AmTrust Canceling my HELOC. Goodbye, safety net!

A few months ago I wrote a post about AmTrust Bank trying to bribe me to close my Home Equity Line of  Credit (HELOC).  They only offered $50, and I passed.

But I worried that they’d cancel the HELOC anyway, and I was right to worry.

Yesterday I got a call from Mary at AmTrust, telling me that they would indeed be canceling the HELOC.  She again offered me the $50, as I “may as well take the money since you’re going to lose it anyway, ” because AmTrust is “getting out of the HELOC business.”    I was unhappy to hear this news, and told her I’d call her back.

I discussed it with Husband, and  even he really doesn’t see why I’m unhappy about losing the line of credit.  It’s not that we need the money.  My balance is zero, and has been since about 6 months after I opened it (I took it out to pay off my car loan so I could deduct the interest, then paid it off quickly anyway).

And we have a healthy savings.  Very healthy.  And a few other investments that could easily be turned back into cash with little lag time in the event of an emergency.  And we pay $25 a year for the privilege of not using it.

But I like knowing it’s there. I like it an awful lot.  It’s a $10,000 safety net.  Just in case.

So, instead of just being a proverbial  sheep, I  called Mary back today and asked for documentation that they had a right to do this.  After all, it was my understanding that this was a 15 year mortgage, which would give me 7 more years.  I want to see, in writing, the situations in which they are able to pull the plug.

I also want to know what happens if I take the money, and perhaps put it into another investment which would give greater returns than the interest I pay.  Would they call the loan?  Would they let me keep it until it’s paid off?

I must be the only person who has balked at all, because Mary was surprised by my request.  She then told me that if I’d like,  the bank next store would be happy to take my application for a new HELOC.

Not the  point, Mary.  I already have a HELOC.  And I’d like to keep it, thankyouverymuch.  I certainly don’t want to apply for any new credit, and I don’t want to pay any additional fees.

Mary didn’t know the answers, but promised to get them for me.

But, honestly, chances are slim to none that I’ll get to keep it.  So I’ll likely take the $50 buyoff.

And I’ll try to look on the bright side.

I’ll be saving $175 in yearly fees.  Add that to the $5o buyoff  and that’s a very real $225 more in my pocket.  So, if I do have an emergency, lets pray it’s an easily doable $225 hummingbird variety and not a $10,000 poop-my-pants Bigfoot.

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Bold Color Transforms Kitchen into Bright, Warm Space

I posted about the bold paint choices we made for our kitchen, and I finally have some photos to show…

Here’s what the kitchen looked like before we began:
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That’s Son in the last shot.  Always happy!

I already had this print hanging in the kitchen in my old house.  That kitchen was painted the same yellow that most of the rest of that house, which is the same color we used to paint over the paneling in Son’s playroom.  It is one of my inspirations for the new kitchen, and this time I wanted to go bolder/  This print isn’t short on bold colors!

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Then I found some inexpensive wood bowls (vases?) in Homegoods, and I knew I had my kitchen color – Volcanic Blast by Behr.  Well, at least one of them…

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Too bright for the entire kitchen, I decided on green to ground the orange.  I picked the green in 5 seconds on the first green color page on Behr’s color wheel.  It’s Herbal Garden…

Here is the kitchen today…

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See the table and chairs I got for a net $125 on Craigslist?  I’ll post about that coup and why it’s a “net $125” later this week…  And after seeing this photo that red bag is no longer hanging from that drawer pull.  🙂

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Those plants were free, and the pots were 99 cents at Ikea.  I was going to paint some regular clay pots using the paint from the walls, but I like the white – and they have cool textures you can’t see in the photo.  And that’s an apple I was cutting up for Son.  Whoops…

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The original plan was to paint the inside of the bar area the orange-red, but I changed my mind.  I’m so glad – I just love the way the green looks with the off-white cabinets and the black granite!

This entire room makeover cost under $200, and that includes the table and 6 chairs, the paint and a few accessories.  That’s bang for my buck!

Now I have to decide what color to paint the family room – which you can see through the bar in the above photo.  A few people have suggested leaving it white, but I’m not sure.  I was thinking of also doing that room a lighter green, or perhaps the dreaded taupe.

What do you think?

Print those canceled checks now to save time and money later!

I hardly ever write checks anymore.

Most of my bills are charged to a credit card so I can take advantage of the rewards, and I even most of the rest with my bank’s Bill Pay system.   It saves me the cost of mailing, and it saves  paper.  Yay environment!

Still, checks are a necessary evil.  When sending money as a gift of course I send a check.  Last month I had to pay a friend for an item I sold for her.  Last week I had to pay a plumber who didn’t take credit cards.  This week Husband’s cousin did some work on my car.  Check, check, check.

