Wednesday, April 26, 2017

My Experience With Credit Card Rental Car Insurance


When my wife was interviewing for her new job, we flew up to Washington one weekend and rented a car so we could drive around and check out the area, looking for possible neighborhoods to live in. We were staying in a hotel with underground parking. I had booked the rental car through Dollar Rent A Car and choose the "mystery car" option. (They actually refer to it as the "Lock Low & Go" option.) This was the cheapest option and it basically meant we would get whatever car they decided to give us when we picked it up. It could be a compact. It could be a full size car. Could be anything in between. It turns out we got a minivan.

Because I had to return on a Sunday and my wife had to stay until Monday for her interview, I left a day before she did. Seattle has a subway that goes to the airport, so she could get to her flight without a car. In the meantime, I would return the car on Sunday and save one day of car rental charges.

Oops.

Our hotel had underground parking and the exit required a pretty tight turn to fit through the gate. Because my wife had been driving all weekend, I had very little experience driving the minivan and ended up misjudging the exit turn. I scraped a pillar on the way out. Crap.



When we rented the car, we declined the optional insurance from Dollar. Had we got that, there would not have been a problem. However, we knew our credit card provided rental car insurance coverage, so I declined it to save some money. (You should pretty much always do this - unless you are taking a trip you know will cause vehicle damage.)

This is one time we knew we were going to need the rental insurance. But that's a story for another day.

There's A First Time For Everything

This was the first time I ever needed to file an insurance claim for a rental car and here are a few things I learned:

  • The coverage is secondary. This means you must first file a claim with your own insurance company, find out what they will pay, and then the credit card will pick up whatever isn't covered. (If you do not have your own car insurance, say, for instance, you do not own a car, then the credit card coverage would be primary and cover all damages.) This also means you must pay out whatever is not covered and wait to get reimbursed from the credit card company.

  • Your primary insurance probably won't cover everything the rental car company bills you for. The bill I got from Dollar included not just the cost to repair the damage, but also charges for loss of use (the car could not be rented while it was being repaired) and an administrative fee.



  • Your deductible still applies, of course. I have a $1,000 deductible, so I was responsible for that much, at least.

  • Rental car companies get nasty when trying to collect. I got one letter with my initial bill. I submitted everything to my insurance and they said they would take care of and let me know the status. As with anything involving lots of paperwork, things move slowly and require almost constant follow up. After one month, I got a somewhat nastier letter from Dollar saying I had still not paid and hinted at legal action.

It turns out, my insurance company had approved the claim, but had not done anything with it. After another phone call with my insurance company, I found out there is an electronic system that insurance companies use to pay each other and they were waiting for Dollar to submit the request through that. Another call to Dollar to tell them this. But, they told me, Dollar isn't an insurance company, so they don't have access to that system. Yet another call to my insurance company to get them to mail a check instead.

Oh - did I mention you cannot call the Dollar claims department and speak to someone directly? Every time you call, you get a message saying their representatives are answering calls all day and to leave a message and someone will call you back. The message even says don't call multiple times, it won't make anyone call you back faster. Pretty cheeky.

It's Not Fast


This whole process took two months. It might have gone faster, but I was actually trying to minimize any loss on my part. The last thing I wanted to do was pay out any money and then find out I was not going to get reimbursed for some reason.

When I found out my claim was approved, I gave Dollar the claim number from my insurance company and let them contact the company and work things out. (Given the debacle with the electronic payment thing, that didn't go too well, it seems.) Then, as soon as I found out what my insurance did not pay, and therefore, what I owed, I called my credit card company and got them working on sending that amount to me.

I did not send my payment to Dollar until I had received the credit card payment. So the net effect was I never had to put out any of my own money. But the waiting game I played caused Dollar to send me a second nasty letter after they received payment from my insurance and were still waiting for mine.

Still, It Was No Cost To Me

All in all, it was a fairly painless process that did not cost me any money. My insurance company ended up paying $458.93 and the credit card company paid $1,339.20. It did require about an hour or two of my time just to follow up with all the companies involved and make sure payments were flowing as they should.

