Sunday, September 16, 2007

TIAA-CREF is absolutely the worst, bar none

One alarming thing about being an academic is that so much of one's retirement saving is in the hands of the mega-organization, TIAA-CREF. Perhaps I should be hiding dollars in my mattress instead of working with these guys. It's pretty scary to think that I or my children will need to rely on them some day.

What prompts this reflection is my experiences over the past sixteen months or so with respect to a couple of small TIAA CREF accounts wiith survivorship rights that my late father left to my brother and myself. After months of repeated effort - calling frequently upon the receipt of incoherent correspondence, having to do the same ministerial steps two, three, or four times in a row, and so forth - my brother has actually succeeded in having his share of both accounts transferred to his name. I am still only one for two.

Most recently, I got some correspondence that, among other steps,required me to travel to my bank for a signature guarantee, signed by a bank officer. Okay, I did it, forty-five minutes or so out of a busy day, and sent it in.

This weekend I got a letter back from TIAF CREF. Dear Mr. Shaviro, etcetera, etcetera. You will have to do this form again, because the signature guarantee wasn't filled out. Attached to it, a Xeroxed copy of my last submission. On page 2, someone has helpfully highlighted in orange the instructions for the signature guarantee. Right next to it is the actual signature guarantee itself, fully filled out, everything there, not a line missing, and no indication of what the problem is except that they apparently don't realize it's there, even though they wrote me the letter and took the trouble of highlighting the instructions in orange, right next to my fully filled out text.

What is with these people? Drugs? Drink? I'd like to know.

UPDATE: TIAA-CREF blames my bank. Didn't use the "medallion" insignia, you see.

5 comments:

Robert said...

"AUM" - Assets Under Management is the name of the game. I find that investment management outfits typically make it quite easy to transfer assets in, but excruciatingly difficut to transfer them out. The competent folks are assigned to gather assets, while the imbeciles process withdrawals and account changes.

Anonymous said...

As a former employee of tiaa-cref and current participant, I feel your pain. I am currently sitting on hold, while waiting to simply access my account. I have now been on hold for over 20 minutes. This has been an ongoing problem since 1997 when I first began working for the company. It is just the tip of the iceberg.

A participant is required to jump through numerous hoops in order to even begin a logical, rational conversation with an intelligent consultant. Once you do get through to someone who can actually make sense of your account, (blame it on serious IT issues and a lack actual knowledge) that individual must try to sort out the mess that has been made of the account. A simple loan from my contract took over 10 phone calls, supervisor calls, and more than three weeks to complete. Don't forget, I'm a former employee and should have people there that I know and can trust. Simply not the case.

Rest assured, you can expect further delays in the processing of your father's account. Make copies of all documentation they ask you to submit so that you can have it handy when calling or when sent correspondence stating you haven't completed something to their liking. As soon as possible, move the funds out of tiaa-cref. You will be much happier and your financial state will be much more comfortable. I unfortunately am stuck with them until I die. Truthfully, until I die. As employees/former employees, we are NEVER able to transfer our company sponsored retirement accounts out of tiaa-cref, only our supplemental accounts can be moved. Good luck to you.

Anonymous said...

If your credit card uses different rates for purchases, transfers, and cash advances, realize that the card issuer may pay the lower interest rate balance first. Consequently, if you carry a balance, your high-rate cash advance may not be "paid" until all lower-rate balances are paid in full.
Fixed-Rate credit cards are not fixed forever. Rates can be changed at any time, as long as the card issuer provides 15 days advance notice of the change in terms. Fees may also increase. These "Change in Terms" notices are usually included with your monthly statement.
Your interest rate may dramatically increase if you make late payments. For example, some issuers will raise your interest rate to the maximum after one or two late payments. Consequently, your 12% credit card could quickly turn into a 25% credit card.
Your credit card issuer may also raise your interest rate after conducting a routine credit report review. If your overall credit history has deteriorated, the issuer may raise your interest rate, even though you've never made a late payment on the card in question.
The 25 day grace period only applies when you pay-off your entire balance due each month. If you only pay the minimum payment, interest is immediately accrued from the moment you charge something to your credit card. Some companies are also shortening the grace period to 20 days, and some cards have no grace periods.
Ignore offers to reduce or skip payments. These options are frequently offered over the holidays. When you skip a payment, the loan continues to accrue interest; therefore, these offers simply increase the overall interest and finance charges that the creditor collects. On a similar note, beware of offers of no payment/no interest for a period of time. Furniture stores, jewelry stores, and electronics stores frequently offer these programs. For example, no payment/no interest for 12 months!! This can be a good offer, but once again, read the fine print. Make sure you know the details of the program. Generally, you need to pay off the entire balance before the end of the "free" period to receive the benefit. Otherwise, you will probably have to pay interest on the entire balance from the date of your purchase
Debt1consolidation.com entails taking out one loan to pay off many others. This is often done to secure a lower interest rate, secure a fixed interest rate or for the convenience of servicing only one loan.

