Tips for getting your governmental questions answered, navigating Florida’s highways, eliminating marketing calls, and more.
By Janet Groene, F47166
Whether you travel often or stay put for long periods, full-timing has its pleasures along with its own unique precautions and problems. Here are several news items gathered along life’s highway to help you save time, money, and hassle in your journeys.
Ask Uncle Sam
Call (800) 333-4636 (FED-INFO) Monday through Friday between 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time to get answers to questions regarding federal agencies, programs, benefits, or services. Experts are on hand to answer your queries immediately or to steer you to the right government agency, including the right state agencies for such things as acquiring a fishing license during your travels. The service is available in English or Spanish. If you prefer to find this information online, visit www.usa.gov/About/FEDINFO.shtml. Here you can peruse listings of frequently asked questions. You also can send a question using the site’s e-mail Web form if you prefer that method of communication. Replies are promised within two business days.
Credit Card Settlement
Did you spend a winter in Mexico, a summer in Canada, or a wonderful month traveling in Europe between February 1, 1996, and November 8, 2006? If you used U.S.-issued VISA- or MasterCard-branded credit cards, charge cards, or debit/ATM cards, or Diner’s Club-brand credit cards or charge cards in a foreign country “” or even bought something from home from a foreign merchant using these cards “” between those dates, you may be entitled to a share of a court settlement.
A class-action lawsuit was brought against these companies challenging the setting and disclosure of markups and fees imposed on transactions made in a foreign currency or a foreign country. The companies denied the accusations but chose to settle the case. Cardholders eligible for the refund should have been sent claim forms in the mail, but it’s possible that the forms for some people may have been misdirected or misplaced once received.
If you traveled outside the United States for less than a week and spent less than $2,500, fill out an easy refund form and you’ll get $25. If you spent more time or money abroad and can substantiate your credit card expenses, two other refund options are available. If you didn’t receive the forms already, call (800) 945-9890 or visit www.ccfsettlement.com for more information or to file the proper claim form online. Claims must be filed by May 30, 2008.
Traveling Florida Highways. Dave Hunter has completed a second edition of Along Florida’s Expressways ($24.95, Mile Oak Publishing). It’s of special interest to motorhomers, because it provides information about what lane you need to be in for any upcoming exit. Some Florida interstates are four or more lanes wide and have exits on the right or left, depending on the design of the cloverleaf interchange, so it’s invaluable to have as much notice as possible. Also, if you’re searching for a pharmacy, a supermarket, or a favorite fast-food restaurant, they’re listed exit by exit. Roadways covered in the book include expressways, the Florida Turnpike, and all interstates. It also shows hurricane evacuation routes, so you’ll have directions for leaving an area in an emergency.
“Junk” Phone Calls
Unwanted phone calls are more than a nuisance in some cases. They are costly when you must pay for all cell phone minutes, including incoming calls. Congress has extended the five-year expiration date on the National Do Not Call Registry. However, to assure your phone number is still on this list, or to place the number on it for the first time, visit www.donotcall.gov or call (888) 382-1222. You may register up to three personal phone numbers (not fax or business numbers).
Registering is just the first line of defense
There are also state Do Not Call registries, some free and some requiring a small one-time or annual fee. Do a Google search for “Your State + Do Not Call.” Note that many states do not have their own registry and simply use the national registry.
Second, if you receive unwanted telemarketer calls, don’t just hang up. Find out exactly who is calling and what company he or she represents, then keep a record of the names and times. Report violators according to instructions provided by the state or federal registries. Usually this is easily done online. Violators face substantial fines.
Note that many solicitors that you have done business with in the past, such as charities, newspapers, and businesses, are exempt from these laws. This includes companies you may not realize you have dealt with. If you’ve ever entered a contest, bought a subscription, requested a catalog, or sent in a postcard asking for a free sample or further information, you’re fair game.
Each year you probably receive privacy notices from brokers, banks, insurance companies, and other businesses. You might also receive them when you sign up for some services, such as medical care. Oftentimes these pages are filled with fine print, but scan them anyway to see whether there is an opt-out choice. You may have to make a phone call or write a letter to take advantage of the privacy option. This may require a one-time notification or you may have to do it yearly.
Pet Plan Alert
For full-timers, the good thing about “wellness” plans offered by chain pet stores or veterinary hospitals is that benefits can be used anywhere there is a participating member. However, before you sign up for any of these plans, read the contract and know what you are getting. You may not be buying an insurance policy but rather a care policy that involves an enrollment fee and a monthly charge that continues even if you no longer have the pet. One angry consumer found she was liable for charges even after her cat died.
Fees For A Closed Bank Account
Electronic banking can sometimes be too automatic. Consumers are finding that it can be nearly impossible to close an account, especially if the bank sees a way to charge a monthly fee for it. If you close an account, make sure all automatic debits and deposits are turned off. Any electronic dealings could automatically reopen the account and trigger fees.
Begin by making sure you’re not forgetting to stop any automatic deposits that are made into the account. Even a long-forgotten rebate or overdue refund can reactivate your account. Do you receive a check annually or a quarterly dividend check that is deposited directly into your account? If you continue to receive statements for a zero-balance account that you want to remain closed, send a certified letter, return receipt requested, to the bank stating that you closed the account and want it to remain closed.
When a full-timer gets a speeding ticket that requires a court appearance, it can mean miles of backtracking and days of trip disruption. Some municipalities are infamous for their strict enforcement of unreasonable speed limits to the point where some guidebooks refuse to list the city or its tourist attractions. One Florida hamlet even has a billboard boasting of its “speed trap” reputation and promising a ticket if you’re caught.
Nobody endorses speeding or any other lawbreaking. But an organization called the National Motorists Association has created a Web site to shed some light on this topic and make folks more aware of where speed traps are located. Log on to www.speedtrap.org, click on the state you’re traveling, and look city by city to find when and where speed traps are usually found. The site allows for comments, complaints, and rebuttals to give you a realistic picture of whether local enforcement is fair.
Correction. In an earlier column we pointed out how death taxes vary state by state to illustrate the importance of how to avoid having your estate filed in a high-tax state. Reader Mel Moyer corrects one piece of information. He found that in Pennsylvania, death rates are higher than the 4.5 percent we reported. That’s the lowest figure and is only charged to children of the deceased. However, taxes there are 12 percent for sibling heirs and 15 percent for nieces, nephews, and all non-relatives.