Friday, February 26, 2010

Another Straw on the Medical Back

I believe in health care reform- not socialised medicine, but a tweaking that would limit lawsuits, lower costs and make health care more of a pleasant financial endeavour. And although it sucks to have to pay $1000 out of pocket on a $9000+ 4 hour hospital stay to monitor a kidney stone, it sure as heck beats paying $9000 out of pocket. So $1000 is a big chunk of change- no doubt, but I'm more concerned with the $28.41 bill I got a few weeks ago.

I turned 40 this year so over the past 5 years I've dreaded the idea of a doctor "using the whole fist" to check my innards. In December, I scheduled a physical to go over where I am physically- you know, a physical. I went in, perfectly healthy and they checked my vitals, ordered blood, urine and stool tests and the doctor asked me if I had any questions. I told him that my wife and I are pretty much done procreating and I want to find a urologist for a vasectomy. I also told him that I've had one of these fungus toenails- you know those nasty jobbies. I actually got that about 1988 when skiing with my buddies Neil and the Whip. I had long toenails, rented equipment, and my left big toe went black, fell off and never grew back correctly. My dermatologist back then called it "20 year athlete's foot" Well, by golly, 2009 was 20 years and I've still got it.

Now, I can't really sue Dr. Brossia since he's dead, but I'm holding this whole "20 year" thing at its word. My buddy Matt used to work for Novartis and he has been bugging me about getting it taken care of, but I finally brought it up with my doctor and got a lab request and then prescription.

So flash forward to mid January- I paid my $25 copay, but all of a sudden I get a bill from the doctor for $28.41. I called the billing company and they tell me that on top of the physical, I was diagnosed with an upper respiratory infection and that was the reason for the additional charge...

I then call the office manager at the doctor's office and she reiterates this- but then adds that a physical is for when you're not sick, but the line item for upper respiratory infection was not a "well visit". I hate to be a jerk, but I wasn't sick when I went in. So I present this logic:
"Was I charged for the urologist referral?" No
"Was I charged for the toenail diagnosis?" No- but I did pay to have lab work done
"What does the doctor have down as the course of action for this supposed upper respiratory infection? Did he prescribe me anything? Did he suggest over the counter medicine? Did he say it will run its course?"
Now the office manger hits me with "Dr. ***** wouldn't have put this on there if it wasn't true." to which I replied that I wasn't questioning his honesty, but perhaps that this was input/charged by mistake. The office manager took offense to this and before she could say another word I said "If I was sick when I came in I don't remember it, but why wouldn't it show a course of action?" She's just not getting my logic (BTW, I've lost well over $28.41 in productivity so far by writing this blog)

I then ask her to check with the doctor on what the recommended course of action was for this URI. She tells me that she will get back to me- I ask when, and she replies "Next Week", I ask what day and she says Friday.

So this morning, she called me up and said that she had a conversation with the doctor and that he did not enter it by mistake and that the staff did not key it in by mistake. I ask her what he has down as the course of action for the URI and she doesn't answer. I ask her again and she said that it was in the late stages and that it would run its course. I ask her why she didn't tell me that in our conversation last week, and she basically ignored that question.

Does our health care system need reform? Sure. Does it require Obamacare? No. Is it fair for me to spend another $28.41 out of pocket when I shouldn't have to? No. Are there idiots in the world who don't understand that it's crap to get away with this sort of thing? Absolutely. Have I wasted too much time on this? You betcha.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Plan Update 4- Returned Serve

My last entry was from February 16th- 4 business days ago. We sent in our loan modification package to our lender with the expectation that they'd call in 10 days to confirm receipt and discuss any additional information they require, with a total 60 day turnaround time before a solution is offered. Got a call today from the company and she had a simple income question which we worked out in about 5 minutes. She said that everything was complete and I'd have an answer within another two weeks- That would be 3 weeks total!

However, after talking with a Realtor friend of mine I had a question, so I called them back and first off, the guy answered my question, but secondly, he actually went through my package again- despite the fact that I just told him that I was informed that it was complete. He pointed out that we didn't send a signed tax return and that we needed to provide the lender contact information on the form that would be used to request a copy of my taxes from last year. So, he proactively helped ensure the completeness of my package. Very cool.


Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Plan Update 3 "Real Action"

Eight months.

