Fees, Fi, Fo Phew!

There is an old adage about nothing is guaranteed but death and taxes. I’m thinking you can add into the mix ‘fees’. It seems that regardless of what some products or service costs, there are also the hidden fees. You’ve seen or heard commercials where an alluring voice brags about a special deal on a new car or cell phone service that seems too good to be true. Then, at the very end, the voice changes to a very low, almost indiscernible pitch when the hidden fees are spoken in sped up fashion. If you record the promotional announcement and play it back slowly and in reverse, I think you can hear the Beatles saying, “there’s a sucker born every minute.”

The monthly statement I receive from that three letter phone company breaks down the charges which require a lawyer to interpret. Besides the set fee for the monthly regular plan, there is one for long distance and another for the internet. I happen to be one of the old school guys that has two lines coming out of every phone jack in the wall. The second line is for the dsl internet modem. The phone company repairmen hate me for it. But, that’s another story.

Going back to the regular monthly plan, it is further broken into a line charge, repair insurance and a Federal Access charge. The line charge I can understand. It is the core service provided. The repair insurance comes in handy- trust me. But, what about that third fee? Hmm… Is the federal government charging me for the ability to tap into my phone lines and listen to my conversations?

The fees are given twice, one for each line with no discount for multiple service. Whatever happened to the idea of economy of scale?

The local calls are further broken into one fee for less than 8 miles and another for more than 8 miles. That’s okay- I appreciate that it costs more to run a longer phone connection that is not long distance, huh? The thing that gets me is that I am also billed for each of the following:

local village 911 Emergency System
State Infrastructure Maintenance
State Additional Charges
Federal Universal Service
State Universal Service
State Telecom Relay Service and Equipment.

Did I mention that this is just the regular call section? In the Long Distance section, there are the following additional fees:

Carrier Cost Recovery
Fed Universal Service Fund
State Infrastructure Maintenance Fee Recovery
State USF Surcharge

There are also Federal, State and Municipal taxes on long distance.

It seems to me that there is a lot of redundancy here in both the Federal and State governments making up multiple categories to take away our hard-earned money. As I understand it, one of the enigmatic charges listed above is mandated by the State to cover losses incurred by the phone company from poor people who don’t pay their phone bills. Well, when you add all these other charges how can anyone pay their phone bill?

As for my cell phone service bill, they add a Federal Universal Charge, a Regulatory Charge and an Administrative Charge. Wait- shouldn’t an administrative charge be blended into the monthly fee? Or is this a fee for collecting the other fees and handing them over to the Feds and whomever gets the Regulatory Charge? Geesh!

Oops! I forgot to mention there is also a City of Chicago 911 Fee and a State Telecom Excise Tax along with something called Chicago MTT. Needless to say that I bought the phone and the service in a suburban location and it is registered to a suburban address. No comment.

Changing the subject, how about them Bank Fees? If you do not keep a minimum balance that is so designated, you are charged a fee. Even if you do, they bill you for it and then immediately credit your account. What is the purpose of that? Seems like a wasted effort.

If you write a bad check or receive a bad check, you are hit with a fee. They get you coming and going.

Did I forget the electric company? No. They charge a connection fee as well as different rates depending on what the average temperature is outside for that given billing period. I’d like to charge my customers for the mood I’m in on a given visit but then they’d throw me out of the building.

If anyone thinks that death gets rid of a need to pay fees- try getting put in the ground and dealing with the union that does it.

By the way, I’m thinking of charging a fee for reading these posts. Wait! I’m just kidding.

You Are What You Eat

By Larry Teren

The other night I attended an event celebrating a life-cycle event. The food was served buffet style. Anyone could walk up to a long table as often as they desired and grab as many helpings of the food that their stomach would handle. One hot pan had potato puffs and egg rolls side by side. There was another pan with rice and very small cut up vegetables. Another had little chicken strips while another had beef. I’m assuming it was a Chinese cuisine motif. Continue reading “You Are What You Eat”

Shred of Evidence

The day after Thanksgiving, always a Friday, is one of those gimme days if you do business primarily with small businesses. Few small businesses force their employees to work that day or if they do, it is for a shortened schedule. This means that not only can I expect to twiddle my thumbs on Thursday but Friday as well.

Having more time than normal without billable activity, Friday morning I decided to shredding some documents that have been piling up for quite a while. I believe the accepted practice is that there is no obligation to keep financial records for more than seven years. Of course, it’s a different story if you like to look back years later and remember the good or bad old days depending on how things have gone since then.

This being 2011, I decided to destroy all personal checks from 1998 and on up until 2003 that could be grabbed in one large fistful of envelopes. Considering how much paperwork I keep, I knew that this would take a few fistfuls on more than one occasion. I also took the opportunity to start shredding old sales, cash receipts, accounts payable and general ledger journals from my business for the year 2000 knowing that the immensity of it would require more than one sitting.

Here I was carefully observing each check before I put it through the shredder to see if it would tickle a memory or two of unique purchases I did thirteen years ago. Although nothing stuck out like a sore thumb, a lot has changed since 1998. I was able to come up with a few observations while scanning more than a year’s worth of checks:

1. Most checks I wrote back then would not be written today. Paper has been replaced with online payment as well as the use of a debit card. Besides, today the cashed check no longer gets returned with the bank statement. Instead, I receive a scanned copy of both sides of the check. It takes up less space in the envelope and presumably less postage cost.