Debt1consolidation.com can simply be from a number of unsecured loans into another unsecured loan, but more often it involves a secured loan against an asset that serves as collateral, most commonly a house. In this case, a mortgage is secured against the house. The collateralization of the loan allows a lower interest rate than without it, because by collateralizing, the asset owner agrees to allow the forced sale (foreclosure) of the asset to pay back the loan. The risk to the lender is reduced so the interest rate offered is lower.

Sometimes, debt consolidation companies can discount the amount of the loan. When the debtor is in danger of bankruptcy, the debt consolidator will buy the loan at a discount. A prudent debtor can shop around for consolidators who will pass along some of the savings. Consolidation can affect the ability of the debtor to discharge debts in bankruptcy, so the decision to consolidate must be weighed carefully.

Debt consolidation is often advisable in theory when someone is paying credit card debt. Credit cards can carry a much larger interest rate than even an unsecured loan from a bank. Debtors with property such as a home or car may get a lower rate through a secured loan using their property as collateral. Then the total interest and the total cash flow paid towards the debt is lower allowing the debt to be paid off sooner, incurring less interest. In practice, many people are in credit card debt because they spend more than their income. If that habit continues, the consolidation will not benefit them much because they will simply increase their credit card balances again.

Because of the theoretical advantage that debt consolidation offers a consumer that has high interest debt balances, companies can take advantage of that benefit of refinancing to charge very high fees in the debt consolidation loan. Sometimes these fees are near the state maximum for mortgage fees. In addition, some unscrupulous companies will knowingly wait until a client has backed themselves into a corner and must refinance in order to consolidate and pay off bills that they are behind on the payments. If the client does not refinance they may lose their house, so they are willing to pay any allowable fee to complete the debt consolidation. In some cases the situation is that the client does not have enough time to shop for another lender with lower fees and may not even be fully aware of them. This practice is known as predatory lending Certainly many, if not most, debt consolidation transactions do not involve predatory lending.

Credit card debt is an example of unsecured consumer debt, accessed through plastic credit cards.

Debt results when a client of a credit card company purchases an item or service through the card system. Debt accumulates and increases via interest and penalties when the consumer does not pay the company for the money he or she has spent.

The results of not paying this debt on time are that the company will charge a late payment penalty (generally in the US from $10 to $40) and report the late payment to credit rating agencies. Being late on a payment is sometimes referred to as being in "default". The late payment penalty itself increases the amount of debt the consumer has.

When a consumer has been late on a payment, it is possible that other creditors, even creditors the consumer was not late in paying, may increase the interest rates the consumer is paying. This practice is called universal default.

If the customer is carrying an amount of debt that is so high that it is over their credit limit, then they might be charged an over-the-limit fee of up to $39 until their balance is paid down to below their credit limit. This, too, may add to the consumer's debt.

Sometimes the late fees, over-the-limit fees, high annual percentage rates (APRs), and universal default overcome consumers who frequently do not pay off their debt, and the customer declares bankruptcy. If a customer files for bankruptcy, the credit card companies are required to forgive all or much of the debt, unless such discharge of debt is successfully challenged by one or more creditors, or blocked by a bankruptcy judge on legal grounds irrespective of creditors' challenges.

Because forgiveness of debt reduces likelihood of profit and continued survival, the companies are generally willing to offer another deal to the consumers in danger of bankruptcy. This deal consists of reduced APRs, removal of past late fees and penalty charges, and reaging the accounts so that the credit agencies see them as late accounts.A credit card is a system of payment named after the small plastic card issued to users of the system. A credit card is different from a debit card in that it does not remove money from the user's account after every transaction. In the case of credit cards, the issuer lends money to the consumer (or the user). It is also different from a charge card (though this name is sometimes used by the public to describe credit cards), which requires the balance to be paid in full each month. In contrast, a credit card allows the consumer to 'revolve' their balance, at the cost of having interest charged. Most credit cards are the same shape and size, as specified by the standard.

A user is issued credit after an account has been approved by the credit provider, and is given a credit card, with which the user will be able to make purchases from merchants accepting that credit card up to a pre-established credit limit. Often a general bank issues the credit, but sometimes a captive bank created to issue a particular brand of credit card, such as or Banks issues the credit.

