Thursday, February 01, 2007

Homeowners Insurance - Watch Your Escrow

Our Homeowner's Insurance Company is wacked. They don't seem to know what they are doing. And, my mortgage company (escrow account) can't keep up with their changes.

We contracted with an insurance company in June of 2004 for a homeowner's insurance policy. It was, of course, a requirement of our mortgage company that we make payments into an escrow account to pay the insurance premiums.

OK. That's fine. The mortgage company is making the insurance payments - accurately and on time - right?

Well, not exactly.

In July of 2005, we get a bill from the homeowner's insurance company for $29. Thinking this was a mistake since our mortgage company pays our homeowners insurance, we call the mortgage company.

They say they don't know what the bill is for, and their records show a payment made to the insurance company in May of 2005. It was paid in full (not a quarterly payment), so it shouldn't be due again until May of 2006.

So, we call the insurance company. They say it's an increase.

OK. We call the mortgage company again and tell them the insurance went up. The mortgage company says they will pay it. Just send the bill to them.

They make the additional $29 payment in July.

A few months later the mortgage company does an escrow analysis and raises our mortgage payment to reflect the increase in the insurance policy. That's fine; we were expecting the increase.

Since I'm a meticulous record keeper, I went to the mortgage company website to get a printout of the escrow analysis for my records and noticed that the $29 payment that was made in July 2005 was added back to escrow in August 2005.

What? Why did they do that, I wonder. The extra insurance bill/payment must have been a mistake, I think. Maybe our insurance shouldn't have gone up, so the insurance company issued a credit back to the mortgage company. Why else would we have a credit to our escrow account?

Now I'm watching the escrow account more closely. I see that the mortgage company makes the homeowner's insurance payment in May 2006. It's for the same amount that was contracted for originally. So, I figure (the bill and) the extra payment that was made was a mistake.

At the end of 2006, the mortgage company does its annual escrow analysis and issues a refund. According to the analysis, their projected payments from our escrow account were too high. They didn't actually have to pay as much as they thought (projected) they would, and they are refunding the overage.

So, I figure that extra $29 payment must have been a mistake. I fall back into trusted complacency again.

Oops. It was a mistake to trust that they know what they are doing. This year we get a bill from some insurance company that we have never even heard of. Upon calling our insurance agent we learn that not only has the insurance company changed its name (over a year ago), but our homeowner's insurance has gone up again.

Again? Yes. It seems that bill we received in 2005 was for an accurate increase. It has increased again for 2007.

So, I'm looking forward to another round of phone calls between the insurance company and the mortgage company. They can't get anything right.

My advice to you? Keep a close watch on your escrow account, and notify your mortgage company of any changes in your homeowner's policy. Don't, not for a second, rest assured that those two companies are keeping up to date with one another.

Ultimately, it's Your Responsibility to make sure everything is paid - accurately and on time. Don't trust your mortgage company to handle it correctly.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Veterinarians are Salespeople - Be Aware

We've changed vets. To my disgust, I learned the hard way that veterinarians are salespeople, too.

The first vets we chose were chosen for convenience. A husband and wife veterinarian team's office is less than 2 miles from our house.

In the beginning, we always saw the husband and he was great. Our first appointment was made because we had found a 7 week old kitten, covered in fleas, with obvious eye infections, outside in the rain.

At that time we were still renting and pets were not allowed at that property, but we just couldn't let the little thing suffer out in the rain. We explained to the vet that we were not supposed to have animals, and we had very little money to spare on a kitten that we would probably have to get rid of (if the landlord demanded it).

That vet reduced his office fee and didn't charge us for one of the tests, and we were grateful. So, when we bought our own house and adopted a dog from the Humane Society we took our dog (and that once-ill cat) back to him for their health-care needs.

That was when we started seeing the wife in that team. She was entirely different from her husband. Where he had been happy to discuss the costs of high-end pet foods and their more affordable alternatives, dog shampoos and which worked fine while costing less, and flea treatments and over-the-counter alternatives, she pushed every line of every high-end product they sold.

Now, I'm not saying this woman shouldn't sell products that make them money. After all, every business is in the business of making a profit, but when this woman began pushing puppy shots every two weeks I started getting irritated.

I didn't have a problem with the first three shots. I understood that it was difficult to be sure that the immunization had "taken" and was not neutralized by immunity received from the mother. But on the third visit I asked if this or the next one would be the last and this vet proceeded to tell me that my puppy may need more than five puppy immunizations.

Now, that is rediculous. I knew from doing research on this issue that too many immunizations were worse than too few. And, the timing was equally important in determining whether the shots would "take" (every two weeks is too close together, but she insisted on that interval).

Combining this pushiness about giving shots indefinitely with the fact that this woman didn't even want to discuss cheaper alternatives for basic dog care (brushing dog's teeth rather than paying for a cleaning, etc), led me to believe that she was simply trying to make money and had no interest in the health of my pet.

So, we found another vet. This doc doesn't push his sales products on us and is willing to discuss cheaper alternatives for basic pet care.

If you want to stay in control of your money, do your own research. Don't take your vet's word for everything. Some of them are just as hooked into consumerism and greed as any other salesman you might encounter in a store or on TV.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Best Exercise Most Frugal

According to a study from the Duke University Medical Center, a brisk walk each day (a total of 2 - 3 hours each week) will significantly cut your risk of cardiovascular disease. Walking is also the best way for middle-aged people to lose weight.

This is good news for those of us who find that we are gaining weight as we get older, even though our eating and exercise habits stay the same. According to the Duke University study we gain about 4 pounds a year as we age. So, if you are exercising but not losing any weight you are still ahead of the game.

It's nice to know that the most frugal exercise - walking - is also the best. Walking doesn't cost anything. I'd call that frugal.

If the weather is too bad to walk outside, just go to your local Walmart supercenter or the mall and walk up and down the aisles for 30 or 45 minutes. That's not hard to do, and if you combine your exercise with your normal shopping trips you won't even have to add the cost of gas to your workout.

So, there is no need to run out and buy all of those exercise machines and gadgets. These gadgets usually end up in the thrift stores anyway. If you shop at thrift stores you know what I mean. I've seen entire rooms at the thrift store filled with nothing but exercise equipment.

Don't waste your money. Just walk. It's good for your heart, your waist, and your wallet.