Category Archives: Financial

Medical Malpractice

It’s truly no secret that hospitals often overcharge for trivial items (such as tissue paper). Ponzi and I have heard that from a few people we know inside the medical industry (then again, on the radio last week). Plus, some doctors pay less attention to Medicare patients because they won’t bring in as much money as a patient who, say, isn’t on Medicare. This system, too, is broken.

But what happens when your doctor does something wrong? What else can you do insetaed from suiing for malpractice?

Chris Thomas:

That depends entirely upon what “wrong” is and how negligent the establishment has been. Many hospitals and private doctors are also for-profit businesses so you can talk to the Better Business Bureau or your State’s Attorney General. If this issue is with a specific physician you may write a letter to whatever relevant licensing boards are involved including the AMA.

Rose Hainey:

Depending on the deed, you could also report them to the regulatory agency that governs licensing of medical practices and doctors.

Jarrod Broussard:

I agree with both of the previous answers. More detail is needed in your question. If you are referring to the behavior of a specific physician in a hospital or practice, you could approach the controlling parties (assuming they are separate) or any internal oversight department within that establishment with your grievance and try to work it out there. If your grievance is not addressed there to your satisfaction, you could then seek out regulatory and licensing authorities in your state and seek disciplinary measures against the offending party. In the event proper measures were not taken by any management or internal oversight authority at the establishment level, you could then tack the potentially negligent establishment into your grievance. . You could also look into filing a complaint about the establishment with any state, regional, or peer agencies that perform recurring inspection or accreditation of the establishment, and any other third party agencies (e.g. the Better Business Bureau or a medical advocacy group) that could attempt to facilitate a resolution on your behalf. Your first step should be to seek the advice of a competent malpractice attorney or at the very minimum, an experienced advocate on medical issues, to get a full assessment of your situation before endeavoring to do any of the above on your own. Best wishes in obtaining a satisfactory resolution.

Ammon Beckstrom:

Great advice so far . . . At the risk of sounding like a whiner, my advice is to complain. Complain to the doctor(s), their supervisor/manager, and go all the way up if necessary. If the medical establishment is a large hospital, take it to the office of the CEO. Document all of your communications–written, or verbal–be sure to include who you spoke to, their title, and the date. Also, you can take your complaint to the BBB or to your state’s Attorney General. I’ve got a great document laying around here somewhere on how to “stop whining and start complaining.” Let me know if you’re interested and I’ll get you a copy.

Michael Busch:

  1. Contact the board that licenses the establishment
  2. Contact local newspaper and TV
  3. If narcotic drugs were evolved, contact DEA
  4. Contact the accreditation organization. For hospitals it is the Joint Commission on Accreditation Hospitals.

However do not expect much.

Andrew Crose:

What is your intent and motives? If it is retribution, many of the existing comments are fine. If your intent is to help the establishment, and help ensure the problem is fixed, a lawsuit might help, but probably isn’t the best answer.

I met an acquaintance whose son was given the wrong medication, and it almost cost his son’s life. After his son recovered, he used the threat of a lawsuit to force a discussion with the hospital about what could have been done to prevent this from happening. From the discussions, the hospital decided to invest in a bar-coding system that prevented future mistakes.

The cost of the lawsuit, versus the cost of the preventative measure was probably about the same, but I don’t think a lawsuit would have had the same long lasting effect, or prevented as many future mistakes.

“Sue, sue – yeah, I’m gonna sue! Sue, sue – yeah, that’s what I’m gonna do!”

Finding a Tax Attorney

As I mentoined before, we’re searching for a tax attorney. But this situation begs the question: how do you know the tax attorney you find is any good? My friends responded with answers that should help everybody:

Douglas Lineberry:

Ask another attorney. The bar association or lawyer referral services can be problematic. I believe the majority of attorneys that agree to take referrals from bar referral services genuinely want to help the folks that typically turn to a referral service (many of the referral services require the attorneys taking the referral to work at a reduced or no fee basis, or at least to provide a free initial consultation). There are, however, some attorneys that use the referral services because they cannot get any other work (and there is usually a reason for that).