2. Some of the people and companies whom I paid for whatever service have been replaced by a different person or entity, such as a dentist and mortgage provider. In fact, I’ve changed mortgagers more so than I have dentists.

3. Charities that I gave to in 1998 have been replaced by a different assortment. That’s just how it goes,
I suppose.

4. I wrote checks to names of people celebrating life-cycle events including weddings and I have no clue who they are today.

5. Even with paying the property tax escrow factored in with the regular monthly mortgage amount back then, I am now paying about $150 less in mortgage per month. That’s what pre-paying extra principal and a few re-financings will do.

There will be less to shred in another dozen years, I guess, and I wonder if the prices I see on the scanned checks will seem outrageously low or a reminder of what things really cost before the
economy totally collapses. Check back with me then.

Peanuts and Allergies and Oh, For Thirty-two degree Weather!

By Larry Teren

If you mention peanuts to some people, they immediately think of the famous comic strip by Charles Schulz. Others break out in a sweat because they are allergic to the popular snack. For peanut allergy sufferers, it can be a deadly situation as the mere touching of peanut residue can cause them to swell up and choke to death. I know one teenager who carries around with him at all times a type of medical syringe pen that he or others can inject into him if he is having such a type of reaction. Continue reading “Peanuts and Allergies and Oh, For Thirty-two degree Weather!”

A Plumbing We Will Go or a Toilet Sonata

By Larry Teren

Some things you can’t keep putting off and one of them is buying a new toilet. The john in the master bathroom of my condo apartment had been acting up for quite a while. It had been around even before I bought the condo 14 years earlier and it was showing its old age. I had brought in plumbers a few years ago to fix the ball and chain assembly but now the internal workings required more than a facelift or transplant. It needed to go away forever and be replaced by a younger, sleeker, more efficient model. Continue reading “A Plumbing We Will Go or a Toilet Sonata”

Lady Without a Country

I just recently had my passport renewed which reminds me of a story. (If I was Rodney Dangerfield, at about this time, I’d be tugging at the narrow tie hanging loosely around my neck and giving a side glance to Johnny Carson with a telltale look as if to say, “c’mon whaddaya expect?”)

Several years ago ma and I were going overseas together to visit two of her children- my brother and the youngest sister. We decided to try using a Canadian airline because their planes supposedly had better legroom in the steerage section. The route meant that rather than first going from Chicago to New York or New Jersey, the initial leg would be a stopover in Toronto, Canada.

We showed our passports while checking in the luggage at the International Terminal at Ohare Airport in Chicago. A relatively short two to two and a half hours later we deplaned in Toronto and took a shuttle bus from their domestic gate to the International building. A bus ride was necessary because there was construction going on at the airport complex and what should have been a simple walk between buildings became more involved. The one positive thing was that we did not need to carry our luggage. Even though we were switching to a different plane, the luggage would be moved for us.

We did, however, have to go through their passport or customs control. Due to Ma’s slower walking gait, we were the stragglers, the last ones to go through. Because we were a senior citizen and her on- the-cusps middle age son, the custom control agent treated us with disdain and rubber-stamp friendliness. He didn’t even look at our passports but just endorsed it while flashing an artificial smile.

We finally arrived at the gathering area with all of the other passengers awaiting the midnight flight to begin overseas. After an hour or so wait, the airplane spokesperson got on the loudspeaker and told us to begin queuing up to board. I stood in front of Ma. As I passed inspection of my boarding pass and passport identification, I purposely stopped to wait to escort Ma. However, as soon as the attendant took a look at Ma’s passport, she stopped her in her tracks and told her there was a problem and she could not board the plane. I turned around and asked what the problem was.

The flight attendant said, “her passport has expired!” I said, “that’s crazy. It must be some mistake. How did she get past the authorities in Chicago and here in Customs without a problem?” She replied, “I don’t know but she cannot board.”

At this point I was perplexed as to what to do. I called my brother- it was about 6:30am where he lived. He was upset that I woke him up and not because we had a problem. He told me that if she had to turn around and go back home- if they would even let her in, that I had to stay with her. Now that kind of upset me because I was looking forward to the trip. With that he hung up.

As it turned out, I guess the rule is that once you board a plane that flies another nation’s colors, you are under the protection of that country. The flight crew called to their headquarters and were told that Ma posed no threat to their homeland security. She was permitted to board the plane and we would get her passport renewed at the American embassy or consulate there.

Technically, Ma was a lady without a country for two or three days until I was able to drive her in my rental car to the consulate. At their administration building, there was a long line into which we stood
patiently. I thought that this would take half a day. However, one of the security guards noticed that we stood out like a sore thumb because we looked different than mostly everyone else in line. He asked us why were were there and told him that Ma needed her American passport renewed.

The bodybuilder-like guard said, “come with me. You do not belong here.” He escorted us inside the building where the atmosphere was more like the waiting area at a motor vehicle registration building.
I asked him for what purpose was the line we were originally standing in. He told us, “it is for people trying to get a visa to go to your country.”

As it was, Ma got her new passport in about a half hour and once again felt like a citizen of a nation of the world.