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Bank Rewards: Read The Fine Print

I’ve long been a fan of my credit card’s cash back system, so when my dad started touting his bank’s rewards program, he piqued my curiosity. Then, just a week later, I got an email from my bank advertising the very same rewards program. It felt like a sign from above, urging me to learn more about it. So I did.

The bank rewards its account holders for doing business with it, everything from automatic online bill payments to cashing a check at the ATM. Since I do all of these things on a routine basis, it sounded like an easy way for me to put a little extra money back in my pocket – my bank’s rewards calculator showed that just by following my usual banking habits, I’d nab about $50 in cash back each year. Not bad for doing something I already do.

So I signed up for the program, excited to start earning my cash back rewards. Then I logged on to my online banking account, and saw a $40 annual fee for the program.

I’d read all the fine print for the rewards program, so I was baffled as to why I was charged the annual fee, which would wipe away the majority of my cash back – and basically make my participation in the program worthless.

I called my bank’s 1-800 number, and was transferred from person to person, trying to get an answer to my question: why had I been charged the $40 annual fee, when I was pretty sure my upgraded checking account qualified to have the charge waived. When I finally spoke to a (knowledgeable) human, they gave me the answer: a few months back, the balance on my checking account had temporarily dipped below the minimum threshold required to maintain the upgraded account, so my bank automatically switched me to a standard account. They also didn’t change me back to the upgraded account once my balance was restored to the acceptable level (we were only below that so-called threshold for about 72 hours, over a holiday weekend). They’d notified me electronically, via my online banking account, due to my contact preferences. However, I’d never seen the message (I’m pretty bad about reading the messages that land in my online banking inbox, as they almost always are promoting some service I don’t need).

Long story short, the bank was in the right – I no longer qualified for the waived fee on the bank’s rewards program. I asked the bank to refund me the $40 fee and unenroll me from the program, which they did. Although I would have netted about $10, over the course of the year, I figured I had other ways to make that $40 “grow,” so to speak.

So the moral of my tale… whenever enrolling in a program that affects your finances, be sure to read ALL the fine print, and know exactly what you’re getting into!

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What’s The Appropriate Tip For Bad Service?

I need to start this off with a disclaimer, lest anyone think I’m unsympathetic to the plight of sub-minimum wage restaurant employees. You see, I worked as a waitress – for one semester of college – and I know what it’s like to spend hours on your feet, shuttling from table to table, dealing with whiny kids, disgruntled adults, and people who treat you as the working professional that you are, but as someone too lazy to get a “real” job. I’ve been there, I’ve done that.

And so when it comes to leaving the appropriate tip, I tend to be generous. 20% is a pretty standard tip for my family when we’re dining out; if my kids have been particularly messy – and the server has been particularly good-natured about it – I might leave 30%. My dad’s the type of guy who goes even further – he’s been known to leave $100 tips for his favorite servers at restaurants he and my mom frequent week in and week out. So I know what it means to leave an appropriate tip.

Which is why, after a recent meal at a local Italian restaurant, I felt so bad about tipping the waitress well below my usual 20% threshold.

It began innocently enough. We opted for Italian because if was a Friday in Lent and, as good Catholics, my husband and I were trying to avoid eating meat. We thought pizza and spaghetti would be a good choice, both for us and our two young children (ages 5 and 2). We’ve been to the restaurant in question several times before and have always had good (if slow) service.

We didn’t order anything out of the ordinary. My kids split a pepperoni pizza. My husband ordered a sandwich; I ordered a salad.

That’s not what made it to our table.

My kids ended up with a cheese pizza – no biggie, they’re just as happy with all cheese as they are with pepperoni. But instead of getting the caprese salad I’d requested, I ended up with tomato and beefsteak mozzarella on two pieces of bread; my husband didn’t get the portabello mushroom, peppers, and eggplant panini he’d ordered, but rather a salad with those toppings (raw, not grilled). In other words, the kitchen had given us each the inverse of our order.

When we mentioned this to the waitress, she suggested we just “swap” plates. I actually laughed at her, because I didn’t think she was serious, but she totally was. When I explained that I wanted a tomato salad, not a mushroom salad, she realized what was going on. It still took some convincing to get her to accept the fact that she was going to have to take the incorrect meals back to the kitchen and bring us what we’d actually ordered. It took us another 20 minutes to get our actual meals. By that time, the kids were done with their pizza and were antsy to be going (re: they were starting to act like hooligans and disturb other diners). We ultimately took our meals to go.

As we left, I paid the bill, leaving what amounted to a 10% tip. I know some people think that’s an appropriate tip in general, particularly for bad service; I know a few folks who think it’s absolutely okay to stiff a server. Having done the job for a few months, I could never do that. But leaving just 10% left me feeling guilty.

It’s not that the waitress was rude or anything – she was actually just clueless. Things that seemed common sense to me (ie, if you bring out the wrong food to a customer, you immediately replace it with the wrong dish, no questions asked!) puzzled her. My husband suggested I look at my low tip as a way of telling her, “Maybe this isn’t the job for you.” However, if she couldn’t figure out that our meals were wrong and needed to be fixed, I doubt she’d read between the lines of a small tip to see what I was actually trying to tell her.

