Dear 2013: Be OVER already!

My year has gotten off to a rotten start. Now I could be an optimist and tell myself that there’s nowhere to go but up… but hey, I’m on prozac – that should be indication enough that I’m not an optimist. So, on Day 9 of the year, here’s where I stand:

PLAGUE – On January 1, I came down with something. I think it’s the flu, but I’m waiting for blood results to rule out anything exotic from my trips to Africa. This is Day 9 and I’m wheezing like an asthmatic smoker who just climbed a hill after washing five dishes. Five.

INCOME – The cough has made my throat weak and I’m slightly nasal. I sell my voice, so this means I’m down about $1000 in income. I haven’t been able to do any behind-the-scenes work because I’ve been taking Tamiflu, which pretty much knocked me out for 5 days.

HOME – I found out yesterday that the building doesn’t allow the moving of furniture in or out on MLK Day. It’s bad enough they only allow it M-F 9am-5pm, but now I can’t even get it on the one day my friends can actually deliver it during the week. This could mean throwing out a couch I love and a bed I only used for a year.

But this stuff is small potatoes compare to the biggie….

IRS AUDIT!!!!

Suddenly I’m *hoping* for an audit. It turns out my CPA, who hasn’t responded to any of my 10-12 emails/texts/calls since Nov 30, never contacted the IRS about my audit. He had me complete a power of attorney form for him to fax them, so he could handle it as my representative. He told me he was waiting for a case number to be assigned because of that. Then he said they were waiting for my 2011 tax returns to be filed to see if they wanted to throw them into the audit. ALL LIES. There was no fax, no phone call, nothing. When I called the IRS today about my Notice of Deficiency, it was the first they’d heard from *anyone* about my case. In fact, I was listed as a no-show for an audit that was scheduled like 6 months ago! Turns out they mailed that notice to an old address and it got returned, but that didn’t stop it from going down on my record as a no-show. That’s right folks, I’m getting screwed from all directions.

Although I’m insufficiently medicated for my brain cloud issues and thus easily overwhelmed, I’m now doing my own audit. I’m filing a petition with the tax court to have the assessment redone, and someone will contact me about the nuts and bolts in a few months. But I am doing it myself. I can’t trust anyone and I’m not paying for incompetence when I can be semi-competent for free.

Rant: Credit Score stupidity

First – why do I have to subscribe to a service to get my FICO score? Sure I can cancel within the trial period and pay nothing, but I’m naturally averse to promotions that are betting on you to screw up. I’m sure my realism cost me a few points.

Second – the credit reporting agencies threw a hissy fit with Fair Isaac and came up with some kind of new scoring system amongst themselves since I last checked. WTF??

Okay, now that I got that out of the way, I just blew $10 on my TransUnion credit score after getting my free report. Know what I found  out? My 837 puts me in the 65th percentile. Apparently credit scores and SAT scores have a lot in common – you get several hundred points for putting your name on the paper.

According to the apartment complex I’m trying to get into in Colorado, I need to be in the 75th percentile or better. There is nothing bad in that report – just a bunch of credit cards that I closed 8-10 years ago and my two current ones showing a debt ratio of about 12% (I let my mom use one of them to part-pay for my little sister’s wedding).

Is the lack of variety in my types of debt really worth 1/3 of my credit score?

How about giving me 50 points for living in NYC for 10 years and always paying my hideous 4-figure rent on time every month? After all, if I need a credit score to get the roof over my head, certainly my ability to pay for it should count!

How about giving me another 50 for financing all education since my BA (master’s degree, teaching certificate and now the Rolf Institute) out of my savings? And I got through undergrad at a private college with no parental contribution and no GSL/Stafford/Sallie Mae or whatever the kids are calling in these days. Just a Perkins – $6200 – paid it off 2 years early. 

So I’m too old for a student loan. I don’t have a mortgage and rent doesn’t count. I live in Manhattan and don’t want or need a car, so no car payments. The most expensive things I lust after are a plane ticket to Nairobi and an LCD TV, both of which I am capable of charging and paying off immediately. Even if I didn’t pay them off immediately, it’s still “only” credit card debt.

Correct me if I’m wrong folks…
If I buy anything that involves a payment plan, it boosts my score.
However, they do a credit check – which knocks points off my score.
Sounds like a zero-sum game to me, and yet I’m at 65%.

So I’m stewing in the juices of injustice (yes I’m getting melodramatic). I suppose I should expect this from a system that invented the concept of “good debt”.