That's how long it's been since I've done anything at all related to our loan modification/housing situation. To get you up to speed, check out the post from way back in April 2009

To summarize, we have a 5 year interest only loan coming up to the "adjustment" in July 2010. It will essentially become an adjustable rate loan at that point with our loan amount of a shade over $300k. We bought when values were high and now they're low.

As our standard of living has been manageable for the past year, the loan mod has not been a top priority. However as that July 2010 date creeps ever faster towards us, the time to act is now.

The irony of these sort of situations is that when business is good, it's easy to make your mortgage payment. When a family member loses their job and thus regular income, it's sort of difficult to qualify for a new loan in today's tightened lending environment. So, the right time to do something like this is while you still have stable job security- something that is becoming more difficult for Americans every day.

So my wife is gainfully employed and I own my own company and 2009 was a decent year for us. But unfortunately, I've had a real negative attitude about our home for the past 2 years. A plant dies- I don't want to replace it. Carpet has a stain- I don't want to clean it. Don't get me wrong, we're not slobs by any means (despite having two kids and a dog). But why would you want to put another dime in your upside down home when nobody appreciates those investments any more. I'm not saying that nobody appreciates a clean nice looking home, but when you're in the black and you want to sell, you want to get as much out of your home- for yourself. When you are going to get foreclosed on or if you are short selling your home, it really doesn't affect your personal bottom line whether you have a dead tree in your yard or dirty walls.

So finally, in December 2009 I called my lender- and surprisingly, it went pretty well. I called the main 800 number on my statement, was channeled to customer service and was transferred to the loan modification department. And here is where our fearless leader- Mr. Obama stepped in- The lady asked me three questions:

  1. How much are your homeowner's association (HOA) dues?
  2. Do you have less than $4700 in liquid assets?
  3. Is your gross monthly income less than $5000?

Based on those three questions, within 30 seconds it was determined (based of course on our particular loan) that we do NOT qualify for the "Making Homes Affordable" plan. So the kind lady transferred me to the Loan Servicing Department.

Once there, the gentleman whom I spoke with told me his employee number and told me that I would need to fill out the Financial Analysis Package which is on their website. He told me that once that application is returned, I'd get a call within 15 days confirming receipt of said package and that within 60 days, they would have a loan modification option that I would be able to accept or decline. The only cost associated with this would be a drive by appraisal of my home at the cost of between $100-$150, which would then be tacked onto our loan balance.

As you may already know, I am a real estate appraiser. I actually do appraisals for my lender (coincidentally), and I actually do them for the department that I was contacting. I could tell a side story of why my 2009 was pretty good, but that's too much of a tangent- let's just say that appraisals are more in demand when the market is going bad. If you'd like to learn more about my work you can check out my professional blog at Appraiserdude, or follow my on Twitter @appraiserdude.

So since I "talk the talk", I asked some questions which I'm sure are not uncommon (remember, these are with my lender only and might be different with another lender):

What is the typical solution? A chunk of your principle is deferred as a balloon payment and your new loan is based on the reduced principle balance. So if you owe $300k, they might defer $100k, and give you a new 30 year fixed loan with a $200k balance- When you sell your home, you still owe the entire balance. They typically give you "step" interest rates on your payments, so for the first 6 months, your interest rate might be 3%, then it kicks up to 4%, etc.

How does this affect my credit? It does not affect your credit as there is no credit check. The decision is based on the information you provide along with your payment history with the lender.

What out of pocket costs are there? None- the only cost would be an appraisal and the fee is rolled into the loan balance.

What other stipulations are there? If you don't have an escrow account for property taxes and or homeowners insurance, they would be required. So if your current mortgage payment covers principle and interest and you pay your property taxes and or homeowners insurance as those bills arrive, they'd require those to be rolled in. This typically freaks people out since their new payment might actually be more than their current one, but the lender is simply making it more practical for them as those two required payments are now part of the deal (and don't get me started on the fact they the lender earns interest on that escrow money before it's actually due to the insurance company or municipality).
Also, they would require that your mortgage payment is automatically drawn from your checking account- so no more mailing payments.
Finally, he told me that the new loan would not be assumable. That means that if i sell the home, the new buyer wouldn't be able to take over my loan and its terms.

Fortunately for us: our escrow is already part of our payment, our payment is already automatically withdrawn and assumable loans are not common in the first place and I have no need for one.