When a purchase is made, the credit card user agrees to pay the card issuer. The cardholder indicates their consent to pay, by signing a receipt with a record of the card details and indicating the amount to be paid or by entering a Personal identification number (PIN). Also, many merchants now accept verbal authorizations via telephone and electronic authorization using the Internet, known as a Card not present (CNP) transaction.

Electronic verification systems allow merchants to verify that the card is valid and the credit card customer has sufficient credit to cover the purchase in a few seconds, allowing the verification to happen at time of purchase. The verification is performed using a credit card payment terminal or Point of Sale (POS) system with a communications link to the merchant's acquiring bank. Data from the card is obtained from a magnetic stripe or chip on the card; the latter system is in the United Kingdom commonly known as Chip an PIN, but is more technically an EMV card.

Other variations of verification systems are used by eCommerce merchants to determine if the user's account is valid and able to accept the charge. These will typically involve the cardholder providing additional information, such as the security code printed on the back of the card, or the address of the cardholder.

Each month, the credit card user is sent a statement indicating the purchases undertaken with the card, any outstanding fees, and the total amount owed. After receiving the statement, the cardholder may dispute any charges that he or she thinks are incorrect (see Fair Credit Billing Act for details of the US regulations). Otherwise, the cardholder must pay a defined minimum proportion of the bill by a due date, or may choose to pay a higher amount up to the entire amount owed. The credit provider charges interest on the amount owed (typically at a much higher rate than most other forms of debt). Some financial institutions can arrange for automatic payments to be deducted from the user's bank accounts.

Credit card issuers usually waive interest charges if the balance is paid in full each month, but typically will charge full interest on the entire outstanding balance from the date of each purchase if the total balance is not paid.

For example, if a user had a $1,000 outstanding balance and pays it in full, there would be no interest charged. If, however, even $1.00 of the total balance remained unpaid, interest would be charged on the $1 from the date of purchase until the payment is received. The precise manner in which interest is charged is usually detailed in a cardholder agreement which may be summarized on the back of the monthly statement. The general calculation formula most financial institutions use to determine the amount of interest to be charged is APR/100 x ADB/365 x number of days revolved. Take the Annual percentage rate (APR) and divide by 100 then multiply to the amount of the average daily balance divided by 365 and then take this total and multiply by the total number of days the amount revolved before payment was made on the account. Financial institutions refer to interest charged back to the original time of the transaction and up to the time a payment was made, if not in full, as RRFC or residual retail finance charge. Thus after an amount has revolved and a payment has been made that the user of the card will still receive interest charges on their statement after paying the next statement in full (in fact the statement may only have a charge for interest that collected up until the date the full balance was paid...i.e. when the balance stopped revolving).

The credit card may simply serve as a form of revolving credit, or it may become a complicated financial instrument with multiple balance segments each at a different interest rate, possibly with a single umbrella credit limit, or with separate credit limits applicable to the various balance segments. Usually this compartmentalization is the result of special incentive offers from the issuing bank, either to encourage balance transfers from cards of other issuers, or to encourage more spending on the part of the customer. In the event that several interest rates apply to various balance segments, payment allocation is generally at the discretion of the issuing bank, and payments will therefore usually be allocated towards the lowest rate balances until paid in full before any money is paid towards higher rate balances. Interest rates can vary considerably from card to card, and the interest rate on a particular card may jump dramatically if the card user is late with a payment on that card or any other credit instrument, or even if the issuing bank decides to raise its revenue. As the rates and terms vary, services have been set up allowing users to calculate savings available by switching cards, which can be considerable if there is a large outstanding balance (see external links for some on-line services).

Because of intense competition in the credit card industry, credit providers often offer incentives such as frequent flier points, gift certificates, or cash back (typically up to 1 percent based on total purchases) to try to attract customers to their program.

Low interest credit cards or even 0% interest credit cards are available. The only downside to consumers is that the period of low interest credit cards is limited to a fixed term, usually between 6 and 12 months after which a higher rate is charged. However, services are available which alert credit card holders when their low interest period is due to expire. Most such services charge a monthly or annual fee. credit card's grace period is the time the customer has to pay the balance before interest is charged to the balance. Grace periods vary, but usually range from 20 to 30 days depending on the type of credit card and the issuing bank. Some policies allow for reinstatement after certain conditions are met. Usually, if a customer is late paying the balance, finance charges will be calculated and the grace period does not apply. Finance charge(s) incurred depends on the grace period and balance, with most credit cards there is no grace period if there's any outstanding balance from the previous billing cycle or statement (ie. interest is applied on both the previous balance and new transactions). However, there are some credit cards that will only apply finance charge on the previous or old balance, excluding new transactions.

