Monday, August 27, 2007

Update on Office Depot Rebates

On April 27, I wrote about my experiences with Office Depot rebates. I did finally get all of my rebates, but not before a very long waiting period. I usually have good success with rebate offers for products that I buy. I estimate that I participate in maybe two dozen rebates a year, and have not had any problem 80-90% of the time. However, over the past year, I have sent in three rebates for products that I bought at Office Depot and had a problem receiving each one. If a problem happens with receiving a rebate, I usually consider it a fluke or coincidence. But since I had a problem three times in a row with the same retailer, I think that this is more than just a coincidence.

In each case, my rebate got "stuck" in their system. I waited almost half a year for a rebate on blank DVD media that I bought the day after Thanksgiving. I have talked to their customer service (at, and they said that they would try to "expedite" the rebate. Most of the time, the rebate showed up as in the "Required Validation Period" in their online tracking system. In any case, Office Depot is now officially off my list of places of where I will shop for rebate items. Curiously, I have not had problems with other retailers who also use "" for rebate submissions.

I have also heard from other readers who had the same problem with Office Depot rebates. In one case, a reader spent a great deal of effort, but it still took over 6 months to get the rebate check. That person no longer trusts Office Depot and immediately went to a bank to cash the $20 check, for fear that it would bounce. Does anybody else have a similar experience with Office Depot?


Friday, August 17, 2007

Countrywide Bank SavingsLink

On PFStock, I have posted extensively about my experiences with NetBank. I have found a replacement for the funds that I withdrew from NetBank when I closed my account with them. The winner is ... Countrywide Bank.

Recently, I opened a SavingsLink account at Countrywide Bank. The highlights are that they pay 5.25% APY interest if you have more that $10k, and 5.4% APY if you have over $50k. The interest rate drops to 4.0% APY if your balance is below $10k. The account itself works like an ING or iGo savings account. If you are not familiar with these, the SavingsLink account is an online only account that must be linked to a regular savings or checking account that you have at another institution. This is pretty much the only practical way to transfer funds in or out.

Countrywide Bank actually has a branch within walking distance of my home. But unlike most regular banks, the branch doesn't have an ATM and a prominently displayed sign says that they don't have any cash in the branch. When I asked the asked the sole employee of this office how to make a deposit, he showed me a deposit envelope, which was actually a Federal Express envelope. Apparently if you give them a check, they will send by overnight mail to Texas where the deposit is processed. Countrywide did send me a few postage paid deposit envelopes, but I assume that the FedEx method would be faster.

The SavingsLink account doesn't come with either checks or an ATM card. So, most transactions have to go through your linked account. SavingsLink only allows one linked account at a time, and the process of linking an account is cumbersome. Countrywide Bank uses what is known as "trial deposits". When you request that they link an external account to your Countrywide Bank account, they will make two random deposits (of less than $1.00 each) to your external account and ask you to verify the amounts that were deposited. This is to assure that you are actually the owner of the external account, and this process usually takes 2-3 days to complete. One other little hassle is that deposits are subject to a 10 business day hold. This basically means that you won't be able to withdrawal any deposit for a period of two weeks.

In spite of a few hassles to setup a Countrywide SavingsLink account, their interest rates are much better than at NetBank. Indeed, the 5.4% APY rate is better than the vast majority of bank savings accounts available.


This article was originally published on May 1, 2007. It is being republished today due to previous posting problems.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Bankruptcy and IVAs

In a discussion with one of the sponsors of PFStock, the topic of an Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVA) was brought up. I was not familiar with IVAs, so I decided to do a little research into the topic. In the United Kingdom, when a person declares bankruptcy, the details of the bankruptcy are advertised in the local press.

Due to the Insolvency Act of 1986, individuals in the United Kingdom have an alternative if they wish to avoid bankruptcy. This option, called an Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVA) , is an agreement between a debtor and creditors. The debtor agrees to pay a monthly sum, usually for 5 years, to their creditors through this arrangement. This sum is divided up between the creditors, who accept the sum in settlement of the amount owed.

The monthly payment is based on one's income and expenditure. In general, more than 75% (in value) of the creditors must agree in order for the IVA to be approved. A standing order authority (usually a company) will be set up to handle the payments.

An IVA might be suitable for people who cannot pay their debts. To read more about IVAs, I suggest the following website: Debt Advice Trust. The Debt Advice Trust is a not-for-profit charity in the UK with the aim of helping people get out of debt by giving free, impartial advice. The site has a forum and lots of in-depth FAQs on debt and staying debt-free.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Brokerage Survey Results

The results of PFStock's first brokerage survey are in. TD Ameritrade is the most popular brokerage among PFStock readers with 80% of the votes. The next most popular brokerage is SogoInvest with 20% of the votes. Thank you to all that voted.