Asking a friend or family member is a good start, but they are probably only going to be familiar with an attorney they know (being a friend of an attorney is not necessarily a reflection of how good that attorney is) or someone that they have worked with. If you get a referral to an attorney that friend or family worked with, the problem is that friend or family only knows if they had a good or bad experience. That doesn’t tell you anything about the qualifications of that attorney relative to other attorneys doing similar work in that geographic area.

The advantage to asking for a referral from another attorney is that they know other attorneys. For example, I don’t do family law work. However, I do know 2 or 3 exceptional family law attorneys in my county – people that I would hire if I ever needed representation in that area. If a friend or client asks me about a family law matter, I can save them a lot of time and energy by simply telling them who I would use.

With tax law in particular, if it sounds too good to be true is usually is. If you are talking to an attorney (or other alleged tax expert) and you are getting the idea that they are trying to tell you that you’ll never have to pay taxes again, try finding someone else. The sham artists will also go to great lengths to debunk legitimate planners. For example, they might say “well, you could get another opinion on this strategy from an attorney or a CPA, but they probably won’t understand it or they’ll tell you it won’t work because they don’t understand it and don’t want to admit that to you.”

Rose Hainey:

You have found a good tax attorney when s/he has proven to your satifaction her/his ability to substantiate his/her expertise with clear understanding of the tax issues you are facing or want to avoid, depending on your tax situation.

Marc Aniballi:

I haven’t used one in a while, but the last time I did, the firm guaranteed their results. The agreement basically stated that so long as I had given them full disclosure of all relevant materials and situations, that any issues that cropped up would be their responsibility – not mine. Obviously, if there was new evidence brought forth, then I was back on the hook. This was not in the US though

Sam Cheris:

There are a variety of ways to verify your tax attorney’s credentials and capabilities.

  1. Does (s)he listen to your questions and does (s)he explain in terms you are able to understand?
  2. Does (s)he stay away from trying to sell you product?
  3. Does (s)he have a Martindale AV rating?
  4. Has (s)he received any honors from his peers, e.g. Super Lawyers, Best attorneys in America?
  5. Have you gotten reference clients from him (her) that you know and respect?
  6. Is (s)he willing and anxious to work with your current advisers (CPA, financial planner, etc.) or does he bad mouth them and want to be your sole source or steers you immediately to ‘his (her)’ team?

None of these questions alone will assure you of finding a good tax attorney, but taken together, they should weed out the unethical and the mediocre.

Robert Geurden:

If I recall, you’re on the West Coast, so I can write this without being too self-serving. My approach to giving tax or legal advice is to try to let the client know about both the advantages and disadvantages (or, if you prefer, risks and rewards) of a particular option, and, where possible, give more than one option. At the end of the day, it is the client’s decision whether or not to go ahead with the plan. That is, after all, what the ethical rules promulgated by the state bar associations require we attorneys to do. Non-tax lawyers may not always understand all of the details of the tax issues we mention, but one of my touch-stones for judging both my own work and that of my peers is whether the attorney tried to explain the issues. Fully explaining a complex tax issue in easy-to-understand terms takes time, though, and that time translates quickly into legal fees. Still, you should be able to get a sense during your initial interview of whether your attorney is inclined to consider the advantages and disadvantages and explain them to you.

I also agree that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is – and the fact that the plan is promoted by a large firm does not necessarily mean that the plan will work. In fact, fraudulent tax plans promoted by large firms are more likely to draw the ire of the IRS since the settlement is likely to be large. There was a news article in on May 25 about Sidley, Austin, Brown & Wood’s successor settling a civil claim with the I.R.S. for $39.4 million for allegedly promoting an abusive tax shelter. – Good luck

Where to Find a Good Life Insurance Quote

The subject came up at the dinner table the other night: were Ponzi and I respectively covered for life insurance. It’s been a while since we looked, actually. Haven’t really updated our records (or wills) since… I can’t even remember. I asked my LinkedIn contacts what they thought the best online resources were for getting reliable quote for life insurance rates, just to see if we’re missing out.

Pradeep Audho

Chris, the most reliable would be if you go through the application/underwriting process – application form, blood test, urine test, height/weight etc…plus, they usually require your medical records from your doctor. When they are done with the underwriting process, they will provide you a definitive answer. I assume you are looking for term life insurance? Try these…I have heard good things about them. or – Good Luck!

