Thursday, November 27, 2014

Now I know why their interest rate is so high!

American Express - one of the first credit cards I got when I arrived in the US. It was essential for me to get a credit card in order to start building my credit history. The AmEx Green card was easy to get because I was working and while it claims to have no spending limit, it was also required that you clear the balance at the end of each monthly billing cycle. Therefore their exposure was only for one month, and as I discovered, until you build up a history with them, they don't honor that 'no credit limit'.

I got my card just before I moved to California from Texas. I was going to be reimbursed for the cost of my relocation once I started work and submitted my claim, but meanwhile my new AmEx Green card took the hit. Sadly, the 4th day of my first week at work my mother passed away, I booked a flight to Dublin due to leave SFO two hours later, and headed to the airport. At the ticket desk I presented my AmEx card only to have it refused based on the amount charged in the first month of the card's life. I spoke with the AmEx agent on the ticket desk's phone and eventually was approved (full story is in my book ).

After that I had no problem with American Express as I paid off my monthly balance for years, eventually gaining Gold and then Platinum level - however the annual fee jumped,, plus they started extending the limit to pay over time for major purchases, such as travel and appliances. They also offered me a Blue card at a much lower rate, and lower annual fee, with a very healthy credit limit.

At that time I was still working on establishing my home in Texas, and recovering from an expensive two years in California (again I refer you to my book for full details) and sadly was trapped in the typical American credit card spiral.

However, the point of this blog is to explain how I discovered why AmEx has such high interest rates - because they do. I am happy to say I finally did get out from under the credit card debt and we now only use our credit cards for major purchases when we know that we can clear the balance immediately. We have a very low interest card from our Credit Union and decided that was all we needed, and we certainly didn't need to be paying annual fees to AmEx for cards we rarely used. So, last month I called and cancelled both my AmEx cards. They explained to me that as long as there was a balance on the card I would receive paper statements (I have been on electronic statements since they were available). Well, fine - I didn't have a balance on either card so that was that.. I thought.

Then I received two letters from AmEx, one for each card, confirming what they had told me on the phone, next day I received two statements, each showing a credit balance - the annual fee refund for what was left of their financial year. Then the following day I received two more letters pointing out that I had a credit balance and would therefore continue to receive statements despite the cards being closed.

I wrote to them and requested a refund check be issued. I received two letters, one for each card, confirming receipt of one letter and advising me that they would issue refund checks. A couple of weeks later I received two letters containing the checks. Finally, last week I received a statement for one of the cards, showing a zero balance on a card that had been cancelled for over a month. I am waiting for the statement on the other zero balance and I sincerely hope that will be the last communication I ever have from AmEx. I can't begin to imagine how much it cost them to generate all that mail, paper, postage, person hours - all for nothing! Why could they not just issue a check once the cards were cancelled and be done with it? Then maybe they could reduce that high annual fee and the high annual interest rate.

I looked on their web site - they now offer no less than 21 different credit cards, mostly in partnership with other businesses, some with various rewards attached, all with very high interest rates, and most with an annual fee. They even have one prepaid 'credit' card, which has no credit check required! Well, why on earth would you expect a credit check if you have to load the card before you can use it. But what most intrigued me about that prepaid card was the $1 monthly fee!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

I might be neurotic, or maybe it is OCD - perhaps both?

I freely admit that I am obsessed with time. Not just being on time. In fact I am almost always early for everything, and if it looks like I might not be early I get very stressed. But I have a real need to know what time it is, all the time.  I have a clock (thanks to my husband) that projects the time on the bedroom ceiling in large red digits, so that when I wake during the night I can instantly know what time it is. We have at least one clock in every room in the house. I feel very uncomfortable if I don't know what the time is, even if I have nothing to do and nowhere to go. So, I do know that I am a little obsessed with time and, after all, that is what the 'O' in OCD stands for (Obsessed not Time).