So my question is, what do you consider to be an appropriate tip for bad service when dining out? Do you stiff a server, and if so, under what conditions? Or do you tip the same percent, regardless of service?

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It’s Birthday Season!

A few years ago, I recounted the tragic tale of how I “accidentally” spent almost $450 on my daughter’s birthday party - an event that was held in my backyard – to celebrate her turning 2. At the time, I vowed how I’d never go overboard with a child’s birthday party again.

Liar, liar, pants on fire.

My daughter’s birthday happens to fall right at the beginning of the school year, and as we were new to town last year, I decided to invite every little girl my daughter had come across during her first two months in our new city. I figured half of them wouldn’t come, so our initial guest list of 14 would be more like 7.

Wrong again.

Instead, every single little girl my daughter invited RSVP’d “yes,” and as a result the party at a local beauty salon (geared for kids) that was supposed to cost $200 ended up costing twice that much. Once again, I’d gone overboard without ever intending to.

But this year, I’m finally going to make good on my promise not to overspend on my children’s birthday parties. Here’s how:

My son will turn 3 in a few weeks, and has been begging me for months to throw him a party at a local “bounce house” type of venue. Unfortunately, the price tag for those pre-packaged parties runs upwards of $300 – definitely not in our budget this year! So instead, I’m throwing him a party at a local park. Turns out, shelter rental is free to city residents, so right off the bat I saved $75. I’m only inviting family and three of his friends and their families; in lieu of gifts, each family will bring one kid-friendly dish to share, potluck style. All we’ll be paying for are the hot dogs & hamburgers, drinks, and cake – around $100. I know the kids will have a blast on the newly-refurbished playground at the park, as well as enjoying the nearby lake.

My daughter’s birthday party plans were a little trickier to solidify, mostly because I’d upped the ante over the past few years. But not to fear! A few weekends ago, we were at a silent auction for our church’s fundraiser when – lo and behold! – I spotted the perfect item up for grabs: a birthday party for 8 at a local jewelry store for kids. The package came with:

  • Pizza and drinks for up to 8 kids
  • $10 for EACH child to spend in store
  • Each child would get to make her own bracelet as a craft
  • Each child would get to decorate her own wooden doll as a craft
  • 2 hours of karaoke/dancing in the store after hours

I hovered near the item all  night, finally swooping in minutes before the silent auction closed with my winning bid of $100. I’ll still have to provide the cake, but with just 8 girls in attendance, I anticipate I won’t spend more than $20 tops at the local bakery. Score!

What are some creative, cost-effective ways you’ve come up with to celebrate your children’s birthdays, all while staying on budget?

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A good credit score is something that millions of people struggle with. The slightest infraction on your credit report can stop you from obtaining a car loan, paying a lower deposit for cell phone service and can prevent you from gaining mortgage approval. Forget getting a loan, it’s nearly impossible with bad credit. The good news is that you can help your credit score little by little to help improve your bad credit. It doesn’t take much and won’t hurt your finances either.

Pay Off Small Balances on Credit Reports

Obtain a copy of your credit report. Look through it and find the smallest listings and make arrangements to pay them off. Start small and work on the bigger items last. As long as you have payment arrangements in place and are making those payments, it will help your credit score dramatically.

The reason that you start with the small bills is that they are easier to get off of your credit report and don’t affect your financial budget much at all.

Pay Cell Phone and Car Payments a Week Early

Always try to make payments with creditors that report to credit bureaus early. This includes your cell phone, car payment, credit cards and mortgage. Paying early does help your credit score. Paying within your grace period is okay but is still not considered to be a completely on time payment.

When possible, pay more than the minimum amount due too. This helps to bring down the principal more and reduces the amount of interest paid at the same time. You’ll be able to pay off balances on credit accounts much faster.

Difficulty Getting Loans

Should you need to apply for a loan, making early payments and doing your best to get out of debt and back on track financially will help you some with a lender. Keep in mind that it is quite difficult to obtain a loan with bad credit. Every inquiry into your credit is a mark against you and lowers your credit score so try very hard to not apply for credit accounts that you know you won’t be approved for.

When you have bad credit, you’re likely to have to pay higher deposits and interest rates if and when you are approved for a loan. The most likely option for a loan is with a quick cash payday loan or auto title loan.

Your credit score can even prevent you from getting a good job. Good credit shows responsibility in all aspects of life. Do your best to maintain a good standing with your creditors. If you have a problem or financial setback, stay in contact with the creditor to get more time to make your payment and keep that commitment.

 

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1840074 f3b40a23 Payday lenders receive few complaints despite bad press
Given the continuous dressing down payday lenders receive in the mainstream press, you’d be forgiven for thinking the short-term loan sector would attract more complaints than any other financial service; perhaps surprisingly, that assumption couldn’t be much further from the truth.