This was our first car insurance claim in at least 10 years. Because we've been accident free for so long, our insurance company had enrolled us in their accident forgiveness program. We are allowed one at-fault claim every five years without incurring a rate increase. I'm glad we had that.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

17 Tips For A Successful Garage Sale


I live in a gated community that is governed by a home owners association. The rules of the HOA prohibit garage sales except for one day a year. This is actually pretty nice, as a community-wide garage sale attracts many more people than a single family garage sale. It is also a nice opportunity to talk to your neighbors and generally hang out in your front yard and shoot the breeze with people.

Our yearly garage sale took place last Saturday, which was pretty convenient because we will be moving soon and we've got some stuff we'd like to get rid of. Here are some of the tips I’ve discovered running garage sales over the years.

  1. People show up early. Like, really early. Technically, our garage sale starts at 8 AM. We got people showing up as early as 6:30 AM.
  2. Treat garage sales as an opportunity to simplify and declutter your life, not make money. Your goal should be to unload all the crap you no longer want. Any money you make in the process is icing on the cake.
  3. People expect great deals at garage sales, so be prepared for them to negotiate prices on virtually everything you have for sale. Your main goal should be getting rid of stuff, not obtaining top dollar. If that’s what you want, use eBay or craigslist. I don’t think I’ve ever turned down a sale from someone who wanted a lower price (but I have negotiated a price between my original price and their initial offer).
  4. Don't lay stuff on the ground. No one wants to bend over to look at something. Use tables and display your stuff in a non-cluttered fashion. Don’t pile everything on one table and expect people to shift stuff around to see everything. Use several tables (borrow them, if you don’t have enough) and spread out your goods. Make it easy for people to see everything you have for sale.
  5. Set up the night before. Park your cars on the street the night before and set up your tables and displays in the garage. Then, the morning of the sale, just open your garage door and, if you want, move the tables out into your driveway. Leave plenty of room for people to walk around the tables.
  6. Be prepared to make change. The day before, visit the bank and get a bunch of one and five dollar bills and quarters. I try to price items in increments of a dollar or a quarter, just to make it easy to give change.
  7. Put a price tag on everything. The exception might be if you have a bunch of small items. Put these in a box and put a sign on the box saying “$0.25 each” or whatever your price is.
  8. If you don’t want it and were planning to throw it away, put it out for sale, even if you think it’s something no one would buy. People will buy anything and you never know what someone is looking for. If you put it out for sale and it sells, great! If it doesn’t, throw it out. There’s no loss to you since you were planning to throw it out anyway.
  9. Get one or two dozen donuts and put up a sign saying if someone buys X dollars worth of stuff, they can have a free donut. My grocery store sells fresh donuts for $0.30 each, so this is a cheap incentive for people to buy more.
  10. Don’t be afraid to break up sets. One time I was selling a twin mattress and box spring. Someone only wanted the mattress. I was hesitant to break up the set, but I decided to (mainly because mattresses are a pain to get rid of). I left the box spring up for sale and an hour later, someone bought it.
  11. If you are selling furniture or large items, some people may ask for you to hold it until they return with a vehicle to transport it. In this case, I require the buyer to pay at least 50%. I provide a receipt and on the receipt I write that I will hold the item until a certain time (later that day, usually). If they don’t pick it up by then, they lose their deposit and I can sell the item to someone else.
  12. You will get some strange requests from people. Every year, there is one guy that comes to my garage sale and hands me a business card  and says “You selling anything like this?” The business card says he is a gun collector. Not sure why he asks that way because it makes it seem like he’s doing something illegal. I don’t own any guns and I’m not knowledgeable about the laws for selling them, so maybe he is.
  13. Prepare for traffic, especially if there are multiple houses participating. Cars will cruise the street, trying to see what you have for sale. It’s probably best to keep small kids and pets inside the house or in an area where they can’t wander into traffic.
  14. Post details of your garage sale on Craigslist.org one or two days before it happens. This is free advertising. If you have a lot of one type of item to sell, mention that. For example, if you have a lot of furniture or clothing for sale, be sure to say so. People looking for those items will make a point to visit your sale.
  15. Drop your prices near the end of the sale. When it gets down the last hour or so of your sale, cut the prices in half. You don’t need to re-label everything, but just tell people walking up that everything is half price.  Remember, your goal should be to get rid of stuff, not make top dollar.
  16. It helps to have two people manning the sale, but have one person be in charge of holding the money and making change. The other person can answer questions and keep an eye on things.
  17. Keep an eye out for people trying to steal things. I’ve never had this happen (to my knowledge), but if your sale is busy with a lot of people milling around, it might be tempting for someone to pocket an item or two.

