Author Archives: George Boelcke

Temporary Free Credit Report Online

Inside of 10 minutes online you can get yourself a free New Years’ present. Equifax is the largest credit bureau in Canada, used by over 80% of lenders to make their decisions. Right  now, Equifax will give you your free credit report online.

You can go to: Equifax.ca and click on the top “learn more” section where it says Equifax’s response to Covid-19. Or here is the direct link to a better section at: https://www.consumer.equifax.ca/personal/products/credit-report/

Make absolutely sure to check that you do not have a tick mark on any subscription or their upsell to other things. They cost a bunch of money and you do not need them! Since less than 20% of adults have ever seen their credit report, now would be a great time to do that.

Why bother? The same reason you have a physical and go to the dentist for a checkup. This is your credit health – and it’s free and you can do it from home! Almost a quarter of adults have errors in there that are serious enough to be turned down for credit. You can’t fix what you don’t know. Plus, millions of people took advantage of mortgage or loan deferrals this spring. This is your chance to make sure your lender has coded it correctly as a deferral and not as arrears!

What will you get in your report? It’ll be 4 or 5 pages in total. The first section is just your personal information such as address, etc. The next section shows you which company looked at your credit report. Look through it for anyone you don’t know that is looking at your credit and shouldn’t be.

The main section shows each of your borrowing items. So for a credit card it’ll show when it was opened, your credit limit, last statement balance, and minimum payment and how many times you’ve been a month, two months or three months behind. Needless to say, this is the most critical section to go through because it’s 35% of your credit score.

If something is wrong, the law states that they have to fix it when you challenge something in there. The bottom of your report will give you the information. Of course, the Money Tools book has an entire chapter on the what, the why and how to of your report. You’ll have access to it for 30-days and should print it off and keep it.

Buying Airline Tickets For Flight That’ll Never Fly

On a scale of 1 to 10, how choked would you be if you ordered and pre-paid something you really wanted and were later told it wouldn’t be available?

OK, how choked would you be if you couldn’t get it AND wouldn’t get a refund – just a credit for something else – sometime later – maybe?

That’s what it’s like when you take the chance of purchasing an airline ticket these days. You’re purchasing a specific flight on a specific day for a reason. But the odds are high that your flight will be cancelled. To add insult to injury, the airlines probably knew your flight would never take off even before you bought your ticket. There isn’t a person named Susan at Westjet in Calgary deciding that, or a Marcel at Air Canada in Montreal. It’s all done by computer projections. But while their system has long decided the flight will be cancelled – they still keep selling tickets for a flight that won’t take off. Between the two airlines, according to a CBC story, there were 39,000 flight cancellations in November alone. (12,000 Westjet and 27,000 Air Canada).

When that happens, you’ll be issued a credit instead of a refund. With both airlines you may be able to apply for a refund – but it’s hit and miss, and may take some time – if at all. According to CTV, Air Canada has quietly allowed some customers to apply for refunds. And according to Westjet’s website, stranded passengers can apply, but it may be six to nine months to work through the eligibility requirements. If you took the chance of booking through Sunwing, it’s travel vouchers only, good for two years.

A McGill University lecturer called it “bait and switch” and “deceptive” in a CBC story. All the Minister of Transport could come up with is “the situation is complicated.” No it’s not. You paid, they didn’t deliver – you get your money back to try again another time if you so choose. That wouldn’t be any different for any other retailers.

I had two flights I should have taken since November. I didn’t, and had to make the long drives, instead. I can’t trust either airlines, and I would have been out hundreds of extra dollars with a non-refundable hotel and car rental, in addition to the airfare. No way – no chance.

Before you play Russian roulette with buying any tickets, you should call your credit card company and ask if they will refund you if you dispute the charges for a cancelled flight within the 60-days required by law. And you should really get that in writing. You also need to spend some time on the airline website to get their exact credit or refund rules for your specific flight and print it out. You may also want to book through a travel agent who will know the refund rules if you make it clear in writing that it must be a refundable ticked not an IOU refund. Fourth, you’ll have to pay a lot extra for any car rental or hotel at your destination. You certainly can’t take the chance you won’t actually get there to use them. Lastly, if you have them, try to book your flight on mileage or airline points. Call your credit card issuer to first confirm that a cancelled flight will get your points refunded where you won’t be out anything.