Kim Garretson:

I like Consumerist’s list when you search ‘life insurance” there.

Michelle Ogden

Chris, without a full Medical review it is sometimes difficult to know FOR SURE which category you fall into. I always recommend an Independent Insurance Agent in order to get a quote from a variety of providers. Once you decide on the provider you can move forward with the underwriting process. Your lab work may put you into a better category (i.e. super preferred) where you may have been quoted Standard. Make sure you ask if they underwrite for the best possible class regardless of what the agent quoted you. Also I highly recommend Term Insurance in lieu of any other type of insurance. Hope this helps!

Bad Credit – Home Mortgage?

I know there are companies that provide home purchase loans to people with bad credit history. But, is it in the borrower’s best interest to get their mortgage from a bad credit lender?

Raj Singh

Not necessarily. There are lenders that work with bad credit customers and do an outstanding job with rates and fees. Of course there are always variables however most specialize with lower FICO scores than a paper lenders. Borrower’s do need to be careful when shopping for the best lender and must compare APR with each lender to get an “apple to apple” comparison. Hope this helps.

Nick Roy

I would wait awhile before purchasing a home. Pay off your debt, then try using a guarantor, or a co-signer on your mortgage application. Sub prime lenders might be enticing for people with bad credit, but don’t do it.

Take it from someone who currently has bad credit. I have collection agencies attempting to contact me, but I just ignore them. I am currently tackling the smaller debts first, and working towards my bigger ones. The worst thing that you can do is contact the creditor because they will want their payment at that point. Continue to ignore them and pay down your debt on your schedule. My goal is to be debt free in two years. After that, then I’ll work on buying a home.

Robert Fornal

The advice that you have so far is pretty sound … I would not ignore collection agencies, but instead be sure to pay what you can manage. As for lending agencies … contact your Better Business Bureau before working with anyone. Some are excellent while some are not.

Kirill Gubernov

Many states regulate mortgages – and you have to understand what you are signing up for. I had great experience with “discount” mortgage brokers and I have great credit. But I do understand every number in the paperwork.

Sheilah Etheridge

Hi Chris, No, you really don’t want to go that route. The interest rates are too high, often they tie you into a balloon payment you cannot afford and you end up losing the home. Flex rates cause the same issues. Realtors want to sell a house and will often times sing the praises of these lenders. They want the sale, they don’t care if you end up homeless or further in debt. Clean up your credit and then worry about buying a home.

Melissa Figert-Rancour

Absolutely not! Some of these lenders will charge unethical fees and interest rates up to 50%. It is always best to go through ethical/good credit lenders. There are some good ones out there that will help a person with not so great credit find a way to buy. The government also has some financing options available.

I’ve seen too many people lose it all because they went with the company that would give them credit. The fine print in some of these loan docs can be very eye opening and can be very misleading. Some purposely include double to triple talk to confuse people.

Student Loan Debt: Why?

“So, what if the Internet started serving as a University? No books, no exorbitant tuition, local meetups for affinity groups, teleconferencing, etc. Sounds crazy, but at least that idea is more realistic than setting yourself up for a financial catastrophe.”

My friend, Corey, responded via IM:

So true. Problem is getting recognized as a quality method of education and recognized for producing results. I mean, if Wikipedia can do it. Anyway, your series on student debt is great. I’ve been looking at ways of getting rid of my debt in under 4 years and reading some of the ideas you’ve posted has actually been a motivating factor in getting it solved.

I wouldn’t be assembling the information if I didn’t think it could help – and it’s very good to see that friends understand that there’s a bit more to my life than tech. Regarding consolidating her loans, Alice (Foeller) Hohl also submits:

I’ve been paying $220 a month for a long time, via autodebit. Any time Sallie Mae offered to lower my payment when rates went down, I would request that it remain the same, so more went toward the principal. Recently my family and I went on a strict budget, and all the money from my freelance work has been going into a separate account. One day I checked my Sallie Mae account and saw I owed less than $1,000, but that I would end up paying more than $2,000 if I continued the monthly payments. I wrote a check that day with funds from my freelance work. My savings account certainly doesn’t earn as much as I was paying in interest, so it was better to write that check than save the money and keep paying on the loan.

