I never wanted to do business with Countrywide in the first place

I’m among the many people who had their personal information sold by a Countrywide employee to some “third party”. I’ll share the first paragraph of the letter.

We are writing to inform you that we recently became aware that a Countrywide employee (now former) may have sold unauthorized personal information about you to a third party. Based on a joint investigation conducted by Countrywide and law enforcement authorities, it was determined that the customer information involved in this incident included your name, address, Social Security number, mortgage loan number, and various other loan and application information.

If this were happening to someone else, it would make me laugh on so many levels. First, the “employee (now former)”. It’s sad that they felt the need to specify that the employee is no longer employed. It’s sadder still that, had they neglected to mention it, many would have assumed that the employee was still there, undoubtedly selling more information to more third parties. Then, he/she “may” have sold. If you aren’t sure that my information was sold, how can you be sure what information was involved? And then to list all these things specifically and then add, “other loan and application information”. Have you ever applied for a home loan? It’s about a 7,000 page application. If this “third party” studies for a bit, he could email my mother and she’d think it was me. My favorite part is that I didn’t even set out to do business with Countrywide. Because of the ridiculous shell game that is the mortgage market in this country, I never went to Countrywide and asked for a loan. Sure, I signed papers allowing my lender to sell the loan or the servicing or whatever they did to Countrywide. But that doesn’t mean I wanted to do business with them. They end the letter with another apology.

We apologize again that this incident has occurred and for any inconvenience or worry it may have caused.

No, not “we apologize that we vet our employees like John McCain vets VP candidates (ZING!)”. Not “we’re really sorry we betrayed your trust and exposed you to identity theft”. Nope, they’re sorry it happened. They’re sorry you’re all freaked out and upset that someone has all sorts of personal financial information about you Apologizing for what happened without ever acknowledging that it was your fault is not an apology at all. Not once in the letter do they take any sort of responsibility. They “take [their] responsibility to safeguard your information very seriously”. Yes, they are very serious about offering two years of free credit protection once incidents like this happen. If that’s taking it seriously, I’d hate to see how they handle problems they don’t feel are very important.

Just because HDTVs are cheap now doesn’t mean your child needs one

Have you ever ridden in an elevator with a little TV screen provided by The Captivate Network? There’s one in the elevator at my office. I like to watch because it makes me forget that I’m in an elevator (As faithful readers know, I hate elevators). It also occasionally has some interesting things, like little news tidbits and weather. Today, I was coming back from lunch, and the screen showed a “gadget review”. They mentioned a 32″ Samsung HD TV. They mentioned that it was perfect for any dorm room. At the bottom was the price. $850. What college student could possibly need an $850 television in his/her dorm? Do you know how big the TV was in my college dorm? 13 inches. And I turned out just fine. Seriously, parents, if you buy your college student an $850 TV, you are a bad parent. College is about being poor and trying to hook up with as many people as possible. If you’re spending a lot of time in your room watching a huge TV, you’re doing it wrong.

Saving money through credit cards

When I finally got fed up with hearing, “I’m sorry, sir, we don’t accept Discover”, and went looking for a new credit card, I started off at Fatwallet, looking for a good deal.  I looked through their list of rewards cards for something with a 2% return on something that I would actually use.  The one that jumped out at me was a Chase/Countrywide card (Even though I hate Chase).  If you, like me, have a mortgage through Countrywide (Which I do, on our rental condo in Falls Church), this card will pay $50 towards that mortgage for every $2500 you spend on the card.

They just applied the first payment to my mortgage, and I was wondering what my long term savings were.  I have 27 years, 8 months left on the loan.  The wife and I intend to continue to rent out the condo as long as we can afford it (And that should get easier from year to year, as rents inevitably go up while the mortgage stays basically the same).  Now, it’s likely that we’ll refinance at some point, although the rate is 5.375%, so it probably won’t be until we can get a 10 or 15 year fixed mortgage instead of the 30 year.

Anyway, I found a mortgage calculator that would tell me my savings based on a one-time extra payment.  I don’t know how accurate it is, but it tells me that my one-time payment of $50 in the 27th month of the loan will save me $177 over the full remainder of the loan.  So my 2% reward turns into a 9% reward (I know, adjust for inflation, present day value vs future value, blah blah blah I dropped my econ major, remember?  It’s not a perfect calculation.).

So that’s pretty awesome.  And it shows how much a small early prepayment can help in a long-term loan.  So, while Chase’s customer service is, in my experience, unbelievably bad, this credit card is a great deal if you have a Countrywide mortgage.  I have no idea whether Bank of America will mess with this or not, but I hope not.

No one can stay away

I went back to Starbucks this morning, despite my claims to the contrary.  I had gone the other day just to break a $20 and found that the grande coffee was back below $2.00.  This morning, I just couldn’t bear the thought of the awful office coffee (black, because the only thing worse than bad coffee is powdered creamer).  And they weren’t busy, so I asked the guy who served me about the price change.

He very nicely explained what happened, and it’s actually an interesting explanation.  Starbucks did, in fact, raise prices back in July.  That pushed the price over $2.  But then Virginia changed the tax laws.  They stopped taxing plain coffee.  They still tax the coffee-like milkshakes, and they tax the food that Starbucks serves.  According to the guy, they will even tax your coffee if you get it with a pastry or something.  I think the distinction is between “coffee” and “food”, and coffee is considered to be part of the “food” category if you drink it with something to eat.

Anyway, very interesting.