If you don’t, just remember that you will have a credit voucher to use. But when you do want to fly again, it’ll have to be with that airline. If the other airline has a great seat sale, it won’t matter because you’ll be stuck with the other airline’s voucher and paying whatever they’re charging.

Acutemp, 3rd Party No-Service Centres & Thank You Canadian Tire

A few months ago, I purchased a new Acutemp (WS355CA) indoor-outdoor thermometer from Canadian Tire. After a couple of months, I finally hung the sensor outside and set it up. It turns out that the Acutemp thermometer isn’t “accu(rate) at all!

I can understand that the outside temp might be out a little because of the sun hitting the sensor (it shouldn’t). But when the inside temp was barely within three degrees, that’s a problem. Three degrees is pretty huge for inaccuracy in the house!

What nobody knows (Canadian Tire does) is that the no-service centre for Acutemp is a third party that’s contracted to them, as well as bunch of other manufacturers by the name of Springfield Instruments. I tried for an hour to find the direct contact information for Acutemp without luck.

Do you remember the old days of mail-in rebates? Vast numbers of times they were rejected for the most bogus reasons. Springfield gave me the same run-around. They did “open a file” – that’s the way most of these places get paid in having a verifiable warranty claim submitted. In the same short email came the “not warranty” rejection. So a win-win for them: Getting paid by Acutemp for a “file” while rejecting the claim out of hand – a win for the manufacturer (and often a bonus for the call center – but I have no way of knowing that in this case.

“The weather stations are set to read an accurate temperature.” Oh, really? THREE DEGREES OUT is not accurate! “A small tolerance allows for small fluctuations that do not affect the overall accuracy.” Oh, really? “The accuracy cannot be determined by comparing your unit to another weather station.” Oh, really? That does not even make sense. Trust us, it’s accurate? Just ignore that every other thermometer is giving a different temp… So I put the unit on top of my toaster. While I’m not a toaster expert, bread becomes toast through heat! Nope…the temp on the thermometer didn’t move up. Their response: We tried it with “your unit” and it did rise. “My unit” is in my house. You mean you took one out of the box and tested it. In other words, there’s no chance mine (in my house) could be defective. Claim denied.

Unfortunately, I was now beyond the 90-day refund time with Canadian Tire. But I certainly wasn’t going to go away. So off to Canadian Tire’s customer service. Hurray and thank you to “Jhove” who barely wanted to know the defect issues and immediately gave me a refund. “We don’t carry that model anymore.” Now could you go the next step and NOT carry any Acutemp thermometers? Your buyers know it’s a third-party not-much-hope customer no-service centre. But I won’t look a gift horse in the mouth in getting my refund and learning the big lesson of avoiding Acutemp products at all cost. I know the slang name for Canadian Tire is “Crappy Tire” but that sure wasn’t the case for my issue!

A Big-Picture New Years’ Resolution

Happy New Year and good riddance to 2020!

Meet the tree-year old who has inspired my one and only New Years’ resolution this year:

My duplex backs onto a park and skating rink. I’ve now seen this tiny guy a number of times. To a three-year old of his size, the rink must seem the size of Europe. Watching him New Years’ day for about 15-minutes, he probably fell down at least 50 times. But he always got up. Sure, sometimes he rested on the ice for a bit and sometimes dad would skate over and he could pull himself up on dads’ stick. But he always gets up.

For arguably the majority of people, the pandemic that’s now in its second calendar year, is only an inconvenience. Maybe it was working from home for a while, or still missing the routine of restaurant dinners with friends, concerts, or a hockey game.