For merchants, a credit card transaction is often more secure than other forms of payment, such as checks, because the issuing bank commits to pay the merchant the moment the transaction is authorized, regardless of whether the consumer defaults on their credit card payment (except for legitimate disputes, which are discussed below, and can result in charge backs to the merchant). In most cases, cards are even more secure than cash, because they discourage theft by the merchant's employees.

For each purchase, the bank charges a commission (discount fee), to the merchant for this service and there may be a certain delay before the agreed payment is received by the merchant. The commission is often a percentage of the transaction amount, plus a fixed fee. In addition, a merchant may be penalized or have their ability to receive payment using that credit card restricted if there are too many cancellations or reversals of charges as a result of disputes. Some small merchants require credit purchases to have a minimum amount (usually between $5 and $10) to compensate for the transaction costs, though this is not always allowed by the credit card consortium.

In some countries, like the Nordic countries, banks guarantee payment on stolen cards only if an ID card is checked and the ID card number/civic registration number is written down on the receipt together with the signature. In these countries merchants therefore usually ask for ID. Non-Nordic citizens, who are unlikely to possess a Nordic ID card or driving license, will instead have to show their passport, and the passport number will be written down on the receipt, sometimes together with other information. Some shops use the card's PIN code for identification, and in that case showing an ID card is not necessary.

Authorization: When the cardholders pays for the purchase, the merchant performs some risk assessment and may submit the transaction to the acquirer for authorization. The acquirer verifies with the issuer—almost instantly—that the card number and transaction amount are both valid, and informs the merchant on how to proceed. The issuer may provisionally debit the funds from the cardholder's credit account at this stage.
Batching: After the transaction is authorized it is then stored in a batch, which the merchant sends to the acquiring bank later to receive payment (usually at the end of the day).
Clearing and settlement: The acquiring bank sends the transactions in the batch through the card association, which debits the card-issuing bank for the transaction amount, and credits the acquirer for the transaction amount minus the interchange fee.
Funding: The acquiring bank pays the merchant. The amount the merchant receives is equal to the transaction amount minus the discount rate charged by the acquiring bank to the merchant for the service.
The entire process, from authorization to funding, usually takes about 2-7 business days. However, many merchant card processors offer next-day deposits to customers subject to type of banking account.

In the event of a chargeback (when there's an error in processing the transaction or the cardholder disputes the transaction), the issuer returns the transaction to the acquirer for resolution. The acquirer then forwards the chargeback to the merchant, who must either accept the chargeback or contest it.

Commodity money is any money that is both used as a general purpose medium of exchange and as a tradable commodity in its own right.

Commodity based currencies are often viewed as more stable, but this is not always the case. The value of a commodity based currency as a medium of exchange depends on its supply relative to other goods and services available in the economy. Historically, gold, silver and other metals commonly used in commodity based monetary systems have been subject to regular and sometimes extraordinary fluctuations in purchasing power. This not only damages its stability as a medium of exchange; it also reduces its effectiveness as a store of value. In the 1500s and 1600s huge quantities of gold and even larger amounts of silver were discovered in the New World and brought back to Europe for conversion into coin. As a result, the purchasing power of those coins fell by 60% to 80%, i.e. the prices of goods rose, because the supply of goods did not keep pace with the increased supply of money. In addition, the relative value of silver to gold shifted dramatically downward. Such discoveries of huge sources of gold or silver are a thing of the past, and lend to their supply stability. More recently, from 1980 to 2001, gold was a particularly poor store of value, as gold prices dropped from a high of $850/oz. ($27.30 /g) to a low of $255/oz. ($8.20 /g).It should be noted that gold was not a currency at this time, and was fluctuating due to its status as a final store of value — that is, the price never goes to zero as fiat currencies inevitably do. The advantage of gold and silver, however, lies in the fact that, unlike fiat paper currency, the supply cannot be increased arbitrarily by a central bank.

It is also possible for the trading value of a commodity money to be greater than its value as a medium of exchange when governments attempt to fix exchange rates between different commodity monies. When this happens people will often start melting down coins and reselling the metal used to make them. This has happened periodically in the United States, eventually causing it to move away from pure silver nickels and pure copper pennies. Shipping coins from one jurisdiction to another so that they could be reminted was sometimes a lucrative trade before the advent of trusted paper money.

Commodity money's ability to function as a store of value is also limited by its very nature. Copper and tin risk rust and corrosion. Gold and silver are soft metals that can lose weight through scratches and abrasions, but this is nothing by comparison to fiat currencies, where billions of dollars can be injected ("printed") into the market within moments.