Then there is the germaphobia I don't believe I have, but I think I almost do (see this blog entry). As I looked back over blog entries I noticed I have alluded to similar topics before, as in this one here. Perhaps I am just a bit obsessed with the possibility of being neurotic?

Today I had to consider that perhaps I am also almost neurotic. What, I hear you ask, made me think that? And naturally I will tell you, as there would be no point in mentioning it here if I was not prepared to expand.

I went to get my nails done today, manicure and pedicure and an eyebrow waxing. The full treatment. No, I don't consider that neurotic behavior, but as Kim (at Millennium Nails in Cedar Park) started on my nails, a married couple came in and asked if they could both have a manicure and pedicure and how long would it take. When they were told it would take about an hour, they said great, because our daughter has a performance in an hour and a half. They sat side by side on the plush pedicure chairs, enjoying the massaging action and reading magazines or accessing email or similar on their phones. The were totally relaxed. I, on the other hand, was quite stressed. An hour and a half 'till their daughter's performance! There wasn't enough time to be sitting there relaxing!

I didn't know where the performance was and didn't care what it was, I just knew they would be late. I kept checking my watch, and the clock on the wall and the progress of their pedicure, mentally trying to figure out if they could possible be ready in time. The wife was done with her pedicure first, smaller feet I suppose, and she moved without any sign of stress to the table for her nails. She didn't even glance at the clock. Finally the husband's feet were done and his manicure began. I consoled myself that he would not be getting his nails painted so it would be faster. But still I kept looking at my watch, then at the clock on the wall, and I so wanted to warn them they would be late, and tell everyone to hurry up! Of course I didn't but I can't begin to tell you how relieved I was when they finally sauntered out of there, exactly an hour after they had arrived.

During that stressful (for me anyway) hour they mentioned that the performance was at the Cedar Park Center - approximately 5 minutes away. But I knew there were at least 4 sets of traffic lights between Millennium Nails and the Center - and traffic was bad on Saturday afternoon, especially as it was raining, and parking was a nightmare at the Center.

My only argument in favor of my claim to sanity is that I was aware that I was being neurotic and I was mildly amused by it. When I got home I searched for tests online - not that I really believe these tests prove anything, but I find them interesting. Let's face it , quizzes are all the rage on social media these days.

I took one test for Neurosis here, and the result was :

My understanding is that the higher the score, the more neurotic you are. I did take the test a second time and it was 70% still too high to be normal.

Then I found a test for OCD here.

I am guessing that was a US test because I got slightly different results (with identical questions) on a UK website here - notice however that the total score was also 12!

Perhaps OCD type behavior is more normal in the UK? I couldn't find a test for the Irish but I am fairly sure if I did, it would prove me to be 100% normal by Irish standards.

Friday, November 21, 2014


I absolutely hate shopping. Well, I lie, I hate shops and dealing with sales people. That is why I love shopping online.

Most of all, I hate buying a car. Don't get me wrong, I love cars, I love new cars as is obvious by the number I have owned! But my experience buying them has been varied. Perhaps it is not so much buying the car, as trading in the old one.

I bought three cars in Ireland. all used and in each case I had no trade in. The first I bought from my sister - not an issue. The second was a used Fiat 128 from a dealership, It turned out to be a very reliable car and I drove it to a standstill. It ended it's life as a 'green' house - that is a planter behind our back yard. I grew bell peppers inside and other items out of the trunk of that car and they were amazing. The only other car I bought in Ireland was a used Volvo, who can go wrong with a Volvo? It was a great car. I sold that car to a friend and my only mode of transport for a number of years was a motorbike.

However, when I came to the US and settled in Texas, I discovered that a car was not a luxury, it was absolutely essential if you wanted to work and I did. But I hit that chicken and egg situation. You can't get credit without a credit history, but if you never got credit you don't have a credit history. I was lucky, I had someone who was prepared to go guarantor for me. I picked out a beautiful cherry red Ford Ranger Pickup Truck. I told the salesman that I would be financing it but that I had a guarantor because I had no credit history. He insisted that I should be the second on the loan and my guarantor should be first.  Not only did I not buy his truck, I lost my guarantor who got frightened off by this idea. I do not blame her either.