And Noelle Kehrley wrote:

I waited a couple of years after to high school to go to college. I made a deal with my parents, If I remained on the honor roll – they would pay for the semester. I applied for a merit scholarship each semester to supplement. I was very lucky to have this kind of help available, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to do the same for my children.

…and that’s what’s so sad about this entire student loan situation. It’s past the point of lunacy for people who aren’t privileged enough to have “rich” parents (or if they’re not poor enough, for that matter). Why bother to help people who can’t afford to go to college if you’re also not willing to help people who won’t be able to afford life AFTER college?

America’s educational system is failing us – from the top down. This may not be apparent today, or tomorrow, but when the “global economy” becomes an absolute reality – we’re going to wish we had done more to teach our citizens, giving them the tools to truly compete in a market that exists beyond these borders.

Under the Radar Tech Conference

On June 28, 2007, at the Microsoft Campus in Mountain View, CA – I’m streaming “Under the Radar” live! There are a few presenting companies, and I’m hoping to catch a moment or two with them all on-cam with our community:

Okay, here’s a list of the Graduate Circle companies – and, to the immediate right of this paragraph, a nice little graphic link that will save you $100 on registration for the conference (if you click it and sign up before too long)!

Here come the judges:

I sat on the selection committee with these other folks:

You gonna be Under the Radar, too? I must disclaim that Ustream was already on Under the Radar’s radar before I even started using it, so… just so you know, nobody’s playing favorites around here.

Student Loans from the Military

I’m gonna keep this particular email anonymous for the time being, if only because the writer agrees that Student Loan industry (INDUSTRY!?) is broken. His message gave me pause, as my father also joined the military (Marines) to help pay for his own college education. My dad’s a Vietnam vet – and while he’s proud to have served his country in such a fashion, it’s always been a touchy subject.

Here’s that email:

My story is a little different, in that I had a pretty low loan balance.

But not by choice…

I started my university journey at 28, via a veterans rehab program. This covered my tuition and books, plus gave me a $330/month stipend. At that age I had already purchased a house. The stipend barely covered the house payment. I had been working steadily before college, and had a good part time job as a computer tech lined up.

A student loan would have been great to cover the ‘just in case’ expenses, but…

I couldn’t qualify, I made too much money. Plus, at my age, the whole ‘parental contribution’ aspect was ludicrous (actually, it always was). In my junior year, I quit the good paying job to focus on my studies (Electrical Engineering junior year is brutal). After one year of not making it financially (and almost having the house repossessed), I qualified for a $3000 loan….

I completely agree that the system is broken.

So, what if the Internet started serving as a University? No books, no exorbitant tuition, local meetups for affinity groups, teleconferencing, etc. Sounds crazy, but at least that idea is more realistic than setting yourself up for a financial catastrophe.

Loose Change Treasure Map

Heh. Sydney Patrick from Porter Novelli has been doing his homework, Seeing that I’ve been writing a lot lately about financial matters, he sent me a note earlier today about a product I’ve already had the pleasure of using:

I saw your internet broadcast that you and Ponzi did on Money Management and loved hearing Ponzi’s story about you throwing your pennies away! I thought you two might be interested in checking out this Treasure Map that Coinstar put together that will lead you to all the hidden wealth in your house. I would love to hear how much change you and Ponzi end up finding! If you are interested I would happy to send you the actual treasure map to check out for your treasure hunt, just let me know which address you would like for me to send it to.

Yeah, I’ve used Coinstar before – and would recommend it, with a caveat (don’t exchange your change for cash directly, but for one of the selected gift certificates, instead – that way, you don’t get charged a convenience fee).

Discovering hidden wealth is a fantasy most have only day-dreamed about. And, with tales similar to Treasure Island – packed with adventure, buried treasure and maps with dotted lines and big red X’s – our curiosity continuously spins into overdrive. Now, that day-dream can become a reality with the treasure map I’ve attached for you. Unbeknownst to most, there’s more than $10 billion in loose change hiding in approximately 80 percent of households across the U.S. waiting to be discovered. So take your map and join in the quest to find the hidden wealth in your house today.