5pm UPDATE:  Caved and did the free trial at scorewatch.com – at least they promise to warn you of the expiration of the free trial 3 days in advance. And the news was much prettier – a score of 797 out of 850. I’m in the 88th percentile. I still think I belong at 100% though. Hmph!

Most underpriced massage gig ever

I got a call from a massage therapist in NJ who had accepted a job through an agency for a 6-hour stint at Madison Square Garden this week, providing massages for the crew and members of a rock band. The deal is worthless to anyone who isn’t a big fan of the rock group. I’ve heard of him, he was the front man at one point for a major rock group that’s been going for 30+ years. In fact, if we were still together, my ex-husband would give up crossdressing for a year just to carry my table in and out.

Crappy Terms on Offer

I don’t know if the arrangement on offer is the agency’s standard one, or one requested by the concert manager, but it’s truly pathetic. Even strapped-for-cash dance companies and off-Broadway theater productions wouldn’t attempt to lowball this low.

  • $1 per minute. In NYC, that’s what untrained Chinese slave spas charge.
  • You have to hardsell – there is nothing lined up or guaranteed.
  • Bring your own table ($20 for cab fares + too much carrying).
  • And my personal favorite: Pay the agency $50 for the privilege.

What “6 hours of massage” realistically looks like

So I’d be there for 360 minutes but let’s get real for a moment – finishing at 8pm, concert kick-off time, who’s going to be in the mood for a massage in that last hour before performing, as things get more – not less – energetic? So now we’re down to, at best, 320 potential minutes. The earnings from the first 70 just get you to break even. And don’t give me “but they tip!” I’ve worked on unfamous band members and back-up guys for big names – and not only do they not tip, they make it clear that they expect a discount. With just one very noteworthy exception circa 2005, they behaved abominably – pushing nonstop for freebies/bargains, sexual servitude and fawning admiration (yeah, good luck). I much prefer my Broadway stagehand guys whose back and legs are such a mess that it doesn’t cross their minds to step out of line.

Let’s run the numbers

The woman on the phone says the events are usually good for $200-300 and some make $500 (no doubt the smart ones who avidly pursue the actual stars and their close entourage). Now, every massage given will require a few minutes in between to wash hands, change linens or Fantastik the table, and then hustle for the next client. So by my calculations, out of 360 minutes realistically reduced to 320 minutes, minus gaps of 3-5 mins to clean, prepare and hawk your wares, you’ve got maybe 260 viable massage minutes at best if they’re lining up … maximum gross income of $260 – $70 in expenses = $190 net profit for 6 hours. “Plus tips”. So based on her relatively sunnier pre-expenses guidelines, my assessment of how this job would go down are bang-on. Reality check: I make $200 for a 90-minute outcall after 9pm *without* that godawful 35-lb table.

In summary, the average self-employed female no-hanky-panky massage therapist in Manhattan charges $90-$130/hr for incalls and $150-200/hr for outcalls. We are not going to pay $50 + expenses for the possibility – not even a guarantee! – of making $40/hr or if we schmooze our asses off, as much as $80/hr. Screw that, say we.

Dear Dumbass Agency

This is Manhattan. This is 2010. Put that rate at no less than $7 per 5 minutes minimum. Better yet, $22 for 15 minutes and then $7 for each additional 5 mins, leaving a convenient $3 of wiggle room for those who might be feeling generous. Then that 260 viable minutes could yield 17 mini-massages for $380 gross instead of $260. If that price is beyond the means of the client(s), then they can make a different arrangement or not engage the service. I suggest no fee to the therapist (honestly, wtf?? that’s a strip club practice!) plus $20-$30/hr subsidy at tour management level to offer it for $1 per minute. Then you have a shot at generating more than a smidgen of interest from a professional.

Dear NJ Transit: You get an F in Math

I’m a little bit pissed – no, a lot pissed – at NJ Transit for their recent fare hikes. As if it wasn’t bad enough that they increased their standard peak adult fares by 25%, they eliminated the off-peak fares entirely. My $20 ticket RT ticket to visit my mother on the weekend has now leapt to $30. That’s fifty-freaking-percent! And I’m talking about commuter routes, not intercity Amtrak-type stuff, which prices itself to balance between bus fares and airfares.

Let me tell you how this has affected me personally… My mother’s 60th birthday is next week, and I suggested a slumber party for 6 at my place as a Plan B if the Hershey Park idea (hers, not ours!) doesn’t pan out for whatever reason. She said, “that’s $150 in train fares for us to come in, that seems kind of stupid.” She’s totally right.

