Dollars & Sense columnist John Ewoldt searches the Twin Cities and beyond for bargains and strategies to spare you time, money and hassles.
Email us if you see a great deal. Include your name, city you live in and info on the deal you spotted.
Find deals on our Steals + Deals Facebook page and find me on Twitter.

Posts about Financial Planners

Two wins and a loss in my recent customer service experiences

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: January 4, 2012 - 10:34 AM


In its December issue Money magazine described the "7 Secrets to Super Customer Service." It's a good reminder that many of us, not just those in customer service, fall into a foul mood when something doesn't go our way. That's why flattery still works on customer service agents with tough skins.


I tried the tactic when I was in Florida for the holidays. The first night in a Wyndham hotel, I was awakened at 12:30 a.m. by a couple arguing in the adjoining room. I immediately called the front desk and asked them to do something about it. After I heard the phone ring in their room, the argument stopped. An hour later, I fell asleep.


In the morning I went to the front desk and complimented the manager on quickly taking care of the situation., but I also asked for an adjustment on the room for the night. She asked me when I called to complain and what was done. I explained it, she verified that I had made the complaint, and refunded half of the cost of the room. That seemed entirely reasonable to me. A full refund would have been excessive. Note: If your sleep is interrupted at a hotel, complain while the noise is in progress so the hotel can verify it and solve it. Otherwise, they might assume that you're trying to scam them. 


Yesterday I called Comcast after my Internet and cable service were down for almost a day. They came out to fix it on the same day that I called (kudos), but then one of my remote controls went on the fritz. It looks as if I will have to go in to a Comcast service center to exchange it. That's a bit of a hassle for which I believe I should compensated, so I asked the telephone service rep if there are currently any specials. She gave me three free months of Showtime and Starz. The only caveat is that I have to call after three months to remove them or I will start being billed for them. The rep told me that the freebie expires for me on April 2 so I marked it on my calendar. 


I hate it when consumer experts tell you all of their  successes and never their failures. I made the mistake of letting a daily deal coupon for a car detail expire Dec. 31. I called and asked if the offer might be extended for a week. Ugh, no, but I could get the detail if I spent an extra $50. Ugh, no. The rep went on to say that the coupon was now worthless but I could take it up with Living Social if I wanted more.

That's not true. Customers are entitled to the amount paid (but not the coupon value) even after it's expired. I will have to go to round two on this one.

There is a point at which customers should just call it a learning experience and walk away. Sometimes it's not worth the hassle. I've admitted defeat at the hands of Best Buy.

The Banking Game: Consumers 1, Banks 0. But this one ain't over.

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: November 2, 2011 - 9:34 AM

Score one for consumers in the play by play of consumers vs. banks. Bank of America decided yesterday that it will nix its plan to charge consumers a $5 monthly debit card fee. Bank of America's co-Chief Operating Officer David Darnell said the decision was based on customer feedback. "Our customers' voices are most important to us. As a result, we are not currently charging the fee and will not be moving forward with any additional plans to do so," he said.


Bank of America now joins cooler heads at banks such as JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Twin Cities-based US Bank as holding the line on monthly debit card fees.


Many credit the consumer empowerment to social media, including branding consultant and author of "Brandwashed" Martin Lindstrom, who said, "For the first time ever, the volume of response is now visible because of social media."

But consumers should know that banks aren't going to quietly forget about going back to the lucrative fee trough. Banks will find other fees to add on to unsuspecting consumers. A colleague whose son has a checking account discovered that at TCF. The bank no longer charges $35 per overdraft. Now when a checking account is in arrears for more than $5, the account holder is charged $28 per day for up to 14 days until the balance is restored to zero or more. 

If you or a someone you care about is a bit sloppy about money management, ask about fees when opening an account. To be fair, many of the fees that banks foist on us can be avoided once we know the consequences. 

Meanwhile, if you're considering a switch, check out credit unions or smaller banks near work or home. They're less likely to charge fees than the big banks. 

Who's found a bank or credit union they like?    

Who's more likely to sell their gold now, Minnesotans or Californians?

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: August 9, 2011 - 3:09 PM



So who's more likely to rush in and sell gold when the price reaches new heights, Minnesotans or Californians? Minnesotans are more likely to respond rather than react, said Joe Beasy, one of the Gold Guys. In other words, gold at nearly $1,800 an ounce doesn't have us waiting patiently at the gold buyer's door before the store opens.