In the latest poll, PFStock asks how much of your banking do you do online? Personally I do most, but not all, of my banking online. This leads to a lot of frustration when the bank website goes down. For example, yesterday when I got ready to pay a bunch bills on the Washington Mutual (WaMu) website, I got the following error message "Our site is temporarily unavailable due to a scheduled technology upgrade." So in the meanwhile, my bills are lined up next to the computer, waiting for WaMu's website to come back to life...

Please vote using the poll in the right sidebar.


Friday, August 10, 2007

TD Ameritrade Online Documents

It seems that TD Ameritrade is having some issues with its online documents. For a while, my July online statements were not available online. The TD Ameritrade website had this notice regarding "July Statement Availability":

Electronic Statements for July are currently unavailable for some clients. We are working to make them available as soon as possible. We apologize for any inconvenience. If you have further questions please contact Client Services.

But a larger issue for me is that I am missing several of my trade confirmations from the May-June 2007 time frame. These are trade confirmations that were previously listed under the "History & Statements" tab, but mysteriously disappeared sometime last week. A couple of Emails and a call to TD Ameritrade APEX customer service assured me that they are "aware of the problem and expect to have this issue resolved quickly." Well, it has been more that a week and my trade confirmations have not yet reappeared.

Banks and brokerages encourage their clients to agree to online delivery of account documents in part because it saves them money in the form of printing and mailing costs. I don't know about you, but when I agree to the arrangement of having my documents kept online, I also expect to be able to access them whenever I want. TD Ameritrade is only one example, as I think that most people who bank online can describe a situation where they were unable to access the online system because it was "down for maintenance" or "undergoing system enhancements". Is it any wonder that many people are still hesitant to do all of their banking online?

Also, I thought that I would update readers on my TD Ameritrade Warning that the brokerage would start to charge for monthly paper statements. They recently posted the following information about "Former TD Waterhouse clients receiving paper statements":

Most former TD Waterhouse clients who received paper statements in their old accounts will now receive paper statements on a quarterly basis in their TD AMERITRADE account. There is no fee for quarterly paper statements. Statements are also available in electronic or monthly paper formats. Electronic statements are free, monthly paper statements are available for a $2 monthly fee (free for Apex clients). To change how often you receive statements or the format you receive them in, login to your account and go to My Profile (under Portfolio & Accounts), then select Statements (located in the Communication section) and click the "edit" link.

Since I'm an Apex client, I get my monthly paper statements delivered for free. I did notice that the new TD Ameritrade statements take about two weeks longer to arrive versus the old TD Waterhouse statements, which came quickly. However, if they I did charge me for statements, I would probably opt for only quarterly statements.


Tuesday, August 7, 2007

AOL Time Warner Settlement

A couple weeks ago, I received a class action settlement check for some AOL Time Warner stock that I purchased a long time ago. In fact, the purchases of stock go back as far as 1999. To make a long story short, this settlement stems from the botched merger of America Online and Time Warner in which investors lost a lot of money. Time Warner currently trades on the NYSE as symbol TWX. Of course, the check that I received is much less than the amount that I lost trading the stock.

I filled in and mailed the proof of claim form for the AOL Time Warner class action settlement over a year and a half ago. Usually, these types of settlements are handled by a firm called Gilardi and Co. This is the first time I ever received a settlement check, and I've already figured out that these matters can take a long time. Has anybody else received a settlement for securities litigation? Do you know how one is supposed to report this on their taxes?


Sunday, August 5, 2007

NetBank Again

On the morning of September 20, 2006, I posted here that I was about to begin the process of withdrawing my money from NetBank and close my account with them. In that post, Sayonara NetBank, I referred to this process as "evacuating my money." There and in subsequent posts on PFStock, I cited deteriorating financial conditions at NetBank as one of my prime reasons for closing out my account. Even then, I conceded that NetBank was not likely to be forced into bankruptcy, but in the event that they did declare bankruptcy, it would be a hassle for depositors to get their funds back from the FDIC.

Let's take a look back over the last ten months at NetBank (Nasdaq: NTBK). On September 20th, the stock closed at $6.10. Today, NTBK trades at a mere $0.22 (and is on the verge of being delisted). And, NTBK recently reached an all-time low of $0.18 (a 97% decline). This decline is not surprising considering NetBank's deteriorating financials. From NetBank's previous press releases and other information available at their website, we can clearly see a series of quarterly losses over the past year. And early last year, NetBank stopped paying its shareholder dividend saying that they needed "to protect the company's capital base and tangible book value from further erosion."

Then on October 3rd, NetBank announced that it would be replacing its CEO. Even before this event, I had speculated that something fishy was going on at NetBank. A worst-case scenario could be that NetBank customers would need to recover their funds from the FDIC if NetBank becomes insolvent. However, I noted that while this is certainly possible, it is not the most likely case. Nevertheless, I asserted that NetBank could no longer remain competitive with other banks in its market space.