Also of huge importance for this sort of situation, we only have our first mortgage. So there is one loan on our house. On past homes we've had second mortgages or home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) which means that two entities (besides us) had a financial interest in our home. If we owed $300k for our first, $75k on our second, and our home was worth only $200k, then it sort of throws a wrench into the whole process as the lender who carries the lien on the second mortgage will probably get shafted in the process.

As I had built a rapport with the guy from loan servicing, and since I understand his world (a little) I flat out started venting to him a little. Anyone who knows me knows that I talk a lot. So I expressed that it sucks that responsible people who try to play by the rules are getting hosed for trying to do the right thing while people who know the system are taking advantage of it, walking away from loans even though they can pay them and in fact profiting from the situation our housing market is in. Sure there are guys like Bernie Maddoff who flat out commit fraud, but there are those who take advantage (legally) of the fact that the real estate market is inundated with foreclosed homes, the government has bailed out banks and any other loophole they can find to make a buck.

He then told me that I could simply skip a payment and the bank will automatically send me a preapproved loan modification package... that's what floored me.

So, if I play by the rules, fill out a form, put together a profit and loss statement for my business, show my family cash flow, get copies of pay stubs, copy my 35 page tax return, and then send that in, I'd have the same results as if I simply skipped a single mortgage payment. Doesn't that make you sick? Whatever happened to being responsible? Whatever happened to maintaining a good credit history?

When a friend of mine can short sell a million dollar house simply because he's upside down and immediately buy a $500k house- while at the same time buying a Cadillac Escalade and Jaguar, it makes you wonder.

So, bottom line is that today, I sent the loan modification package to my bank. Yes, I've really started the process. Stay tuned for updates and post a comment if you have any questions about this or anything else. I look forward to it.

PS. If you haven't figured this much out yet: You can do it yourself. Turns out that banks are willing to get something done (at least they claim to). So before you call a "loan modification" company to help you out, call your own bank and see what needs to be done in your situation.

PPS. After I posted this blog, I got a new follower on Twitter whose website is an absolutely FREE loan modification help site. Check it out.


Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Monday, February 1, 2010

Where's the Beep?

Since all the morning shows talk about the awards shows, I decided to tune in a little for the Grammy awards so I didn't "miss" anything... Just a little to whet my appetite. Lots of lame musicians, some politically incorrect conversation between my wife and I about why there's the Black Entertainment Awards, the Latin Grammys, yet no "White Grammys" awards (but that's an entirely different subject).

We watched part of a live performance by Eminem and Lil Wayne. Now pardon me for not being hip to hip hop. I hate to age myself, but the hip hop I like is Coolio and LL Cool J and Beastie Boys. Sure I know Eminem and I think he's ok, but I couldn't name a song by Lil Wayne, Jay Z, Kanye West or any of the "newer" crop. But even that's not the point. I grew up with plenty of vulgar lyrics to songs, whether it was Nine Inch Nails, Two Live Crew, or heck, "Skyrockets in Flight" by Starlight Vocal Band. So I'm hardly offended. I just choose what I want to listen to.

But during the aforementioned Eminem/Lil Wayne bit, there were huge gaps of silence. Of course the first thought is that it was a transmission problem with the satellite, but of course, the realization that they're being "bleeped" out was a more practical answer. So since the track seemed to be about 30% obscured, it was really annoying. And I'm sure I'm not the only one who thinks it was annoying. So my question is, why did they change the censorship from the "beep" to just plain silence? And what's the protocol for that? Any reality show has the beeps and in fact Jimmy Kimmel has his weekly "This Week in Unnecessary Censorship" to make fun of the beeps.

So why weren't the Grammys beeped? Perhaps would it have been.. TOO ANNOYING? And then maybe with so much beeping, people would have realized that the track had a ton of inappropriate lyrics (for network tv), and complained to the network. Jimmy Kimmel is late night. Most reality shows are on cable or the cursing is accidental or incidental. But in the Grammys they knew what songs would be performed. And they knew what the lyrics were. Yet instead of beeping like they should have, they went with silence. Does that equal less complaints? Is silence golden? Is that one heck of a cop out excuse for allowing this crap on TV with minimal pushback?

Am I the only one who see's rigth through this schtick?!?!?!