I don’t think I wrote 30 checks all of last year, and I’ll probably write about that this year – perhaps less.  And being a good girl I’ve always saved those canceled checks.  You never know when you’re going to need one, do you?   I don’t ever want a Judge Judy wannabee to give me the evil eye after grumbling, “What do you mean you didn’t get a copy of the check from your bank!!!???  Where did you think you were coming today??!!!!!”

Last year my bank – like just about every other bank – stopped sending us our canceled checks.  A money saving measure, to be sure, but also a great savings on paper.  Yay environment!

But what’s a good record-keeper like me to do?  Well, nothing for the last year.  Why not?  All the usual reasons – I hardly write checks anymore, the bank has them if I really needed one (for a research fee that’s about a million an hour!), I’m too busy to deal with it…

Naughty, naughty record keeper!

All of that changed a couple of months ago.  I started noticing a little check icon next to the checks I wrote on my online banking statement.  Apparently they have added the ability to view these canceled checks.  Whoa!  Terrific!  AND they will let you print them, too.

So,  I’ve now  printed a copy of each check, and stored it in a file on my computer.  If I ever need one I have it, and I don’t  have to pay the bank a million dollars to find it.

The bank taketh, and the bank giveth.  And sometimes I’m smarteth.

Why I turned down Comcast cable, phone AND internet for $50 a month, but how you can get this deal!

We have been subscribers to Comcast for cable since we moved in, internet shortly thereafter.  We added phone service this past year.  At that  time we got what I thought was a great deal – $99 a month for six months.  That was less than I was paying for just cable and internet!  There was much rejoicing!

A few months ago that promotional rate ended, and I was in that icky place where we weren’t eligible for a promotional rate.  I had marked my calendar for the date when we could get a better rate again, and unhappily paid a bill that was $70  more per month.

When we decided to move I hoped we’d be able to move up our eligibility, given it was a new address.  I didn’t  really want to start a new account because our main email address is @Comcast, and it  would be a huge pain to change that.

I was in for a shock when I called Comcast.  They don’t serve the  city we’re moving to – the one about 10 miles west of where we are now.  Our new city is one of only two cities in our county that is not served by Comcast.  So, no new Comcast promo rate, no getting to keep our email addresses, no getting to keep our telephone number…

Ugh.

So it was with some trepidation that I contacted the cable company that serves the two lone wolf cities.  I was happily surprised to find out that we’ll have a few more channels, and we get the same $99 rate we used to have with Comcast.  And, we get that rate indefinitely.  So, I’ll be spending less again, for the foreseeable future.   Yay!!!

But what about that $50 rate in the title of this post?

Well.

I called Comcast the other day to cancel service, and though they attempted to talk me out of it they backed down when I explained that I would no longer be in a Comcast service area.  We scheduled the cancellation, made arrangements for the equipment  to be returned and that was that.  Or so I thought.

Yesterday there was a message on my machine from someone wanting to make me a special offer if I decided to keep Comcast.  Though keeping Comcast wasn’t  a possibility I didn’t ignore the call because I wanted to see what they would offer to entice me.  So I could share it with you.

You smart readers already know what the offer is.  $50 a month for cable, internet AND phone!!  For a year!!  I’m sure you also know how irked I am that I couldn’t get that rate to begin with.

But perhaps you can.  Perhaps you’d like to call and schedule a cancellation a few weeks away.  Perhaps you’ll get a call offering this super-dee-duper-doo-please-don’t-leave-us-or-the-stockholders-will-crap-a-brick rate, too.

Let me know if you get this great deal.  You can e-mail me at one of my all-new web based email addresses (I’m not going through changing main email addresses again.  Egad!).

And I shall save vicariously through you.

AmTrust says, “We love you! Really! But will you please cancel your HELOC? We’ll give you fifty dolla!”

I just got a really weird phone call.  But first a little background…

AmTrust Bank is one of the banks with which we do business.  It’s the bank where I purchased my mortgage, and a week later took out a $10,000 Home Equity Line of Credit to pay off my car loan.   The HELOC is actually a second mortgage of sorts.  I don’t recall right now if it was a ten or fifteen year agreement, but I do recall that they gave me a $100 Home Depot gift card for opening it, and they charge me a $25 fee to keep it, with no penalty if I close it as long as I keep it open for at least three years.

I took out the HELOC so I could deduct the interest, and made the car payment to my HELOC instead of a bank until I paid it off six  months later.  I’ve not used it since, but that $10,000 is available if I need it.

I may not use that credit line, but I like knowing it’s there if I need it.  Despite having a five-figure emergency fund, one never knows when one will have a really big emergency, does one?  That’s why we decided it was worth $2 a month to keep it open.

Since the most recent financial crisis began I’ve been reading and hearing stories about some of the things banks are doing to reduce their exposure to debt – good and bad.  Credit card interest rates are being hiked while credit limits are being slashed.  HELOCs are being canceled and/or closed, whether people are carrying a balance or not.

