Archive for the ‘Money’ Category

$1,453 Refunded for FEMA Mistake


Hooray! Today, after over a year of protesting, we were finally refunded the full $1,453 for flood insurance we had to buy because of a FEMA map mistake. Sometimes, you can fight City Hall and win!

On 7 July 2009, my husband and I received a letter from our mortgage holder that FEMA (the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency) had changed their FIRM (Flood Insurance Rate Map) such that our house was now in a high-risk SFHA (Special Flood Hazard Area). We were required to buy annual flood insurance for the life of our mortgage loan because of FEMA’s map change.

Our house was built around 1930 next to the Guadalupe River, also known as the Lewis Canal in what is now the Willow Glen neighborhood of San Jose, California. The Lewis Canal is named after its engineer, Frank Lewis (who was husband to Martha “Patty” Reed Lewis of the Donner Party). The canal was built about a hundred years ago. The property line behind our house runs down the middle of the river and includes a steep embankment that rises five feet above ground level and then drops twenty feet to the river water.

How did the FEMA map of a hundred-year-old canal and eighty-year-old house change? FEMA maps used to be drawn on a plain background. Some clever person decided to take the old maps (as is – with no change) and superimpose the lines on a background of satellite photos. The resolution of the original map and the satellite map were different. The old map was drawn on square grids and the satellite photos were taken with a round lens – so there was some mismatch and alignment error. A flat picture of the round Earth will always have such errors.

The creation of the new map caused the mortgage company’s flood area determination company (LPS National Flood) to review the situation of the mortgaged properties which might be effected. Although FEMA’s new FIRM did not include any new information with regard to the relative location of our house and the river, the new picture’s misalignment appeared to make the line indicating our house touch the line of the river. That our house is ten feet from the edge of the embankment’s retaining wall did not matter. Taking the most conservative approach, the mortgage company required us starting immediately to pay $1,453 annually for flood insurance for the duration of the mortgage.

We talked with our mortgage company with no good results. We contacted FEMA with no good results. We contacted LPS National Flood with no good results. We talked with the insurance company with no good results. Everyone said that even though the new map did not correctly reflect the physical circumstances of our house and the river, the mortgage company could require us to buy flood insurance in perpetuity based on the map. We signed up for flood insurance and continued to fight.

We eventually hired J.P. Tanner of Scotts Valley to work with FEMA to correct their map. We learned in the process that hundreds of other San Jose home owners along the river were in the same bureaucratic map-insurance mess as we were. Eventually, in April 2010, FEMA issued a LOMA (Letter of Map Amendment) formally removing our house from the flood zone. It took until today for our mortgage and insurance companies to issue paperwork and send a refund check.

San Jose: Hey Big Spender

Excluding the price of housing how much do you spend daily? Most Americans spend 23 percent of their daily allowance shopping, 14.5 percent on gas and auto expenses, 17.5 percent on food and drink, 7 percent on travel and leisure, 17 percent on house-related expenses and 21 percent on health and family.

The residents of Austin, Texas spend an average of $67,076 a year. Scottsdale, Arizona comes in a close second at $64,687, and San Jose comes in third by spending $59,022 a year. I was surprised to find that San Francisco ranked 19th – spending only $45,291.

Shirley Bassey  (sound) – Big Spender

Happy 50th Birthday Tim!

I have been working as the Summer Camp Registrar for the Diabetes Society on Lincoln Avenue in Willow Glen. A few days ago, someone came back to my cubie to say that a woman was at the reception desk wanting to register some kids for camp. When I walked up, Donna Miller introduced herself and handed me two camp registration forms plus an envelope full of checks. She explained that in her family the birthday boy collects donation checks instead of presents. It was Tim Miller’s 50th Birthday recently and he wanted his gift to go to the Diabetes Society. The envelope contained eight checks totaling $575! What a generous and charming way to celebrate a big birthday!

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Photos Copyright 2010 Katy Dickinson

New name in local banking

The newly renamed Chase Bank branch on Santa Clara Street in downtown San Jose

The newly renamed Chase Bank branch on Santa Clara Street in downtown San Jose

It looks like JP Morgan Chase is finally rebranding the local branches of Washington Mutual, which it “rescued” a few months ago. More information for WaMu customers is here.

Sales and Use Tax Rate Increases on April 1

dollarsNo fooling, this is all too real.

Beginning April 1, the state sales and use tax rate increases by 1%.

The 1% tax rate increase will expire on either July 1, 2011, or July 1, 2012, depending upon whether the voters approve the proposed Proposition 1A Budget Stabilization constitutional amendment in a statewide election to be held on May 19, 2009. Actually there are seven ballot propositions that will determine what the state can and cannot do with tax dollars.

The state is also raising the Vehicle License Fee from .65 percent to nearly 1.15 percent of a vehicle’s value, beginning May 19 until June 30, 2013.

Effective April 1, 2009…

Santa Clara County 9.25%

City of Campbell 9.50%

Santa Cruz County 9.00%

City of Capitola 9.25%

City of Santa Cruz 9.50%

City of Scotts Valley* 9.25%

City of Watsonville 9.25%

Alameda County 9.75%

San Mateo County 9.25%

* The total includes the City of Scotts Valley Transactions and Use Tax rate that decreased to 0.25% from 0.50%.

California State Board of Equalization Website

Bank on San Jose

Bank on San Jose is part of the Bank on California initiative launched by Governor Schwarzenegger, which brings more working class families into mainstream financial markets by encouraging the opening of special low-cost, starter bank accounts.

In San Jose, more than $25 million in fees were paid to non-bank check-cashing services and payday lenders in 2006. Checks totaling more than $574 million were cashed through non-bank check-cashing services.

“Imagine the economic and social benefits of keeping this $25 million in the hands of low and middle-income San Jose residents,” Carole Leigh Hutton, United Way Silicon Valley President and CEO said. “It could be used to build assets like a home, business, education or retirement savings.”

Requirements vary at the participating banks and credit unions with opening deposits ranging from $1.00 to $100.00, no monthly fee to $5.95, and most not requiring a minimum balance. I did not readily see the difference between regular accounts and the Bank on San Jose accounts for some institutions where as with others there was a significant advantage. It would be advantageous to check your options closely. Detailed information of the participating banks and credit unions here (PDF).

More information is available on the United Way Silicon Valley website.

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