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CitiMortgage’s Mafia-like “protection” scheme

I got an email today alerting me that my mortgage payment was past due. No, I haven’t fallen into arrears due to my own irresponsibility and interest-only bad loan. I was trying to pay off my debt faster, actually. Here’s the story.

My mortgage is with CitiMortgage (subsidiary of CitiBank, which is running into a bit of trouble these days and apparently taking it out on me). A few weeks ago, I got this letter in the mail about how CitiMortgage offers a BiWeekly Advantage Plan that lets you pay off your loan faster (they love the MidCaps there, don’t they?).

In a nutshell, you pay half your mortgage payment at the beginning of the month, and the second half in the middle. This adds up to about one extra payment per year, which helps reduce your overall compounding interest — they note that “a homeowner with a $100,000 balance, on a 30 year loan at 6% could save $24,138.65 in interest and pay off 5 years; 5 months sooner.” I live in California. My mortgage is a LOT more than $100,000. This ain’t chump change to me. But then I read where CitiMortgage charges a one-time fee of $375 to set up this “service,” and charges $1.50 for each payment. Because even though I thought I could just start sending two payments a month, CitiMortgage helpfully notes:

“Some homeowners try to make extra principal payments themselves, but most aren’t able to keep a consistent schedule. Let The BiWeekly Advantage (SM) Plan do the work for you.”

Yeah. But see, hubby pointed out that it’s not super hard to keep a “consistent schedule” if you’re using online billpay. So, we just changed our billpay schedule and said, “to heck with you and your fees, we’re no dummies!” About a month and a half went by … which is when we got the letter saying our mortgage was past due.

It appears that Citi has been applying our payments to principal only–not to the interest due. So, half the payments don’t count as payments, just “extra” principal payments. And when we called them and said, “we’re just trying to make bi-weekly payments,” they said, “we can’t apply the payments to your interest unless you call us every time you send an extra payment.” And hey! Guess what they tried to sell us? The $375 BiWeekly Advantage (SM) Plan with $1.50 draft charge per payment!

When hubby pointed out that it hardly seems fair that we either have to pay to send extra payments or call every time we send one to make sure it’s properly credited, he got the customer service equivalent of a big “who cares” shrug.

It seems to me that In These Troubled Times (drink!) CitiBank ought to welcome anyone who wants to aggressively pay their mortgage, and not try to soak them for a little extra cash by ensuring that aggressive payment is such a hassle that it’s hardly worth the long-term interest savings. This feels like an old-fashioned protection scheme (“you throw us a little payola and we make sure your payments are properly processed”) at best and seems to come close to extortion at worst. I know times are tough at Citi, but you know what you’ll probably need to get through them? Customers. Interest rates are falling and I’ve got good credit, CitiMortgage. Keep this crap up and I’ll refinance my way right out of your failing ass.

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Check it out: I’m a Woman on the Web!

I’ve just entered some pretty awesome company! I’m going to have a regular column on WowOWow.com, a site for Women on the Web that was founded in part by Lesley Stahl (yep, that CBS synergy paying off again), along with some other pretty big names–the regular contributors and founders are, in addition to Lesley, Peggy Noonan, Liz Smith, Joni Evans, Mary Wells, Sheila Nevins, Joan Juliet Buck, Whoopi Goldberg, Julia Reed, Joan Ganz Cooney, Judith Martin, Candice Bergen, Lily Tomlin, Jane Wagner, and Marlo Thomas.

I will be, not surprisingly, bringing the tech to the party. I’ll have a weekly post tied to or based on the Gadget of the Week segment in that week’s Buzz Report episode. The Wowowow audience is definitely less tech-savvy than the CNET audience, so look for these to be more informational or explanatory posts about the trends behind the Gadget of the Week, some buying advice about the category, or just an explanation of what in the heck a “netbook” is, as in the first post, which went up today!

Check it out; I’m pretty excited. I’ll post a link to each week’s column as it goes up!

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The America we should be: vote no on Proposition 8

Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen demonstrations in support of Proposition 8 in and around my neighborhood in Oakland, California.

If you don’t know by now, Proposition 8 would eliminate the right of same-sex couples to legally marry. Proposition 8 proponents have refused to comment on whether they would actively seek to invalidate the marriages of those couples who have been united since same-sex marriage was legalized in California.