But for millions of us, including us self-employed and their staff, other peoples’ inconvenience is our nightmare – and not just in financial ways. Sure, lots of people can (and have) file for bankruptcy – but bankruptcy does not create income! Only the return to a healthy economy creates income.

With no immediate end in sight, millions of us have to keep getting up – have to keep positive – somehow – some way – for some time to come.

What’s the definition of “getting up?” That’s different for everyone. Maybe it’s deferring one more bill. It might be cashing one more RRSP, or hoping that the Canadian Recovery Benefit will be changed for vast numbers of people who will max out in March and be cut off. Maybe it’s asking for help – one of the hardest things to do.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I know I can’t get up 50 more times. But I’m pretty sure I can get up one more time – from one more setback – from one more nightmare of a week. And maybe one more time after that if I keep the image of that little three-year old in my mind.

Want A “Free” Christmas Next Year?

Four years ago I saw a picture of a 2 litre pop bottle filled with dimes. It apparently holds about $500 if you fill it with dimes. I’m change allergic and wasn’t going to just take out dimes. So I talked about filling a 2 litre pop bottle with all coins thinking it’d be a lot more than $500 and started filling up the bottle. Wrong – dimes are the smallest size. It turned out that the bottled savings added up to less than $600 because other coins, especially nickels, used us so much more space.

In January this year I decided to just save toonies, instead. I have a big vase, and every toonie went in there until last week – so that’s just about a full years’ worth. I’m single – if you’re in a relationship, you’ll get a whole lot more money when two of you are diverting your toonies!

A quick trip to the bank for rolls that hold $50 each and 15 minutes of work was all it took. But I was stunned that it added up to 1,200 dollars! THAT is a lot of money for saving coins that I never missed. And I’m single. If you’re in a relationship, that’s two of you putting away the coinage!

Whatever you may have for a Christmas budget, something like a thousand bucks or more of free money should make for a pretty impressive Christmas present to yourself next year – if you want.

I do have to confess that I boosted my toonie savings a bit: Any trip to Tim’s for coffee, I’d pay with a five dollar bills. That made sure I was coming home with at least one toonie. If my dollar store purchases were $6.40, I’d give them $10.40 to get $4 change…thus another two toonies. Because, let’s face it, nobody is going to miss two bucks out of their pocket ever couple of days or so. If you want, add loonies to it as well. In fact – that’s something I’m going to do for 2021 now that I think of it. My vase is big enough and if I can divert toonies I’ll never miss, it should logically be 50% more if I add loonies this coming year.

If nothing else out of the crappy year that was 2020, I’m really looking forward to upwards of $2,000 free money next Christmas….

A Pre-Christmas Poem For this Horrible Year

T’was the week before Christmas,

And all through the town,

People wore masks,

That covered their frown.

The frown had begun

Way back in the Spring,

When a global pandemic

Changed everything.

They called it corona,

But unlike the beer,

It didn’t bring good times,

It didn’t bring cheer.

Airplanes were grounded,

Travel was banned.

Borders were closed

Across air, sea and land.

As the world entered lockdown

To flatten the curve,

The economy halted,

And folks lost their nerve.

From March to July

We rode the first wave,

People stayed home,

They tried to behave.

When summer emerged

The lockdown was lifted.

But away from caution,

Many folks drifted.

Now it’s December

And cases are spiking,

Wave two has arrived,

Much to our disliking.

It’s true that this year

Has had sadness a plenty,

We’ll never forget

The year 2020.

And just ‘round the corner –

The holiday season,

But why be merry?

Is there even one reason?

To decorate the house

And put up the tree,

Who will see it,

No one but me.

But outside my window

The snow gently falls,

And I think to myself,

Let’s deck the halls!

So, I gather the ribbon,

The garland and bows,

As I play those old carols,

My happiness grows.

(edited: author unknown from a FB post)

You Are What You Drive??

Here is a list of the vehicles 10 of the richest people in the world are driving (as of last November).