Our garage sale went well this year. We made $407 and sold 70 of 95 items we put out. Not as good as last year, when we made just over $500, but we had a lot more stuff for sale then too.

I'm interested in hearing other people's experiences with running a garage sale. What are some tips you have?



Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Goal Update: End Of March 2017

At the end of each month, I post an update of my goals, including a brief discussion of any notable events that might have occurred during the month. The latest month's figures can always be found under the Featured menu in the menu bar at the top of the blog.

Last updated: End of March, 2017
Current value: $30,592
Change from last month: +$617
Percent of Goal:  28.13%







Note that the funds in this account are invested in stock, so there will be fluctuations in value that are outside my control. I never withdraw money from this account, so any dips are purely due to stock price changes.

Events Of Note Last Month:

I crossed the $30,000 threshold! That means I unlocked a new achievement!





Wow. It's been a long time since I unlocked an achievement - Seven months. I need to step up my game!


I received $8.10 in advertising revenue from my old real estate blog. Net income from my online courses was $221.99. My hard money loan generated $133.33 in income. And lastly, I received $2.70 in eBook royalties.


Relocation Update

My wife got paid her relocation bonus this month. It doesn't show in our net income figures because it's in the process of being transferred between banks. (I'm writing this on a weekend, so the receiving bank hasn't updated their figures yet.) It will probably be a while before we buy a new house in Washington, so next month, I expect to see our net worth jump when that deposit finally hits our bank account.


Net Worth Update

For March, our net worth rose by $10,797.




February 2017March 2017
Note: Mint.com categorizes our HELOC as a credit card debt, not a loan, hence the apparently high credit card balance.












Our cash went up quite a bit, mainly due to my wife's new, larger paycheck. Other than that, nothing major changed in our financial picture in March. Our house in Arizona is up for sale. It's a very slow market and we've had next to no showings.

If you have any questions or suggestions for topics, please drop me a line in the comments section!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Warren Buffett's Schizophrenic View Of The Internet


Warren Buffett made big news recently what it came out his company, Berkshire Hathaway, sold almost its entire position of Wal-Mart stock in the last quarter of 2016. There had been news in the past that he was selling his Wal-Mart holdings, but the scope of just how much he sold has just been fully disclosed - he sold virtually all of it - almost 90%. I'm willing to bet we'll see the last bit has been sold when Berkshire files its Q1 2017 disclosures.

The articles written about his sales all point to the same reason - he says it's just too hard for traditional retailers to compete with internet companies like Amazon.

Personally, I agree. While I never shop at Wal-Mart because I disagree with the way they treat and pay their employees, I have noticed that I tend to buy more things at Amazon than I do at other traditional retailers. The internet makes it easy to shop for the lowest price (which isn't always at Amazon) and get things delivered straight to your door.

One Eye Open, One Eye Closed

But this is where Buffett's schizophrenia kicks in. He has acknowledged the internet is destroying traditional retailers, yet he can't see that it's doing the same thing to traditional news companies. He still holds large positions in, and is still buying newspaper companies.

Talk about a last century business model! I haven't subscribed to a newspaper in at least a decade and I can't think of anyone I know who currently does.

Granted, Buffett has acknowledged that he has an "unnatural love" for newspapers and he does seem to see the writing on the wall - that only those few newspapers with a viable internet model will survive. However, at what point will he reach the same conclusion about newspapers that he did with retail stores - that the internet will wipe out the vast majority of them? When will we be reading stories about his sale of newspaper companies?