Stability aside, commodity-based currencies may have a tendency to restrain growth in a very active economy. For example, in order to maintain the price level, the supply of money in an any economy must be equal or greater than the volume of goods and services produced. If commodities are used as money, then the total production can easily outstrip the supply of those commodities, which leads to price deflation. The lower prices of goods would signal to their producers to reduce the supply of goods, hence restoring the price level. As such, production within commodity-based economies tends to be limited by the supply of the commodity currency.[citation needed]

This problem is compounded by the fact that money also serves as a store of value. This encourages hoarding (in other circumstances known as "saving")and takes the commodity money out circulation, reducing the supply. The supply of circulating commodity currency is further reduced by the fact that commodity moneys also have competing non-monetary uses. For example, gold and silver are used in jewelry, and nickel and copper have important industrial uses.

Commodity based currencies also limit the geographic extent of the trading market. To make large purchases either a large volume or a high weight or both of the commodity must be transported to the seller. The cost of transportation of the currency raises the transaction cost and makes long distance sales less attractive


If your credit card uses different rates for purchases, transfers, and cash advances, realize that the card issuer may pay the lower interest rate balance first. Consequently, if you carry a balance, your high-rate cash advance may not be "paid" until all lower-rate balances are paid in full.
Fixed-Rate credit cards are not fixed forever. Rates can be changed at any time, as long as the card issuer provides 15 days advance notice of the change in terms. Fees may also increase. These "Change in Terms" notices are usually included with your monthly statement.
Your interest rate may dramatically increase if you make late payments. For example, some issuers will raise your interest rate to the maximum after one or two late payments. Consequently, your 12% credit card could quickly turn into a 25% credit card.
Your credit card issuer may also raise your interest rate after conducting a routine credit report review. If your overall credit history has deteriorated, the issuer may raise your interest rate, even though you've never made a late payment on the card in question.
The 25 day grace period only applies when you pay-off your entire balance due each month. If you only pay the minimum payment, interest is immediately accrued from the moment you charge something to your credit card. Some companies are also shortening the grace period to 20 days, and some cards have no grace periods.
Ignore offers to reduce or skip payments. These options are frequently offered over the holidays. When you skip a payment, the loan continues to accrue interest; therefore, these offers simply increase the overall interest and finance charges that the creditor collects. On a similar note, beware of offers of no payment/no interest for a period of time. Furniture stores, jewelry stores, and electronics stores frequently offer these programs. For example, no payment/no interest for 12 months!! This can be a good offer, but once again, read the fine print. Make sure you know the details of the program. Generally, you need to pay off the entire balance before the end of the "free" period to receive the benefit. Otherwise, you will probably have to pay interest on the entire balance from the date of your purchase
Debt1consolidation.com entails taking out one loan to pay off many others. This is often done to secure a lower interest rate, secure a fixed interest rate or for the convenience of servicing only one loan.

Debt1consolidation.com can simply be from a number of unsecured loans into another unsecured loan, but more often it involves a secured loan against an asset that serves as collateral, most commonly a house. In this case, a mortgage is secured against the house. The collateralization of the loan allows a lower interest rate than without it, because by collateralizing, the asset owner agrees to allow the forced sale (foreclosure) of the asset to pay back the loan. The risk to the lender is reduced so the interest rate offered is lower.

Sometimes, debt consolidation companies can discount the amount of the loan. When the debtor is in danger of bankruptcy, the debt consolidator will buy the loan at a discount. A prudent debtor can shop around for consolidators who will pass along some of the savings. Consolidation can affect the ability of the debtor to discharge debts in bankruptcy, so the decision to consolidate must be weighed carefully.

Debt consolidation is often advisable in theory when someone is paying credit card debt. Credit cards can carry a much larger interest rate than even an unsecured loan from a bank. Debtors with property such as a home or car may get a lower rate through a secured loan using their property as collateral. Then the total interest and the total cash flow paid towards the debt is lower allowing the debt to be paid off sooner, incurring less interest. In practice, many people are in credit card debt because they spend more than their income. If that habit continues, the consolidation will not benefit them much because they will simply increase their credit card balances again.

Because of the theoretical advantage that debt consolidation offers a consumer that has high interest debt balances, companies can take advantage of that benefit of refinancing to charge very high fees in the debt consolidation loan. Sometimes these fees are near the state maximum for mortgage fees. In addition, some unscrupulous companies will knowingly wait until a client has backed themselves into a corner and must refinance in order to consolidate and pay off bills that they are behind on the payments. If the client does not refinance they may lose their house, so they are willing to pay any allowable fee to complete the debt consolidation. In some cases the situation is that the client does not have enough time to shop for another lender with lower fees and may not even be fully aware of them. This practice is known as predatory lending Certainly many, if not most, debt consolidation transactions do not involve predatory lending.

