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.


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.

Bank Fee Phobia

I hate paying bank fees. The way I see it they get to use my money to make themselves more money, so unless I bounce a check they should just be content with me being a silent partner.

I have free checking. I only use my ATM card at my bank’s machines. I never withdraw money more than six times per month from my Money Market account. I follow the rules, or so I thought.

This morning I went online to check and see if my economic stimulus check was received yet (and no, it wasn’t) and I noticed a $5 service fee deducted from my savings account.

I called the bank to inquire. Apparently I had dipped below the minimum daily balance of $250 for one day and so the fee was imposed. She immediately offered to waive the fee. I appreciated that, but the bigger issue is why I cannot get a savings account with no minimum balance. This account had been a no-minimum account until about two years before, and when they announced the switch they offered no alternative. Ever since I have stress about daily balances that I do not want or need.

Given the number of accounts I have at that bank I was not inclined to go through the rigmarole of researching another bank and moving my accounts, so I’d stayed put. I just hated always having to make sure there was $250 in that account, and it had finally come back to bite me in the tush.

As I’m on the phone with the bank and mentioning my chagrin about the lack of a no-minimum-balance account she told me that they’d just come out with a new account for which there was only a $1 minimum balance. When I asked her what the difference was between the two accounts she said just the minimum balance requirement.

That just didn’t make sense to me. Why would the bank make a new type of account that was identical to the account I had now except for the minimum balance requirement? I asked her to check again. I didn’t want to find out later that in order to get the $1 minimum balance account I had to give up online banking, or sweep the lobby, or get the name of the bank tattooed on my ass (which, trust me, would not be a good advertising venue). She put me on hold to check with…someone…and came back confirming that there is no other difference.  They call the new account a Heritage account, but I think a better name would be the Throw Fee Phobic Customers A Bone Account.  Whatever.

After being reassured that my automatic debits would still go through (I didn’t have to contact my vendors because my account number will stay the same) I had her make the switch.

I documented everything we discussed in my new “What They Told Me” file, and went about my day.

Really, it’s a relief. I hate worrying about minimum balances. And I hate paying fees even more. And if my account ever falls below one dollar I will deserve a service fee. Almost.

How I Use My Bank Accounts to Manage My Bills and Save, Save, Save

I wrote a few weeks ago about my Saving by Delusion savings plan. It got me thinking about the different types of bank accounts and how we use them, so I thought I’d share that.

In our family we have several different types of account. We have two regular, no-frills checking accounts, a money market account and a statement savings account. Son also has a passbook savings account.


Main Checking

Our regular, no frills checking accounts have no minimum balance, but also earn no interest. The interest rate on the interest-paying accounts is so low we’d rather put the bulk of our money where it will get a better return. Husband’s paycheck is automatically deposited here into this, our main no-frills account, and I use this account to pay most of our bills. Most bills are on automatic debit, which helps me stay current, avoid postage and pay as late as possible yet be on time.

Husband’s Checking

The other no-frills checking account is an account we set up after we first married for Husband to have some spending money that is “just his” to use without even thinking about. Since I handle our day-to-day finances I thought it important to make sure Husband didn’t feel like he had to check in for every purchase. After being married awhile he realized he didn’t really want or need it, so it wasn’t really being used at all.

Husband’s Checking found new life when I started selling things on Ebay. I wanted to be a verified seller but I didn’t want to give Ebay access to Main Checking, as I’d heard they sometimes freeze accounts if there is a complaint. There was no way I was going to let that happen to an important account. So I used Husband’s Checking when I signed up for Paypal, and as there’s never more than $100 in that account we won’t really be affected if there is a problem. Money is transferred out of that account as soon as it’s electronically deposited. It’s a perfect solution for us.


Passbook Savings

Son has a passbook savings account. That’s the one where you have the little book, and it has to be stamped each time you make a transaction. There’s good news and bad news about a passbook. Taking money out of a passbook savings account is a bit of a pain, as you have to have the passbook with you, and you have to actually go inside the bank (well, not anymore, but I pretend I don’t know that).Because it is such a production I’m less likely to make withdrawals. When Son gets older I think this account will be perfect to start him along the road to Saving by Delusion, too.

Statement Savings

For short-term savings I use a regular Statement Savings account. Access is much easier with this account. Since our checking accounts earns no interest I need somewhere to park money temporarily, yet still earn a little interest. Because I’m not limited in the number of withdrawals I can make I can transfer money into and out of this account at will.

All money that does not come from Husband’s paycheck gets deposited into this short-term savings. Any survey money, Craigslist/Ebay money, Health Savings Account reimbursements, gift money (except Son’s) – any extra money at all – goes here. If I know I’m making a large deposit that will need to soon be in my checking account I’ll park it there for a few days and make a few pesos (I do not go to the extreme of transferring money from savings into checking for each check – that’s just too labor intensive).

I also pay my mortgage from this account. I’ve always done this because I wanted to make sure that even if I made an error in my calculations that check would never bounce (I’ve never had that happen, but it’s always made me feel better). And as it works out I usually have enough money in miscellaneous income to pay my entire mortgage.

Money Market

Technically a checking account, we use our Money Market for our long term savings. At the end of the month any money that’s left over in Main Checking, Husband’s Checking or Statement Savings goes into this long-term savings account we pretend we don’t have. They limit the number of withdrawals we make per month, but deposits are unlimited. It gets a higher interest rate than the Statement Savings, so this is why we use it for our long term savings.

I’m very reluctant to withdraw any money from this account. Another of my Saving By Delusion tactics has me pretend that this money isn’t here, even if it’s earmarked for something specific. Let me explain how my crazy mind works…

If we’re making a large purchase and I know some long term savings money is going to be used to make the purchase, my goal is to take as little as possible out of long term savings as possible. For example, when I bought Husband’s new $4000 MAC I only wound up taking about $2000 out of the $4000 needed for the purchase from our Money Market Account to do it. How? I saved in other areas and used miscellaneous income to lessen the blow to our long term savings. Now that Husband has used proceeds from his freelance work to pay back this account for his computer we’re about $2,000 ahead of where we were before we bought it. But please don’t tell Husband.

I’m sure there are better places to put our long term savings, and I’m equally sure that there are more efficient ways to manage money. This is what I’ve done and it’s worked for us so well we’re able to live comfortably on Husband’s very mediocre salary, I’m able to stay home with my son and we have a nice chunk in savings. So until I grow enough kahunas to take our money out of it’s nice, safe Money Market, this is it.

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