According to a more recent NTBK press release dated February 21, 2007, NetBank recorded a net loss of $202 million or $4.36 per share for 2006. This loss of $4.36 per share over the 12-month period is absolutely staggering when you consider that the entire company is only valued at $0.22 a share. Unfortunately, what is really lacking from NetBank's report is any type of good news. To further exacerbate the already existing problems, NTBK has received a notice from the Nasdaq Stock Market that the company's common stock is subject to delisting. NetBank has been delinquent in its regulatory filings because its former independent auditor resigned as of November 9, 2006. Since then, NTBK has been having difficulty bringing a new auditor on board. Again, this cannot be construed as good news.

And, the other shoe dropped on May 21st. NetBank announced that it is selling a substantial portion of what remaining assets it has to privately held EverBank. Here are a couple of statements from the NTBK press release:

The company has been under extreme financial pressure for more than a year due to a difficult mortgage origination market, a flat yield curve environment and other factors. These pressures have resulted in large operating losses that have significantly reduced the company's capital position and prompted heightened regulatory oversight.


Regulators have been increasingly concerned about the bank's capital and earnings trends and advised management to find an alternative immediately that covered all of the bank's deposit obligations.

Doesn't this seem to imply that the aforementioned "regulators" forced NetBank to essentially liquidate its remaining assets in order to protect depositors' money? And the NTBK stock price has reacted very negatively to these developments.

So, what is left of NetBank? According to NetBank CEO, Steven F. Herbert, "Our remaining businesses will include our mortgage servicing operation, along with our retail prime mortgage franchise, Market Street Mortgage." My interpretation is that there won't be anything left of the online banking operation, after EverBank takes its share. So substantially I can say that as you and I know it, the online bank, NetBank is no more!

Further reading:
The Decline and Fall of Internet-only Banks
Unprofitable and Unstable, NetBank Ousts its CEO
More on NetBank
NetBank's Demise


This article was originally published on April 15, 2007. It is being republished today due to previous posting problems. It has been updated.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Money Market Choices for TD Ameritrade

The series of posts that I made about my experiences with TD Ameritrade have been very popular at PFStock. Perhaps the most popular of my posts was the one where I exposed Ameritrade's "Hidden" cash sweep account. I have recently come across another cash (money market) option for TD Ameritrade account holders. This is another fund offered through "The Reserve" (website:

The fund is called the Reserve Yield Plus Fund Class R (symbol: RYPQX), and is classified by The Reserve as an "enhanced cash fund". Currently, this fund pays in the neighborhood of 5.4% APY. This rate is much better than the default TD Ameritrade cash option which puts you in a sweep account that pays less than 1% interest.

However, unlike the other Reserve funds (offered through Ameritrade's Total Asset Plan) that I've talked about before, this fund is not available as a sweep option which automatically places your uninvested cash into a money market account. Instead it is traded like a No-Transaction Fee (NTF) mutual fund. You would need to put in a mutual fund order each time that you want to buy or sell the fund.

Now I have a few questions for my readers. Has anybody invested in this type of enhanced cash fund before? Do you need to report each mutual fund sale (each time you take money out of the fund) as a broker transaction on Schedule D of your tax return? Presumably, the fund tries to maintain a $1/share valuation, and each transaction would represent $0 in capital gains. And, does anybody know if TD Ameritrade would count each NTF transaction toward qualification for their premier (or APEX) trading status?

I suppose that I would be remiss if I didn't add that The Reserve Yield Plus Fund contains the following disclaimer:
This Fund is not a money market fund. Achievement of the Fund’s objectives cannot be assured. An investment in the Fund is not insured or guaranteed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation or any other government agency. Although the Fund seeks to preserve the value of your investment at $1.00 per share, it is possible to lose money by investing in the fund. Yields may vary.

Since the first time that I mentioned the Reserve Yield Plus Fund, I discovered that cash you have in RYPQX is not counted as funds available for trading by TD Ameritrade. Arguably funds held in RYPQX can be considered as cash, but not as "available cash" for the purpose of trading. TD Ameritrade only counts the cash sweep balance here. What this means is that if you want to buy a new stock and don't have enough money in your cash sweep, you will have to sell RYPQX before placing an order.

I think that TD Ameritrade made this process unnecessarily cumbersome. Because RYPQX trades like a mutual fund, there is a 1 day settlement period on funds. For stocks, the settlement date is 3 days later. So in theory, one should be able to execute a stock trade and then later liquidate enough fund holdings to cover the trade in time for settlement. However, the new TD Ameritrade website will not allow you to even enter an order if it thinks you don't have enough in your cash sweep. By my memory, the former Waterhouse website did not have this particular restriction on placing stock trades.


This article was originally published April 11, 2007 . It is being republished because of previous posting problems. It has been updated.