Credit card debt is an example of unsecured consumer debt, accessed through plastic credit cards.

Debt results when a client of a credit card company purchases an item or service through the card system. Debt accumulates and increases via interest and penalties when the consumer does not pay the company for the money he or she has spent.

The results of not paying this debt on time are that the company will charge a late payment penalty (generally in the US from $10 to $40) and report the late payment to credit rating agencies. Being late on a payment is sometimes referred to as being in "default". The late payment penalty itself increases the amount of debt the consumer has.

When a consumer has been late on a payment, it is possible that other creditors, even creditors the consumer was not late in paying, may increase the interest rates the consumer is paying. This practice is called universal default.

If the customer is carrying an amount of debt that is so high that it is over their credit limit, then they might be charged an over-the-limit fee of up to $39 until their balance is paid down to below their credit limit. This, too, may add to the consumer's debt.

Sometimes the late fees, over-the-limit fees, high annual percentage rates (APRs), and universal default overcome consumers who frequently do not pay off their debt, and the customer declares bankruptcy. If a customer files for bankruptcy, the credit card companies are required to forgive all or much of the debt, unless such discharge of debt is successfully challenged by one or more creditors, or blocked by a bankruptcy judge on legal grounds irrespective of creditors' challenges.

Because forgiveness of debt reduces likelihood of profit and continued survival, the companies are generally willing to offer another deal to the consumers in danger of bankruptcy. This deal consists of reduced APRs, removal of past late fees and penalty charges, and reaging the accounts so that the credit agencies see them as late accounts.A credit card is a system of payment named after the small plastic card issued to users of the system. A credit card is different from a debit card in that it does not remove money from the user's account after every transaction. In the case of credit cards, the issuer lends money to the consumer (or the user). It is also different from a charge card (though this name is sometimes used by the public to describe credit cards), which requires the balance to be paid in full each month. In contrast, a credit card allows the consumer to 'revolve' their balance, at the cost of having interest charged. Most credit cards are the same shape and size, as specified by the standard.

A user is issued credit after an account has been approved by the credit provider, and is given a credit card, with which the user will be able to make purchases from merchants accepting that credit card up to a pre-established credit limit. Often a general bank issues the credit, but sometimes a captive bank created to issue a particular brand of credit card, such as or Banks issues the credit.

When a purchase is made, the credit card user agrees to pay the card issuer. The cardholder indicates their consent to pay, by signing a receipt with a record of the card details and indicating the amount to be paid or by entering a Personal identification number (PIN). Also, many merchants now accept verbal authorizations via telephone and electronic authorization using the Internet, known as a Card not present (CNP) transaction.

Electronic verification systems allow merchants to verify that the card is valid and the credit card customer has sufficient credit to cover the purchase in a few seconds, allowing the verification to happen at time of purchase. The verification is performed using a credit card payment terminal or Point of Sale (POS) system with a communications link to the merchant's acquiring bank. Data from the card is obtained from a magnetic stripe or chip on the card; the latter system is in the United Kingdom commonly known as Chip an PIN, but is more technically an EMV card.

Other variations of verification systems are used by eCommerce merchants to determine if the user's account is valid and able to accept the charge. These will typically involve the cardholder providing additional information, such as the security code printed on the back of the card, or the address of the cardholder.

Each month, the credit card user is sent a statement indicating the purchases undertaken with the card, any outstanding fees, and the total amount owed. After receiving the statement, the cardholder may dispute any charges that he or she thinks are incorrect (see Fair Credit Billing Act for details of the US regulations). Otherwise, the cardholder must pay a defined minimum proportion of the bill by a due date, or may choose to pay a higher amount up to the entire amount owed. The credit provider charges interest on the amount owed (typically at a much higher rate than most other forms of debt). Some financial institutions can arrange for automatic payments to be deducted from the user's bank accounts.

Credit card issuers usually waive interest charges if the balance is paid in full each month, but typically will charge full interest on the entire outstanding balance from the date of each purchase if the total balance is not paid.