Let me be perfectly clear. I am, to the very core of my being, opposed to Proposition 8. I believe that passage of Prop 8 effectively creates a religious dictatorship in California and would export bigotry and discrimination to the rest of the nation and the world. I believe that the right to marry is universal, constitutionally protected, and that it is a civil rights issue to the core.

And that’s why I can hardly keep myself from jumping out of my car when I see African Americans and other people of color demonstrating in support of Proposition 8, and why I can hardly breathe when they are also women. Notwithstanding the fact that slavery itself was only abolished in this country about 150 years ago and discrimination in all forms is still thriving here, interracial marriage in the United States was still banned in 17 states as late as 1967. That is forty-one years ago. If there were a Proposition 8 41 years ago, Asians, blacks, Samoans, and Hispanics I saw with a Yes on 8 signs this weekend, it would have been about you. Interracial marriage was banned because it was considered unnatural, it was thought to be “against God’s will,” and it constituted illicit sex. Sound familiar?

That long, rich history of marriage-related discrimination in this country ought to be enough to get any thinking person, and particularly a person of color, on the side of the Proposition 8 opponents. For whatever reason — probably the simple fact that it’s human nature to find someone out there you disagree with and go messing around with their lives — that doesn’t cut it. And that brings me to women.

Less than 100 years ago, women in the United States would not have been allowed to vote for or against Proposition 8. In some countries, they still cannot. In the U.S., women were still considered chattel who could not own their own property or even the clothing they wore until 1890, when Kentucky finally changed its laws. The Equal Rights Amendment, which says “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex,” wasn’t even proposed until 1923, has only been ratified by 35 states, and is still not part of the U.S. Constitution.

Then there’s the religious question. Proposition 8 comes from a fundamentally religious argument — our society rejects homosexuality as a sin that is specifically proscribed by the Bible. But here’s the thing: the Bible is not the law. If it were, we’d live in a pretty chaotic, contradictory society that allowed for putting people to death for all kinds of minor and outdated offenses and let guys like King Solomon have as many wives and concubines as they want. And don’t get me started on the teachings of Jesus — nearly all of which flatly contradict the spirit in which Proposition 8 was proposed at all. And before we use religion — again — as a tool for oppression in this country, can we please remember that our nation was founded on the principle of religious freedom and that our Constitution was created out of the desire for a democracy that did not specifically endorse one religion over another, did not put the beliefs of one religious group over the beliefs of others, and did not force its citizens to believe and act based on the will of a religious majority?

It is unfathomable to me that America can have such a deep wellspring of hate and violent discrimination from which to draw its lessons, and that we can still have Proposition 8 on our ballot; that we still have not risen above petty, passionate, semantic bickering about who has the right to be a legally sanctioned family. It’s unthinkable to me that women and minorities can look past not just their own history but the active discrimination that still thrives in this country, and still try to find a target for their own bigotry. And it’s frankly abominable that so many people feel it’s acceptable, in 21st century America, to create a “separate but equal” caste out of productive, successful, law-abiding citizens with whom they happen to have a “lifestyle” disagreement.

Proposition 8 is un-American. Period. And I am begging you, no matter what your personal or religious beliefs may be, live your own life. Go your own way. Teach your children that they don’t have to worry about being discriminated against or marginalized in this country, no matter what future determinations our society decides to make about who is “anti-family” or “against God” or somehow the unacceptable “them” to the greater “us.” Because make no mistake: as long as we think discrimination and marginalization is ok, we’ll never stop trying to pick on somebody. In the future it could be the anti-technologist religious sect or heck, scientists and software engineers, or the half-robot people, or why not, women again, who are somehow picked out as somebody that it’s ok to hate and make laws against. Think this is about the children? Unless we make a stand as Americans and human beings, no child is safe from becoming a victim of somebody’s beliefs.

Like the right of women to vote, the abolition of slavery, the civil rights movement, and the possible election of an African American man as President, this change is coming. There’s no good reason to tell gays they can’t marry, other than pure, naked, ugly discrimination. Don’t be the pro-segregationist of your day. Don’t become a villain in the story of America’s march toward tolerance and freedom. Vote for the America we should be, instead of the America we have been. Vote no on Proposition 8.

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