Jeff Bazos, founder of Amazon: 2013 Honda Accord

Bill Gates: 2008 Ford Focus

Warren Buffett: 2006 Cadillac DTS, but after 10 years of driving it, his daughter convinced him to buy a new one last year

Mark Zuckerberg: Acura TSX with original sticker price of $30k

Larry Page and Sergey Brin: Both founders of Google drive two-year old Priuses

Steve Ballmer: The ex-CEO of Microsoft & owner of the LA Clippers drives a 2010 Ford Fusion

Michael Bloomberg: Chevy Suburban

Jack Ma: The co-founder of Alibaba drives a three-year old Roewer X5

Alice Walton: The daughter of Walmart Founder Sam Walton still drives her 06 Ford F150 with a value of maybe $5k

Hands-down these people can obviously afford any vehicle on the planet. Yet, they choose to all drive something pretty inexpensive in the view of most middle class earners. Rich people don’t buy things that go down in value – a large part of the reason they got rich.

I’m going to keep stating that middle class income people have no chance to build serious wealth with car payments. The math says that there’s just isn’t enough money left over. Payments of $500 to $900 truck payments are after-tax. That means the person is actually spending $700 to $1,300 of gross earnings (less taxes, EI, CPP) on perpetual payments.

Sure, anyone can cut their bills down by a hundred bucks to be able to save a little. But there’s only one change that can leave $700 to $1,300 in your pocket each month – in addition to now having less than half the insurance premiums.

3 Reasons & 3 Categories Of Home Improvements

Are you still stuck at home or working from home like me? Or just spending a ton more time indoors because it’s winter? If so, there’s a good chance that you’re looking around the house at something to fix, build, add, tear-down, or upgrade. That’s why home improvement places haven’t had many sales: They’re getting a ton of business from people who have been under house arrest. Good luck trying to get a deal on paint or lumber this year…

Renovations fall into three categories: Those which give you a big return when you sell, renovations you have to do, and those with the highest enjoyment value. You need to think of them in those three different categories.

Must-do things like replacing the roof, upgrading your furnace, or replacing that green shag carpeting from the 1970s aren’t an option: You’re not likely to get your home sold down the road if you haven’t done some modernization.

Renos that give you enjoyment and pleasure aren’t always those where you’ll increase the value. These want-to-do things are different for everyone. The most common ones are sun rooms, landscaping upgrades, fencing, deck add-ons, garages and basement finishing.

Increasing your resale value might match some things you also would really enjoy, but you should do an internet search to be sure, or ask a realtor for feedback. Kitchen and bath updates are surefire ways to increase your home value. They return 75 to 100% of what you spend on them. Repainting usually falls into all three categories: It might be a must do, or a want to do, but also increase your home value in returning around 67 cents of every dollar you spend on painting.

I managed to do two of those in one: In my new half-duplex the third bedroom is 70 square feet. I work from home and that isn’t big for an office where I spend six to eight hours a day. So, I developed half my basement to have a 500 square foot office. It’s great for resale value, and even better for my mental health and enjoyment. If only I hadn’t done it in February before someone turned off the lights on my income for the year….

Of course, decluttering costs nothing, as does getting more organized. They’re both on my favourites list as they’re free and part of my personality type anyway. Oh, and consider avoiding the lowest returns on resale values: pools, skylights and hot tubs.

Some Bills Are Going Away This Year-End

A heads up that some of your money – if you have this kind of money – will stop being legal tender:

Some Canadian bills are losing their legal tender status from the Bank of Canada at the end of this year. So you won’t be able to take them to the bank or use them in stores anymore. But no worries – tiny odds you even have them. And if you do, they’re worth way more than you think!

The one and two dollar bills stopped being issued in 1989 and 1996 respectively. You may still have some, but they’re too much of a cheap souvenir to turn them in. Your kids or grandkids will love to get them from you.

The $25 note has only 1,840 left out in the world. Rare always equals expensive so a reputable collector will give you way more than face value.