For example, if a user had a $1,000 outstanding balance and pays it in full, there would be no interest charged. If, however, even $1.00 of the total balance remained unpaid, interest would be charged on the $1 from the date of purchase until the payment is received. The precise manner in which interest is charged is usually detailed in a cardholder agreement which may be summarized on the back of the monthly statement. The general calculation formula most financial institutions use to determine the amount of interest to be charged is APR/100 x ADB/365 x number of days revolved. Take the Annual percentage rate (APR) and divide by 100 then multiply to the amount of the average daily balance divided by 365 and then take this total and multiply by the total number of days the amount revolved before payment was made on the account. Financial institutions refer to interest charged back to the original time of the transaction and up to the time a payment was made, if not in full, as RRFC or residual retail finance charge. Thus after an amount has revolved and a payment has been made that the user of the card will still receive interest charges on their statement after paying the next statement in full (in fact the statement may only have a charge for interest that collected up until the date the full balance was paid...i.e. when the balance stopped revolving).

The credit card may simply serve as a form of revolving credit, or it may become a complicated financial instrument with multiple balance segments each at a different interest rate, possibly with a single umbrella credit limit, or with separate credit limits applicable to the various balance segments. Usually this compartmentalization is the result of special incentive offers from the issuing bank, either to encourage balance transfers from cards of other issuers, or to encourage more spending on the part of the customer. In the event that several interest rates apply to various balance segments, payment allocation is generally at the discretion of the issuing bank, and payments will therefore usually be allocated towards the lowest rate balances until paid in full before any money is paid towards higher rate balances. Interest rates can vary considerably from card to card, and the interest rate on a particular card may jump dramatically if the card user is late with a payment on that card or any other credit instrument, or even if the issuing bank decides to raise its revenue. As the rates and terms vary, services have been set up allowing users to calculate savings available by switching cards, which can be considerable if there is a large outstanding balance (see external links for some on-line services).

Because of intense competition in the credit card industry, credit providers often offer incentives such as frequent flier points, gift certificates, or cash back (typically up to 1 percent based on total purchases) to try to attract customers to their program.

Low interest credit cards or even 0% interest credit cards are available. The only downside to consumers is that the period of low interest credit cards is limited to a fixed term, usually between 6 and 12 months after which a higher rate is charged. However, services are available which alert credit card holders when their low interest period is due to expire. Most such services charge a monthly or annual fee. credit card's grace period is the time the customer has to pay the balance before interest is charged to the balance. Grace periods vary, but usually range from 20 to 30 days depending on the type of credit card and the issuing bank. Some policies allow for reinstatement after certain conditions are met. Usually, if a customer is late paying the balance, finance charges will be calculated and the grace period does not apply. Finance charge(s) incurred depends on the grace period and balance, with most credit cards there is no grace period if there's any outstanding balance from the previous billing cycle or statement (ie. interest is applied on both the previous balance and new transactions). However, there are some credit cards that will only apply finance charge on the previous or old balance, excluding new transactions.

For merchants, a credit card transaction is often more secure than other forms of payment, such as checks, because the issuing bank commits to pay the merchant the moment the transaction is authorized, regardless of whether the consumer defaults on their credit card payment (except for legitimate disputes, which are discussed below, and can result in charge backs to the merchant). In most cases, cards are even more secure than cash, because they discourage theft by the merchant's employees.

For each purchase, the bank charges a commission (discount fee), to the merchant for this service and there may be a certain delay before the agreed payment is received by the merchant. The commission is often a percentage of the transaction amount, plus a fixed fee. In addition, a merchant may be penalized or have their ability to receive payment using that credit card restricted if there are too many cancellations or reversals of charges as a result of disputes. Some small merchants require credit purchases to have a minimum amount (usually between $5 and $10) to compensate for the transaction costs, though this is not always allowed by the credit card consortium.

In some countries, like the Nordic countries, banks guarantee payment on stolen cards only if an ID card is checked and the ID card number/civic registration number is written down on the receipt together with the signature. In these countries merchants therefore usually ask for ID. Non-Nordic citizens, who are unlikely to possess a Nordic ID card or driving license, will instead have to show their passport, and the passport number will be written down on the receipt, sometimes together with other information. Some shops use the card's PIN code for identification, and in that case showing an ID card is not necessary.

Authorization: When the cardholders pays for the purchase, the merchant performs some risk assessment and may submit the transaction to the acquirer for authorization. The acquirer verifies with the issuer—almost instantly—that the card number and transaction amount are both valid, and informs the merchant on how to proceed. The issuer may provisionally debit the funds from the cardholder's credit account at this stage.
Batching: After the transaction is authorized it is then stored in a batch, which the merchant sends to the acquiring bank later to receive payment (usually at the end of the day).
Clearing and settlement: The acquiring bank sends the transactions in the batch through the card association, which debits the card-issuing bank for the transaction amount, and credits the acquirer for the transaction amount minus the interchange fee.
Funding: The acquiring bank pays the merchant. The amount the merchant receives is equal to the transaction amount minus the discount rate charged by the acquiring bank to the merchant for the service.
The entire process, from authorization to funding, usually takes about 2-7 business days. However, many merchant card processors offer next-day deposits to customers subject to type of banking account.