But business is up about 25 to 30 percent at the Gold Guys in Minnesota, said Beasy. And recent weeks have seen stairstep increases, he said.

"Minnesotans aren't panic buyers or sellers," said Paul Runze, owner of Grove Coin in Woodbury. "But some of them are greedy." When Minnesotans see that gold hit a high of $1760 they wonder if it will be $1,800 tomorrow, he said.

Gold's price remains below its 1980 record after adjusting for inflation. Gold began the year at $1,421.40. It has climbed steadily as worries rose about high debt levels in both Europe and the United States. It went above $1,500 per ounce in late May.

People bringing in gold jewelry today are generally women with orphan earrings and pieces from two, three or four years ago that they're tired of, said Runze.

The gold rush has passed somewhat, say some gold buyers. Silver is king now that sellers have discovered its value. A class ring might bring $200 today but a sterling silver teaset or flatware set can bring thousands. "We're seeing a lot more sterling sellers, " said Andy Strauss of Avi's Pawn & jewelry in Richfield.

For Twin Citians who could use a little cash from silver or gold, try Enviro-Chem in Rogers first. In a phone survey for 14K gold Monday, Enviro-Chem was paying $41.97 per pennyweight or $26.99 per gram. I have yet to find a local dealer to top that with one caveat. Gold coins are a different matter. You can usually get the highest price from coin collectors.

Anyone out there who can beat Enviro-Chem's prices?




Are you willing to jump through a few hoops for $100? Yes, I am.

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: June 21, 2011 - 9:46 AM

 TCF Bank is offering $100 in free cash to those who open a checking account by June 30 and meet a few minimum requirements. If you're looking for a hassle-free $100 gift, this offer is not for you. If you could use an extra $100, here's what you'll have to do.

I've had my TCF account for a month now, It took about 30 minutes to get the account opened, but I had a newspaper to read while the clerk typed in my information. You can probably do it faster by opening the account online.

What hoops do you need to jump through for $100? You need to use your debit card 10 times within 60 days of opening the account or write 10 checks or a combination of the two. 



There's more. To avoid a monthly service fee of $5 to $15, you have to have $500 or more in monthly deposits, or 10 qualifying withdrawals, or a minimum combined balances of $2,500. You also have to pay for checks if you need them. Some accounts, such as Premier Checking accounts, offer the first set of checks free, but you still have to pay $7 in shipping costs. With the account I opened I was unable to refuse the checks and save the fee.

Now that I have made 10 debit card transactions I should be getting two $50 deposits within a few days. I don't know why TCF makes two $50 deposits instead of a single $100 deposit, but I was told by a teller that's how it works.

Will I keep my account open after I get the $100? I doubt it. TCF doesn't make you keep the account for a minimum time period to keep the $100. I don't like having to jump through the hoops every month to avoid a service fee. I could make it easier on myself by resolving to keep at least $2,500 in the account, but it wouldn't earn any interest. (At another bank that $2,500 could be earning a mind-blowing 0.25 percent interest!)

While I know my behavior isn't cheap enough to get me an honorary appearance on TLC's Extreme Couponing, some of you probably think it's too much work for $100.

If anyone else wants to get the $100, rest easy that opening and then possibly closing a checking account won't adversely affect your credit score, according to Gerri Detweiler at Ultimate Credit Solutions. "Checking accounts don't appear on credit reports unless you default on a line of credit or write bad checks," she said.

What do you think? Is the $100 worth it or too much trouble? Anyone want to share what you've done to get freebies?


Free shredding events Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: May 19, 2011 - 9:29 AM


If you've been hoarding grocery sacks full of your bank statements, credit card statements and other personal info until you have time to fire up the shredder, wait no longer. M& I Banks in five suburban location will have a Shred-It truck in the parking lot from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, May 21. Each family is limited to two bags or boxes. The paper will be shredded while you wait, so there's no concern about identity thieves lurking nearby to steal your personal info as you drive off. 



• Woodbury: 9935 Hudson Place • 651-702-7320
• Bloomington: 9320 Ensign Ave S • 952-698-5560
• Burnsville: 14201 Grand Ave S • 952-898-8021
• Plymouth: 3245 Vicksburg Ln N • 763-383-9830
• Roseville: 1780 Hwy 36 • 651-288-6300.




Part of me wants to just show up to watch the shredding. It makes me feel as if I'm 8 years old again, watching the city pulverize tree branches in their mulching trucks.


Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters