Monday, July 18, 2011

Take This Account and Shove It

Hello Dear Readers,

One of the best things about getting out of debt was finally getting to tell CIBC (otherwise known as the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce) what I thought of their customer service. I moved my account to a credit union, and I don't plan to ever look back.

They don't make it easy to close a bank account, especially if you have several different types of investments, and income that is automatically deposited (not to mention bills that are automatically withdrawn), but in my opinion, taking this stand was so worth the extra effort. Maybe if more people took their business elsewhere, the big banks would finally sit up and take notice of the little people.

Here is the letter I wrote to CIBC. Maybe you can relate to some of the things I've gone through:

July 14, 2011

To Whom It May Concern:

I opened my first CIBC account when I was fifteen years old, with the first pay cheque from my very first job. When I moved to a new city as a young adult, it never occurred to me to bank anywhere else: CIBC was my bank. For a middle class girl in her early twenties, I was doing very well. I had over 20K invested in one of your aggressive portfolios, and plenty of money in the bank. I did even better as a successful freelance journalist, and all of my financial business was conducted through CIBC. When I bought my first home, I went to CIBC for the mortgage.

Unfortunately, in my thirties, the tide shifted against me. Through terrible circumstances, which included illness, death, a separation, and a mix-up with my mortgage, I found myself in debt for the first time in my life. This did not sit well with me, and I was determined to get back in the black as quickly as possible.

I decided to use my CIBC Line of Credit to pay off the debt as fast as I could. To do this, I requested one small change to the account: I wanted it changed from a mandatory three percent payment each month to an interest-only account. I knew that I would pay off more than the interest each month—I requested the change only to give me some peace of mind. If something happened to my house one month, for instance, I’d be able to make a smaller payment at that time and increase the following payments.

CIBC refused to make this small change for me. Why? I was a great, long-time customer. I had a high credit rating. I never missed a payment on the line of credit in all the years I’d had it, and never used my overdraft. But, on a recommendation from a friend, I had looked into the possibility of a consolidation loan from two credit unions. Their resulting credit checks temporarily lowered my credit score by two points. My CIBC personal banking assistant knew this, but she still refused to make the change to my line of credit. She kept telling me that she’d be able to help me once my credit rating regained the measly two points, but that time never came. I kept getting put off, and put off, and put off. All I received were empty promises.

Now here we are, just over a year and a half later, and I have completely paid off my debt. Over $30K paid off in a year and a half, and I did it by myself, with absolutely no assistance from my bank. I think you can understand why I’m taking my business elsewhere.

I’m not a millionaire. In fact, I’m practically starting from scratch again. But that will change. And perhaps one day you’ll regret losing my business. You’ll probably regret that I’m a journalist and blogger who’s not shy when it comes to talking about the lack of service I received from CIBC. Maybe someday there will be other Holli Moncrieffs who will decide they want to be treated like people instead of numbers. Maybe they will be legion. And maybe then you’ll decide it’s time to start paying attention.


Holli Moncrieff

Have you ever had a proud, happy moment like this where you felt vindicated? Feel free to share! And if you're currently struggling to get out of debt, just stay patient and know that it will happen. There were times when that light at the tunnel seemed very far away, but I'm so happy that I stuck with it.

Friday, July 8, 2011

And Life Begins Anew...

Hello Dear Readers,

I don't have a traditional Fun Friday for you today, but since you've shared this journey with me, I'd like to share some exciting news. As of 9:45 Central Time this morning, yours truly was officially debt-free. No more line of credit, no more credit cards, nothing! At this time, I am free of the debt chokehold, and on Monday, I'll be informing my bank that I'm taking my business elsewhere.

It's been far too long coming, but now I feel like a world of possibilities has opened up for me. Thanks for being here, and have an awesome weekend.

Free at last, free at last.....

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Court of Public Opinion

A perfect example of how our first impressions can work against us: lady killer and actual killer Ted Bundy

On Christmas Day, a report of a missing girl is phoned in. Her parents state that they returned home from a holiday celebration the night before and put both their children to bed immediately. In the morning, the mother found a strange, elaborate ransom note lying on the stairs...the note had been written on paper from inside the house. It demanded money for the return of her young daughter, and a search of the house proved the child was missing. Later that day, the father finds the body of his little girl in the basement, and rushes to free her from the ligature around her neck and the tape on her mouth. Later, both parents hire a lawyer and are viewed to have stopped cooperating with police. They are judged to be unusually stoic and reserved when speaking to news media about their daughter's death.

Years before, a young family goes camping in Australia. The mother leaves her infant daughter unattended in an unzipped tent for mere moments to heat up some food for her son. Some of her fellow campers hear a small cry, which they alert the mother to. The mother rushes back to her tent, only to find that some pools of blood are all that is left of her baby girl. She sees what she thinks to be a dog or a dingo leaving the tent, and yells out that a "dingo has her baby!", although she later admits that she couldn't detect anything in the animal's mouth. A search party is immediately organized, but they find no sign of the missing child, and when they do find the infant's clothes, they appear to be perfectly placed, with no tearing or bite marks and little blood. Later, evidence of blood on a camera bag in the family vehicle and the parents' erratic, "reserved" behavior casts doubt on the young couple. Their unusual religion, the so-called "haughty" demeanor of the mother, and even some red coloring on the pages of their family bible leads to more suspicion.

Don't the above scenarios sound incredible? In both cases, the court of public opinion found the parents guilty of murdering their children. This all but ruined the parents' lives, and sadly it was eventually proven that both families had been telling the truth and were in fact innocent. That pronouncement came too late for Patsy Ramsey, who passed away from cancer no doubt brought on in part by stress, and for Lindy Chamberlain, who had already spent years in jail after her wrongful conviction.

In both cases, how the parents reacted and the seemingly suspicious circumstances were enough to render a guilty verdict in the court of public opinion. We fully expect people to act like we imagine we would if such a terrible thing happened to us. If our child was murdered, we'd report it right away, sob uncontrollably through every media interview, and cooperate fully with police, never feeling the need to hire a lawyer...right? Well, remember Susan Smith? She cried uncontrollably through her media interviews, too. And yet....

In my opinion, it's dangerous to render a guilty verdict based on how someone acts. This is what has always disturbed me about the Casey Anthony case. The public decided Casey killed her two-year-old daughter Caylee long before she got her day in court. She didn't report her daughter missing; she went partying and seemed thrilled to be without the responsibility of caring for a young child; her abandoned car had a suspicious smell in the trunk (some say it was human decomposition, others say rotting food). When Caylee's poor body was finally found not far from the house, no cause of death could be determined, but some duct tape was found on the corpse.

Yesterday a jury of her peers--despite plenty of evidence that Casey acted irresponsibly (and most would say strangely) in the wake of her daughter's death--found her innocent of all charges (except for lying to law enforcement). The court of public opinion has weighed in as well, bemoaning her release and calling the jury's decision a travesty of justice. But is it? To my mind, Casey has been proven to be a pathological liar and an immature, irresponsible person whose reactions are often faulty. But does that make her a murderer? Knowing what the facts are in this case, and how incredible the opening scenarios in this post, would you feel comfortable sending this woman to her death? There is absolutely no firm evidence that proves that she caused the death of her daughter, but the court of public opinion has already convicted her, based on the way she acted and the things she said. No matter what happens in the future, Casey will lead a miserable, ostracized life. So much for our faith in the justice system.

Some people are comparing this to the O.J. Simpson case, but in that particular circumstance, plenty of evidence that probably would have convicted O.J. was withheld from the jury (but resulted in a civil court judgment against the former football star afterwards). That is not the case in the trial of Casey Anthony. There simply was not enough evidence to prove that she murdered her daughter, and that is not my opinion--that is the jury's ruling.

There's a lot of danger inherent in judging someone because he or she doesn't act "normally" or how we think they should. You may remember a suave, handsome, brilliant young businessman and student. He was charming, had plenty of girlfriends, and was known for his community work, including volunteering for a crisis line. Many of his friends, including high-ranking politicians, cops, and savvy journalists, envied this talented man, who was viewed to be a star on the rise. Yes, many people looked up to Ted Bundy.

What do you think of the Anthony verdict? Would you have felt comfortable convicting her, based on the available evidence? Why or why not? Does the court of public opinion have too much weight?

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Journey + Win Free IMAX tickets

Welcome back, Dear Readers.

Last week I shared a blog post from an online writer friend on my Facebook page. To my surprise, it was met with a negative reaction, but I still think what she had to say has merit.

Michelle, who has previously published her novels online and recently signed with a traditional small publisher, has learned that landing a book deal doesn't make you happy. Is it a happy occasion? Yes, but if you aren't generally content with your life already, you could be disappointed by how little changes when that fabled publishing contract comes your way.

This post rang true because I admit that I've often felt my life will be perfect when I'm a published author and can finally write full-time. I can see how that mindset would (and does) set writers up for a fall. Yes, you often make more money for your writing. You sometimes gain more respect as an author. You can finally show off that shiny new volume to family and friends. But once the initial rush is over, what are you left with? Just you, and your work. Exactly like before.

I'm not ready to go after the brass ring with Dragonfly Summer just yet, but I went through something similar when I signed with my first agent. When she initially told me she wanted to represent my work, I was euphoric. Finally, actual proof that I was "good enough"! This was a woman who'd worked in the publishing industry for years, and she was based in New York--the toughest literary nut to crack. She must be an authority on what was publishable material, right?

Of course I knew that she might not be able to sell my book, but I believed all the hype I was told about million dollar deals and instant fame and was sure that wouldn't happen to me. Well, guess what? It did. And because I was so positive that this agent was my one chance at publishing success, it took me years to admit what should have been patently obvious from the beginning...that this woman's heart wasn't in being an agent, and that we weren't a good fit.

One quote that I have always loved is Take pleasure in the journey, not just the destination. It is sometimes difficult to take any joy in the rejections and uncertainty that are part and parcel of being an unpublished writer, but at this stage, your work is your own. No one tells you what to write or how to write it. There are no expectations from fans or publishers. Don't feel like rewriting that book again? Then don't. Write something else. The freedom of being unpublished is something I never appreciated until I had an agent telling me to rewrite the same book over and over again.

Do I believe Michelle that some parts of being published will be less than glamorous? Less than fun? Even depressing, stressful, and frustrating? Yes, I do. But is it still worth it? Yes, of course!

What do you think of Michelle's post? Can you identify with it? Have you ever experienced something similar? The first FOUR people to post an insightful comment in response (doesn't matter if you agree with her or not) will win two free passes to the new IMAX theatre at the Polo Park Cineplex in Winnipeg. The passes are good until September 31. Obviously, the winners will have to be in Winnipeg or the surrounding area.