In the event of a chargeback (when there's an error in processing the transaction or the cardholder disputes the transaction), the issuer returns the transaction to the acquirer for resolution. The acquirer then forwards the chargeback to the merchant, who must either accept the chargeback or contest it.

Commodity money is any money that is both used as a general purpose medium of exchange and as a tradable commodity in its own right.

Commodity based currencies are often viewed as more stable, but this is not always the case. The value of a commodity based currency as a medium of exchange depends on its supply relative to other goods and services available in the economy. Historically, gold, silver and other metals commonly used in commodity based monetary systems have been subject to regular and sometimes extraordinary fluctuations in purchasing power. This not only damages its stability as a medium of exchange; it also reduces its effectiveness as a store of value. In the 1500s and 1600s huge quantities of gold and even larger amounts of silver were discovered in the New World and brought back to Europe for conversion into coin. As a result, the purchasing power of those coins fell by 60% to 80%, i.e. the prices of goods rose, because the supply of goods did not keep pace with the increased supply of money. In addition, the relative value of silver to gold shifted dramatically downward. Such discoveries of huge sources of gold or silver are a thing of the past, and lend to their supply stability. More recently, from 1980 to 2001, gold was a particularly poor store of value, as gold prices dropped from a high of $850/oz. ($27.30 /g) to a low of $255/oz. ($8.20 /g).It should be noted that gold was not a currency at this time, and was fluctuating due to its status as a final store of value — that is, the price never goes to zero as fiat currencies inevitably do. The advantage of gold and silver, however, lies in the fact that, unlike fiat paper currency, the supply cannot be increased arbitrarily by a central bank.

It is also possible for the trading value of a commodity money to be greater than its value as a medium of exchange when governments attempt to fix exchange rates between different commodity monies. When this happens people will often start melting down coins and reselling the metal used to make them. This has happened periodically in the United States, eventually causing it to move away from pure silver nickels and pure copper pennies. Shipping coins from one jurisdiction to another so that they could be reminted was sometimes a lucrative trade before the advent of trusted paper money.

Commodity money's ability to function as a store of value is also limited by its very nature. Copper and tin risk rust and corrosion. Gold and silver are soft metals that can lose weight through scratches and abrasions, but this is nothing by comparison to fiat currencies, where billions of dollars can be injected ("printed") into the market within moments.

Stability aside, commodity-based currencies may have a tendency to restrain growth in a very active economy. For example, in order to maintain the price level, the supply of money in an any economy must be equal or greater than the volume of goods and services produced. If commodities are used as money, then the total production can easily outstrip the supply of those commodities, which leads to price deflation. The lower prices of goods would signal to their producers to reduce the supply of goods, hence restoring the price level. As such, production within commodity-based economies tends to be limited by the supply of the commodity currency.[citation needed]

This problem is compounded by the fact that money also serves as a store of value. This encourages hoarding (in other circumstances known as "saving")and takes the commodity money out circulation, reducing the supply. The supply of circulating commodity currency is further reduced by the fact that commodity moneys also have competing non-monetary uses. For example, gold and silver are used in jewelry, and nickel and copper have important industrial uses.

Commodity based currencies also limit the geographic extent of the trading market. To make large purchases either a large volume or a high weight or both of the commodity must be transported to the seller. The cost of transportation of the currency raises the transaction cost and makes long distance sales less attractive

Anonymous said...

I recently discovered that the beneficiary on my 403(b) plan had been mysteriously changed from my wife (as it has been since the inception of my account 30-some years ago) to my ESTATE, with God-only-knows what potential consequences. I wrote to them, by certified mail, asking for a correction. It is now 6 weeks since they RECEIVED that letter and I have yet to receive an acknowledgment, much less a response. I gather that this kind of misfeasance/nonfeasance is not at all unusual.

Anonymous said...

My Tiaa-Cref account is nearly 25 years old and I think I am stuck with them until I retire in maybe another 13-15 years. As is the case with most other 401K and 403B carriers, they do not have any other investment option than Stock Funds, Bonds and Reit. Do they have Commodity (Gold) or Currency funds?

I agree with you 100% about the ridiculously dysfunctional customer service of TIAA-CREF. They are simply a joke. Currently I have nearly ten different accounts in 401k and 403b because they create a new account for my summer contribution, academic year contribution etc. They suspend my account previlige if I transfer out a given stock fund into MM fund twice in two months (each account is counted as one separate transfer, and I have ten of them!). I think they should be investigated for fraud.