I’d hear things like that and wonder if any of the companies with which I do business would take these actions.  I’ve not really worried about it since we pay our balances off every month, and we don’t need the credit to survive.  We have excellent credit, so I understand that if a company makes one of these decisions that affects me that it isn’t about me at all – it’s about them.  I have my financial house in order – they’re scurrying to do the same.

So today I get a phone call from said bank, asking me if I’d yet received the letter about my HELOC.  No, I had not.  But already I’m thinking that they’re closing it, and calling to lessen the blow.  I’m already composing my reply in my head when what she is staying starts filtering through.  I heard a few phrases – “we’ll pay you $50” and “if you want to” and “no penalty” and “just stop by to fill out the paperwork“.

Whoa.  “Let me get this  straight,” I say.  “AmTrust is willing to pay me $50 if I close my HELOC?”

Yes, and there’s no penalty.”   Well, there’d be no penalty anyway, chica.  But I held my tongue.

“But I don’t have to if  I don’t wanna?”

No.  You may keep it open if you wish.

Uh huh.

I end the conversation and hang up, thinking that AmTrust really, really, really wants to close the HELOCs but really, really, really doesn’t want to piss off their customers.

Huh.

Well, I’d like to keep my HELOC.  But I have to figure out AmTrust’s next move.  What will they do if not enough people voluntarily surrender their  HELOCs?  Are cancellations next?

Am I better off taking the $50 now, or waiting, hopeing they don’t cancel it?  Waiting and getting nothing.

I’m feeling the love!

4/9/09 9:52 pm Edited to add:

I just ran across this article which describes a classs action lawsuit against AmTrust accusing them of illegally suspending these types of accounts.  No wonder they are looking for a kinder, gentler way of getting rid of that risk!

The IRS Tax Credit on New Cars May Make New Cars a Better Deal Than Used

The US Government really, really, really, REALLY wants  us to buy cars.

To help stimulate the industry – and our economy as a result – the IRS has reinstated the tax deduction for sales tax paid when purchasing a car.  I recall that when I bought my first car they’d just taken this deduction away from taxpayers, and if not so happy for having my first ever new car I’d have been a lot more peeved.

According to the IRS website, taxpayers who buy new passenger cars between Feb. 16, 2009 and Jan. 10, 2010 will be able to deduct their state and local sales and excise taxes on their 2009 returns. The deduction is limited to the state and local sales and excise taxes paid on up to $49,500 of the purchase price of a qualified new car, light truck, motor home or motorcycle. The deduction phases out for individuals with modified adjusted gross income between $125,000 and $135,000, and joint filers with MAGI between $250,000 and $260,000.

The special deduction is available regardless of whether a taxpayer itemizes deductions on their return. The IRS reminded taxpayers the deduction may not be taken on 2008 tax returns.

So, this won’t lessen your tax bill this year.  But  if you’re facing a large car repair it might be worth it to get a new vehicle.  I’ve been reading that used car prices are increasing because people are unwilling or unable to take the plunge with a new car.   Between cut-rate pricing, very favorable financing and the new tax break it may make more sense to buy new – something I said I’d never do again.

Of course if you don’t need a car then it’s not frugal to buy one, no matter how good the deal. Thankfully our cars are in good shape.  Let’s hope it stays that way…

The Only Thing Better Than a Really Great Bargain is Money Well Spent

Today Son and I went to Costco.   They are about seven minutes from our home, so I shop there pretty much every week.  Their milk prices alone make it worth the trip – I usually save about $1 a gallon over Publix.  Their meats are FANtastic, and I save a bundle on bread, eggs and many other staples.

They also have lots of neat stuff.  I try to steer clear, avoiding the impulse buy.  But today I couldn’t help noticing some really cute black iron bistro chairs, priced at $22.99 apiece:

chairs2

Gee, those look really familiar… I really liked them a lot.  Cute and comfy, with a wide seat to accommodate wide tushies.  That’s good, since they are  the EXACT SAME ONES I bought this weekend, and I only paid $5 apiece!

I LOVE a bargain!

Since I saved so much money on the chairs I decided to give myself some long overdue help.  I do all of my finances by hand, and it’s just ridiculous to do so.  Every year I procrastinate doing my taxes because it’s such a bear of a job.  I tried Microsoft Money and hated it.  I’ve wanted Quicken for a long time, but could never justify the expense.  I heard that Quicken was offering a free online version, and I checked it out.  Good, but I’m not comfortable with all of my financial info being kept on some server somewhere.

Well, Costco came out with a new coupon book today, and there was a $20 off coupon for Quicken.  That made it half price, so I bought it.

I am soooo happy I did.  In a little over an hour I’ve entered all of my credit card receipts for the year so far, properly categorized to make my taxes next year so much easier.  I still have a few accounts to enter,  but I’m feeling really, really good.

I’m not going to justify spending the rest of the money saved on those great bargain chairs, but that $20 was well worth it in time saved, accuracy and angst.

The only thing better than a really great bargain is money well spent.  Money well spent that’s also a bargain?  Nirvana!

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