I believe it. I won’t be chucking any more pennies, man. Lesson learned. Now, if only I had $10 billion in change lying around here!

If you’re lucky, beyond finding the roughly $90 of loose change estimated to accumulate in the average U.S. household, you might even locate other hidden treasures like the TV remote, keys, earrings you thought were lost, or you might literally find a huge jar of change like one Coinstar user from Virginia did when he lifted up a floorboard in his basement. Once you’ve filled your jar, discover how rich you are by cashing in your loot at your local Coinstar® Center. For free coin counting, opt for gift cards or e-certificates from retailers…

Just did Coinstar last week at a local grocery store, and… had almost $300 in change. Wow. Thank goodness there aren’t any Pirates of the Pacific Northwest, or I may have been looted on my way back to the ship car.

Is Debt Consolidation Dumb?

You know, I wonder if there’s a financial echo chamber (much like there’s a tech echo chamber)? I’ve never really written that much about finances in the past, but I’d imagine that credit and debt are much more important subjects to master than hardware and software. Hey, this is a personal blog – so just about anything goes. I can’t think of anything more personal than this right now, if only because Ponzi and I have dealt with debt most of our lives (and are facing a mortgage payment with our new house).

I wish I had made better decisions when I was younger, and I guess that’s why I’ve been spending so much time writing about credit and debt recently. Young men come in and out of our chat room and ask me questions like “what’s your favorite mouse” and “which is better, NVIDIA or ATI?” So, maybe a little bit of financial advise would do ’em good? If only so they may be able to afford a new video card every once in a while. 😉

From earlier threads, Roger Wong added the following clarification:

“Debt is dumb” if you are using it to buy things you can’t afford. Using debt to make more money than the debt is owed is smart. =) If you have a 3.9% loan and put that money into an ING Orange Account (4.9% interest), you would make more than you have to pay in interest monthly. My thoughts.

Charles Williams:

To quote Dave Ramsey, “Debt is Dumb”. I attacked all of my debt mercilessly. I even took on a second job (delivering pizzas in a nice neighborhood) to get an extra $500 or so a month to put directly to debt. It takes a bit of pride swallowing, but debt will destroy your future. The average Japanese adult saves 18% of his post tax income. The average American saves -6%. Think about that.

Peter Wyro:

Practical approach. First of all, debt is debt. The lower the interest rate, the better the debt. The way that I treated my student loans was just like any other debt: auto loans, mortgages, credit cards – I divided the total amount available to pay on debts every month, according to the interests rates being charged to me (obviously including the minimums on all debts). If my student loan was 6% and my credit card was 10% and I had $1,000 a month to pay on debts – the student loan got the minimum and the credit card got the most.

Okay, so to put a tech spin on it (for those who feel that I’m less human just because I’m a geek): I don’t like buying new hardware to replace old hardware unless I can find a way to offset the costs of the new hardware. Meaning, I try to sell my old stuff before acquiring new stuff. Not only does it keep my closet clean – but it also makes my pocketbook happier.

Personal Money Management

A penny saved is a penny earned, Ben Franklin once said. Smart man, that Ben – and I guess his sage wisdom has not escaped the minds of my generation. Of course, the lessons learned have been lessons different! Ponzi and I were recording videos yesterday, when she suddenly started talking about one of my bad habits: I throw away pennies because I can’t stand ’em. She continued to talk, despite live stream hiccups. When the stream came up again, she was finished – so I asked her to repeat it for the live chat’s benefit. It was a bit awkward at first, but we got rolling again quickly.

Depending on how long ago it was, if the pennies were several years old they have more of a copper content and are now worth 3-4 times their face value! Same with quarters made before 1964, that have a silver content. That’s inflation, people… It is indeed 100,000 pennies for $1,000. 100 pennies to the dollar; pretty simple. Assuming that he would throw out 20 pennies a week (probably a high estimate, but still believable) that’s a whopping $10.40 a year. At that rate, it’d take him 96 YEARS to get to $1,000! [shanedk]