If NJ Transit was looking for a justification for cutting off-peak services, then this was a really smart move – the natural atrophy of their customer base. However, if they were thinking “if they pay $20, they’ll pay $30”, well, I doubt my little family unit is the only one changing their mass transit habits.

Tell me if I’m wrong … I always thought of public transportation as being economical, efficient, ecological, and really damn practical. In fact, I enjoy learning my way around the systems in other countries, even ones with alphabets I don’t know. It’s supposed to cost less and take less time than driving. Now, to drive round-trip from where my mom is in NJ ($14 gas), pay for the tunnel ($8 toll), and cough up for 8-12 hours in a parking garage ($22)… that’s $34. To take the train and the subway is… $34. That math also applies to commuters. A zero sum game like that is going to completely defeat the purpose of having a mass transit system.

So, NJ Transit, you fail some pretty basic math. And you also fail in serving the purpose for your existence.

Rant over.

Will Healthcare “Reform” Go the Same Route as Credit Card “Reform”?

It bugs the hell out of me that a law was just passed that won’t take effect for years. The government just gave private corporations a four-year window to do whatever they can get away with. When they gave credit card companies a 1-2 year warning, look what they did to us – limits are halved, interest rates have been doubled, some folks had their monthly balance repayment % increase by 150% with 30 days’ notice, new fees are being created out of thin air, annual fees for responsible cardholders are set to make a return, fixed rate cards have been unilaterally turned into variable rate ones which will allow CC companies to continue some of their mercenary antics, and I’m sure there’s plenty of other sneaky-bastard manoeuvring that I’ve missed.

So I’m wondering, what can health insurance companies do to us over the next four years? I can think of the obvious (increasing rates, limiting coverage, etc), but hey, those credit card companies got diabolically inventive. You know that insurance companies are even more capable of – and unapologetic about – an inhuman yet somehow legal lack of ethics and fairness.

Care to share any predictions?

ABC TV – Your Greed Is Showing

I watch a fair bit of lunchtime programming on ABC (Channel 7 in NYC), and all week they’ve been doing these heartfelt ads about how Cablevision has refused to make a reasonable $ offer for their programming. The ads beseech Cablevision customers to let their feelings be known to customer service, and also suggesting that they change cable providers asap if they don’t want to risk missing the Oscars this Sunday night.

Cablevision is not my provider, so it’s easy to say that I’m on their side because I’ll still get my daily dose of The View (the only thing I would miss on ABC). Um, if I didn’t have cable TV, I would get ABC – along with CBS, NBC, Fox, CW, PBS and MyNine – for free. So why should the cable company, and ultimately their customers, pay for content that is otherwise FREE? And really, you’d think ABC was being financially crippled by the current status quo. With 20 minutes of ads cluttering up every hour of viewing, I find their appeal less than genuine. In fact, I find it just plain GREEDY.

Citibank is up to MORE shenanigans

Last week I got a notification that the interest rate on my credit card was about to change to 23.99% unless I did a balance transfer of no less than $3000 by December 10th, triggering that 3% fee ($90). Then I’d qualify for a 9.99% rate for a year on all balances before reverting to 23.99% – on all balances, including any portion of the transfer I failed to pay off in that time. In other words, 9.99% is some kind of introductory offer but for an existing customer with a FICO score over 800. What an unbelievable load of CRAP.

I don’t really care what they do with the rate because I pay it off in full every month and only failed to do so once in the last 5 years, which is when I discovered that you pay interest on the entire month’s balance $1800) and not just the portion you didn’t pay off ($300).  Never again. Anyway, if this is what I have to put up with to keep from paying an annual fee, fine. But as soon as my mom finishes paying off her balance on my Bank of America Visa, I may reclaim that card for daily use – it’s my oldest, and Bank of America has, to the best of my knowledge, not put the screws to their customers in the nasty ways that Chase and Citibank have. My card is still at an awesome interest rate of Prime + 1% on the transferred balance, and I just checked the purchase rate – 7.9%. I was really surprised they hadn’t messed with that, given what the other troubled banks have been pulling on their customers.

So I just dropped Bank of America customer service a thank-you note for not following in the mercenary footsteps of Chase and Citibank just because they could. I’m not really aware of anything they’ve done except cutting people’s credit limits, but I gave them props in my email for doing that – it was a mutually beneficial move and had a minimal effect on the customers they did that to.