Did you know Canada had a $500 note? Who knew? I think it was only issued one year in the 1930s. But get this: There are only 40 left out there. The Bank of Canada obviously knows how many it printed and how many came back from Canadas’ banks out of circulation. THAT is rare. A very good quality one without stains or marks is worth $50,000. THAT is a big return if one of your grandparents could afford to get it and keep it.

Lastly, the $1,000 bill won’t be legal tender anymore. Those I have seen. I don’t have one, but it’d be a great Christmas present if someone is still wondering what to get me. They’re not rare – there are 632,000 of them still out there. A very good condition one is worth 20 to 30% more than face value. But for all of them, if you find any of them after the New Year and do want to just cash them in, the Bank of Canada will still honour the, but you’ll have to mail them directly to them.

While those bills are going away, the new $100 bill is less likely to be accepted by vast numbers of businesses. There have been over 11,000 fake ones caught in 2018 so businesses aren’t accepting them. Weren’t the new bills supposed to be almost counterfeit proof?

Broke Is the New Rich

One of first chapters in the Money Tools book is called Broke Is the New Rich: It’s pretty much for anyone under age 40 or so who’s mentally decided they just can’t ever get ahead.

Being broke isn’t fun. It’s also stressful and leaks into every other area of our life from concentrating at work to relationship fights to bouts of depression. But a lot of times it’s not necessary. Last week I hired a taper/mudder to do my basement stairs and storage room – something I absolutely can’t/and refuse to do. He texted me before coming out on Saturday. “Good morning, George. I barely have any gas. I think I can make it out there. But making it back will be a problem. I know this may seem a little unprofessional of me but I figured it’s just best to be honest.”

His text was a roundabout way of double checking that he was going to get some money for the day of work. He did make it here and started the work. It turns out both him and his girlfriend worked for a painting company for over a week that stiffed both of them for their entire pay. It’ll now be a while before the Labour Board will get him paid. He’s 20-something and obviously honest and motivated to work on the side, he’s reliable (THE most important trait an employer looks for or should look for) and talented. He’s likely just ‘in between money’ and a victim of circumstances.

Before you find yourself needing to send that type of text, or to ask the question, stop for a second. No matter how broke or cash poor you are, get yourself some mini-emergency money. Put a $10 bill in your glovebox with your registration. It’s emergency gas money. It’s not an emergency to get you to McDonalds. It’s emergency gas money to be able to drive to a job that will make you money. As soon as you can afford it, change that $10 bill to a $20 and your stress level, constantly worrying about it, or having to send that text is gone.

At home, hide a $20 bill somewhere. It’s emergency food money. Not a skip the dishes emergency, or liquor store crisis – it’s for milk, cereal, bread-type emergency. As soon as you can afford it, up it to two $20 bills, then a $50 bill instead, and when you can, hide a nice brown $100 bill somewhere.

If that sounds small or silly, you either haven’t been in that stressful situation, or don’t understand how others could be. But it’s more common than you’ll ever know, and it works and it’s worth it to reduce your stress level by a lot.

When you’re ready, set up a proper emergency account (see page 223 of the Money Tools book). Start by getting it to one week of your net pay and work your way up to three months of all your expenses.

From the $10 bill tucked away up to three months money in the bank – all of them take an emergency and turn it into an inconvenience.

Contrast that story with the one in the Money Tools book: Michael really wanted to get out from under his $3,200 credit card balance. Luckily, his work schedule came out with a New Years day opportunity. He had the chance to work a 10-hour shift on January 1st at double-pay. That would earn him over $640. It would mean passing up his New Years’ eve plans to attend a party. The party turned out to be his priority. The night cost him over $300 as he later admitted, versus $640 of extra income. Had he chosen the alternative to work, he would have been close to a thousand-dollar positive swing in his finances.

Talk about two very different 20-somethings! As I’ve said before: Don’t tell me what your financial priorities are – show me where you’re spending your money and I’ll know where your financial priorities really are.

My guy will be successful. Michael is just playing a huge self-defeating financial game, the reason we’re poorer than we think, and my question in frustration if I should just mail him the $1,000.