First things first: a disclaimer. This is not a post written in praise of the payday lenders. Instead, it is a factual piece based on the latest industry statistics published in the Financial Ombudsman’s annual review.

The 2013/14 annual review itself is over 170 pages long, so I’ll spare you some of the more superfluous details and direct you to a snapshot of the key facts and figures which can be found here.

Is there a payday loan witch hunt?

This is not the first time payday lenders like Wonga, currently the UK’s largest, have been on the receiving end of articles which seem wholly disproportionate to the facts, figures and context of the story.

Much of the coverage focusing on the complaints made about payday lenders, as you can see from this article, was completely devoid of any context. If we take a look at payment protection insurance mis-selling, you will see that the Financial Ombudsman received a staggering 399,939 complaints about the practice in the past year alone. That’s more than 1,000 complaints every day. Compare that to the number of complaints the ombudsman received about payday lenders over the course of the year, just 794, and you soon see why the context is so important.

Payday loan complaints in context

Further examination of the Financial Ombudsman’s annual review, which spans 1 April 2013 to 31 March 2014, provides plenty of additional insight:

  • Payment protection insurance attracted 78 percent of the total complaints received by the ombudsman over the course of the year.
  • Payday loans did not appear in the 20 most complained about financial products
  • Credit cards, mortgages, hire purchase agreements, point of sale loans, personal pension plans, buildings insurance and mortgage endowments are just a few of the financial products that attracted more complaints than payday loans.

Of course, even a single complaint is one too many, but for some media sources to run sensationalist headlines with no context whatsoever is at worse behaviour indicative of an agenda, and at best, it’s simply poor journalism.

Are payday lenders cleaning up their act?

In the face of strict new guidelines introduced by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), payday lenders have been left with little choice other than to clean up their act, or exit the industry. Since replacing the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) as industry regulator in April 2014, the FCA has introduced a number of tough new rules which are starting to take effect.

On 1 July this year, limits were placed on the number of times short-term lenders can roll over loans; a practice which is one of the primary causes of spiralling debt levels. There have also been restrictions placed on continuous payment authority (CPA). The new rules mean lenders are only permitted to access customers’ accounts on two occasions to claw back outstanding repayments. After that point, they can only reclaim loan repayments by contacting the customer directly.

Why are there so few payday loan complaints?

Despite the constant lambasting in the mainstream press, the payday loans sector has attracted precious few complaints; but why could that be? Perhaps the majority of the two million plus individuals who use the service provided by short-term lenders are generally happy with the level of service they receive? Alternatively, it could be that payday lenders have efficient in-house customer services teams which satisfy customer complaints before they are taken any further? More pessimistically, perhaps some payday loan customers are beyond the point where a complaint will help.

Have you ever sourced credit from a short-term lender? How did you find the service? Were all the charges made clear from the start? We’d love to hear from you on this contentious topic, so please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

David Boyd is a financial blogger, commentator and aspiring journalist who spends his free time writing for some of the UK’s most authoritative websites.

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It’s easy to get comfortable with monthly payment plans and Direct Debits for your household bills and services. For some things, it doesn’t really matter that much, you might save a few pounds here and there, but you can play it safe with some things such as your telephone bill or contents insurance.

But there are some areas you really need to review more regularly, your energy supplier for example – there are often good deals to be had, and it is worth doing your research and comparing providers to get the best deal. Unfortunately, it is quite difficult to compare prices and deals with the big energy suppliers accurately, but it’s worth the effort when you do.

Many people have bundled packages for satellite or digital TV, phone and broadband. This is a highly competitive market and it can be difficult to find the right deal to suit your needs. With these bundled packages, be sure you have a clear understanding of the terms and charges relating to your phone, TV and broadband and compare them against buying the services you need independently.

When comparing broadband deals, it’s much, much easier. You can probably search for a great deal and have it all booked while watching you favourite TV programme.

With many of us spending more and more time at home using the internet for home shopping gaming, social media and banking, it’s vital we get value for money and the best quality broadband available.

Key considerations when selecting broadband services:

1) Always choose a reputable company, check the web for user ratings and customer feedback where possible

2) Ensure the vendor has good quality broadband available in your area, aim for a minimum speed of 5MB for good quality video streaming and download speeds.

3) Check the product information so you are clear about any product banding or pricing categories. Is there a set up and installation fee? Will you have to pay line rental or organise phone line installation?

4) If you are buying a bundle with satellite or digital TV included, make sure you ensure there are no hidden expenses for each individual item – always try and agree a fixed fee to help manage your costs

5) Be mindful of introductory deals, whilst they can be a great incentive, costs can increase considerably after the introductory period so check future costs before signing any contract.

6) Always check the terms and conditions accurately reflect the service quality you expect and that your rights are protected

7) Make sure you get a clear schedule for connection dates and make sure you know who is responsible for each item to be set up, for example, satellite installation, phone line installation, modem and wireless hub

8) If you need help setting up your broadband, ask your supplier, but it may come at an additional cost.

There are some fantastic deals around, search online and boost your roadband today.

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