Monday, September 5, 2011

In which I expose my ignorance of Things Financial

I have mentioned that I'm not good with numbers, haven't I? Yes, I thought I had. My anumia rarely rears its head in any significant way that I can't work around. It does affect my ability to process statistics and financial information, but I can usually work around it in conversations by nodding and making "um-hmm" sounds, or by just letting my eyes glaze over and turn to the next item on the page if I'm reading. But every once in awhile, I get caught.

If I were good with numbers, I'd have been hovering over my various and sundry retirement accounts, fluffing them here, turning them there, playing with ratios of stocks and bonds and following the S&P 500 and Warren Buffet's pronouncements like the words of deities. But no. I take a job, I sign up for the 401(k) or 403(b) or 98.6(q) or whatever it is, then when I move on to the next job, I repeat the same process.  I've gone from job to job, leaving a trail of abandoned clumps of retirement dollars here and there like empty bottles of Diet Dr Pepper. Not a worry in the world. Again, until I get caught.

Like when I try to wrest money from a retirement account to pay for paralegal school.

I'd been receiving statements from three financial concerns for awhile: "Cotton Swab," "Stereo," and "Aunt Cliff." (I'm doing the best I can with pseudonyms, okay? Geez.) When I decided I needed to raid my nest egg, I dug out the most recent mailings from each, and tried to figure out who was who. Stereo is handling my current pension money from the City of Large. Cagney and Lacey had told me that I could borrow money from my retirement account and pay myself back later, but only if it was the one connected with my current job. Let's see: try to figure out who in the Large HR department to talk to, talk to them, get whatever forms I need, get them filled out and money paid to me, all in a relatively short space of time? No thanks. People have gone into Large City Hall on simpler errands than that and never been seen again.

That left Cotton Swab and Aunt Cliff. Puzzling over the statements, I saw that my money with Aunt seemed to be in two separate accounts from two different jobs I'd had that used their company. Why hadn't everything gone into one pot? The money was all from me. It's for my retirement. Why split it up? This looked potentially complicated. On to the next statement. I had a big clump of money in the tender care of Cotton Swab, and despite the recent market downturns, it was doing pretty well, actually. So I decided that the simplest course would be to roll all of it over to Aunt, take out enough to cover my classes and books at Major University, and go on my merry way.

Poking around Swab's website, I noticed several mentions of rolling over money "to qualified accounts." What the heck did that mean? I thought I'd better call Aunt and see if one of my accounts was "qualified," and while I was chatting, find out what she needed to do to deal with my incoming dough, besides rubbing her hands together in gleeful anticipation. I called. Got put in a queue. And waited. And waited. And ... you get the idea.

Allrighty then. Time to call Swab. My first bad vibe came when I got a recorded announcement that said, in essence, "The person you're about to talk to Wants to Sell You Something So S/He Gets A Commission." Oh brother. The fast-talking Noo Yawker on the line had no patience with my hesitant description of what I wanted to do. He zipped through a list of the stuff Swab needed to know, winding up with, "Do you even know how they want the check made out?" When I said, no, and that I hadn't been able to get through to ask that question, he shot back,"Well are they the kind of people you want to do business with?" Since I hadn't had the opportunity to be condescended to in person like this guy had so ably done, I couldn't answer that question off the top of my head, so I said I'd have to call him back.

It looked like I would have to deal with the unreachable on one hand, and the insufferable on the other. What fun.

Long story short (too late) I finally reached a very patient person at Aunt Cliff who, after I trotted out the metaphor of leaving a trail of retirement accounts behind me wherever I go, quickly got the picture, translated my needs into FinancialSpeak, and got to work. Not only did he walk me through Aunt's forms, he placed a conference call to Swab (!), and got a less-snarky person to walk me through Swab's forms (!!!). Now that's the kind of people I want to do business with. Thirty minutes later, I had two sets of forms ready. In a week, my tuition money was sitting in my savings account. Another week, and I briefly and reverently held a Very Large Check in my hands long enough to pop it into a FedUp envelope and ship it off to Aunt Cliff. An email assured me it had been received and deposited into one of my accounts.

I sighed a huge sigh of relief, paid my tuition to Major University, and waited with bated breath for news of the program's start date.

What could possibly - yeah, you're way ahead of me.

1 comment:

  1. That actually sounds semi-painless for dealing with retirement accounts. However, I gather the story takes a darker turn?