So I continued to search. I may have mentioned my amazing friend Paul Neumann - I know I have mentioned him in my book Peeling The Onion, well, he introduced me to a Mitsubishi dealership and there I found Debrae. She found me the perfect car, but more important, she bulldozed the finance department in the dealership and secured me the much needed financing - not only did I get my car, I also started building my credit.

I traded that car in, again with Debrae, so I was treated well, and moved up from a program car with 6K miles, to the same model, brand new but had been sitting on the lot for a year, so I got a good deal. It was my first time trading in a car, so I didn't know that I could have negotiated, but I was satisfied with the deal.

Two years later I was ready to move up from a Mitsubishi Mirage to my dream Mustang. Of course I wanted a Cobra, but I was realistic and knew that I would have to delay that dream. I upgraded my Mirage for a Mustang with a very tepid sales experience. Three years later and another Mustang, this time my husband closed the deal. When the time came to trade in for another Mustang, working my way up to the Cobra, the dream dissolved. This purchase was memorable in that it was a nightmare ordeal. Looking back on it I have no idea why I actually bought the car. If it were today, I know I would walk out and go elsewhere. Back then I still had not got a good grasp of how capitalism works, and to this day, I can't haggle - I am not sure why I did this one on my own. I swore that after that my husband would take care of the car purchasing.

I spent what seemed like hours while the salesman ran back and forth between me and some back office, arguing the trade in price. They claimed the car had been repainted due to an accident. I told them not only was it repainted due to a recall on the paint, but their own service department had done the respray job. I did end up buying the car and regret it just because I know I should have walked out. The salesman gave me a bottle of Irish Whisky when the deal closed, but I just felt like hitting him over the head with it. I didn't. But I did learn a valuable lesson. I will never be treated like that again. I will walk out and not go back.

So I will never have my Cobra because I will never go near another Ford Dealership. And now that I have found Joe Ward in the Lexus Dealership in Austin, I no longer care about giving up my dream. I recently purchased my third Lexus from Joe and I have got to tell you it was not just a painless experience, it was fun. There was no pressure, on each occasion I feel we got a very reasonable trade in for the old car and did love my Lexus IS 250s, But this time I got a truly beautiful car, and ES 300 Hybrid! I am so delighted that I finally have a Hybrid - oh and I also got a lovely bottle of Cabernet :) - I like Irish Whisky - but I love red wine! This is going to be the last car I buy, Those words sound sort of familiar - I do believe I said that before, a few times.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Repurposing & renovating

Recently Larry pulled a couple of pairs of jeans out of his closet to be thrown, they were not even worth giving to Goodwill as the seat was worn through. Before he threw them out, I rescued strips of denim from the legs. Ideal for samplers when testing out my embroidery designs.

Currently I am working my way through a pair of sheets, but I needed some fabric of a heavier nature to give me some variation. Denim was perfect for that.

The following week I looked at my potholders and bemoaned the fact that I would have to finally throw them away as they were really getting to look ratty. They had proved to be the perfect pot holders for me, I had tried replacing them but as my hands are not very strong (the result of having suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome before it became fashionable), I need pot holders that are not doubling as resistance training. Larry suggested that I could possibly recover them. !!Light Bulb!! (He comes up with some very clever ideas).

So, using the denim saved from his old jeans, an ideal material to recover the back of the pot holders, the working side is silicon and in great condition still. I played around with a few designs and, because I don't go much for the 'twee' theme, I selected to use cartoon type drawings of a hamburger and a hot dog.

The hardest part of this entire task was stitching the finished backing to the potholders, and I would be the first to admit it isn't perfect by any means - but it works for me and I am now on a quest to make, from scratch, some more of these, perhaps for myself, maybe for gifts.

I am hopeful that making them from scratch will be a lot easier. With that in mind I have ordered some silicon pieces. I will let you know how it goes!