to think my approach to most financial contagion has been to shrug and keep buying every other week. As a young, new investor, I bought into the teeth of the collapse of the dotcom bubble, then through the Great Recession, and most recently through the panicked COVID-19 sell off. Not being a finance guy or an economist, most of what I know comes from history – and that’s that every squirrely period of economic chaos eventually ends. Over a sufficient enough period, every bad time, including the Great Depression, has ended with markets making new highs.
The trick, of course, is simply to hang on and don’t even think about locking in your losses. It’s a trick, because, as they say, the markets can absolutely remain irrational longer than you the individual can remain solvent. Assuming the House of Representatives doesn’t insist on allowing the federal government to default in a few months, I’m not especially worried about staying solvent. If it goes the other way, how well my philosophy holds up gets a bit murkier.
In any case, I’m nowhere near the panic button despite how much the finical news reporters insist on wringing their hands.
I’ve been reaching out to potential mortgage servicers for the last week or so to see if anyone’s interested in underwriting a refinance for Fortress Jeff. With interest rates stupidly low, I can only assume every other American home owner is doing the same thing right now. That’s a net good overall for homeowners, but has driven the whole process towards being even more of an absolute pain in the ass than it would be under normal circumstances.
If nothing else, you’d think I could get my current mortgage servicer to pick up the damned phone. And yet here we are, with all my calls for the last four days kicked over to voicemail and emails left without response.
I’m sure they’re busy. I know my mortgage is in no way even remotely close to “big business” for a national bank. But, hey, a quick email letting a long-term customer know they’re in the queue and someone will eventually get back to them – or gods forbid giving an actual estimate of when they may get in touch – would go a long way towards making me feel like they should keep my business and fending off the increasing likelihood that I’ll just slam a request for quotes through one of those online aggregators and go with the absolute low bidder.
Under normal circumstances, I’d just walk into the credit union and ask for their best offer and move along, but it seems that since they’re still operating under COVID procedures, requiring advanced appointments, and also getting flooded with work, adding them to the list would just make for one more outfit that doesn’t seem interested in calling back. They may get added to the mix yet, but life would be altogether easier if the current lender would just get on the stick and work a streamlined loan for me versus starting over as a new customer.
Yes, it’s a first world problem… and yet since I’m living in the first world, that really just makes it a problem… and one that you wouldn’t think should take so much time and effort to work through, but, of course, here we are. It’s like some kind of half-assed grail quest.
Everyone has that one hot button issue that makes them grind their teeth, or at least grind them more than usual. I’ve mostly accepted that people are awful and they’re going to spend most of their time treating themselves, each other, and every creature they come into contact with awfully.
Knowing this about myself, I can say that the kind of “person” I despise more than almost any other is a thief – the kind of person who decides doing an honest day’s work is for suckers and that whatever someone else has should really be theirs, just because.
This weekend, six charges rolled into my account before I realized someone out there on the internet using my name and account number. It totals to about $320, not a huge hit in the grand scheme, although the amount doesn’t make any particular difference to me. Whether a dollar or ten thousand, it’s the simple fact that I put in the time that cash represents.
Credit card theft is nothing new. It’s been around since American Express pressed their first card, I’m sure. I talked to the bank at length this morning, filed the appropriate fraud report, and was told that they’ll get back to me once they’ve had a chance to review the situation. My assumption is that eventually the charges will be reversed and I’ll be made financially whole. It’s apparently such a common occurrence now that thy told me not to even bother filing a police report. That the bank just shrugs this sort of thing off fills me with a whole different flavor of rage.
The insult added to injury this time is that I’ve already received two of the items the thieves ordered. I’ve got shipping notifications on two of the others. So at least for the next couple of days, I’ll come home to periodic reminders on my doorstep that people are as awful as I think they are.
1. Refinance. I’ve had two deals blow up in the last 45 days. One because of obscure federal regulations governing how many condo units have to be owner occupied and one because the appraiser used a nearly-unrelated set of comps and low-balled the house value. So now basically I’m out $850 with nothing to show for it but a shit ton of paperwork and the exact same rates with which I started the process. Some days it’s not at all hard to imagine why people don’t trust, like, or particularly want to do business with large financial institutions.
2. Party Planning. I’ve once again assumed my mantle as supreme party planner. Feel free to talk to me about event registration, catering, party tent reservations, name badges, parking, shuttle bus service, cash bar socials, menu planning, and all of your party, wedding, or other event needs. When I walked out if the gym at dear old Frostburg State with a shiny new social science degree in hand this is not at all the future I had in mind. Let my life experience serve as a reminder to you all that just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you’ll have any interest in doing it. But don’t take my word for it, go ahead and spend a few months each year doing something you loath. It’s sure it’s character building or something.
3. All the other things. Perhaps capping off the list of annoyances this week are all the small things. That’s what life is made up of, really. The day-to-day, moment-to-moment instances. Usually they pass by unnoticed and unremarked… until they all start fraying at the same time. This has been one of those kind of weeks, where even the easy somehow makes itself hard to do. If I make it through Friday afternoon without verbally expelling what’s really on my mind at anyone I’ll consider it one of my greatest personal and professional accomplishments to date.
I got a real paper letter in the mail this evening telling me that my local branch of Bank of America is closing. Decreasing foot traffic, more people doing banking online or by phone, blah, blah, blah. The only reason I mention this is because I’ve kept an account with Bank of America for the last 14 years. I originated three mortgages with them. And have mostly been satisfied with dealing with them overall. I always liked that no matter where I ended up in the country there was always a Bank of America branch. They’ve taken a lot of flack as one of those “too big to fail” operations, but my list of complaints has been pretty minimal until recently.
About a year ago all of the BoA ATMs disappeared from Cecil County, which was marginally inconvenient, but not onerous since there was a branch a few thousand yards from the office. With that now closing up shop and the next closest being on the opposite side of town from my normal travel route, that pretty much ends all but one part of my business relationship with BoA. There are too many banks and credit unions out there to be bothered with one that doesn’t even compete to be convenient.
I got a good enough rate on my last refinance that I’m not throwing them over the side completely, but I’ll only be funneling enough cash through them to pay the note on time. Reserve funds, and everything else will have to transfer over to another institution. The local credit union may not actually appreciate my nickel and dime banking, but they somehow manage to give me that illusion anyway. So when it comes time to refinance again, someone else will get that business too.
They may be too big to fail. I may be too small to miss. But they’d be well served to know that even out here in the sticks, we still have options. I’ll be exercising mine as soon as practical.
Last week, one of my mortgage payments went down. Thinking I would do the prudent thing and reallocate the surplus to paying down the another that’s at a higher rate, I logged into the online banking center and changed my autopay settings on both accounts. At least that’s what I thought I did. In reality, I set a brand-spanking-new automatic payment for each of the two mortgages in question. That wouldn’t be so bad, of course, if you caught your mistake right away. It turns into a bit more of an issue when you miss the mistake for a few days and the bank deducts twice the normal payment from your account and leaves you with a balance of $4.37.
Since almost every bill I have is set up to automatically pay every month, I rarely look at the actual accounts any more. Which helps explain the near-epileptic fit I launched into when the bank sent me a friendly “low balance” email this morning. I’m glad to say that the bank was more than accommodating at getting the situation resolved, but that didn’t really help me feel like any less of a tool. Although I’m still glad I found out today and now three days from now when I stop by to pay the rent. Since I spend most says ranting about it, I thought it was only fair to call out my own bout of criminal stupidity. And now you know the rest of the story.