Follow Up to News Reports About Michael Gullickson

On February 20, 2008 my step-daughter’s father was killed in a head-on snowmobile accident near Mount Horeb, WI. He was a great guy, everyone that ever met him loved him, including me. I won’t rehash old news, his sister Heidi has an excellent blog and is much better with words and emotions that I am.

The only thing that I want to add is a refutiation of some of the information that has been circulating in the news, and with friends of Mike’s. Alchohol or drugs was not a factor in the accident. The coroner has finished his report, and the police are wrapping up their investigation. Neither rider was drunk or stoned, so despite the original news media reports, alcohol was NOT a factor in this accident.

Despite the good intentions of Mike’s friends, NOBODY saw the accident happen. Other riders were in the area, and one of Mike’s friends came upon the scene very soon after the accident, but nobody actually saw the accident happen.

Speed does not appear to be a factor either. Original stories that we heard was that the other rider was driving in excess of 70-80 MPH. This is wrong. The police reconstruction team estimates his speed between 40-43 MPH, well under the night snowmobile speed limit set by the Wisconsin DNR. Mike was either completely stopped, or very close to stopped when the accident happened.

Mike died within “seconds” according the coroner report, due to severe head and chest injuries. Both riders were wearing helmets.

We are still awaiting the final police report. At this time, it does not appear the district attorney is preparing a case against the other rider, which indicates even further that this was an accident. A horrible, possibly avoidable, accident, but an accident nonetheless.

We Look at the Second, Third and Fourth Homes

After work tonight we looked at 3 homes for sale in Cross Plains. The first one, and the one we liked the most, is pictured. It sort of stands out in the neighborhood, it is light green with tan and maroon trim, and rocks. It is a 3 bedroom home with a nicely finished basement that includes an office area.

Upstairs is a more formal living room with a wood-burning fireplace, and no good place to put a large LCD TV. It is open and very pretty though, but the entertainment area would definately be downstairs. The kitchen and dining room is very nice, with good quality cabinets and very attractive brushed aluminum fixtures.

There is a lot of very nice woodwork inside this home, they did not go cheap here. We were concerned about the small size of the bedrooms, as listed on the Internet. To our surprise, the rooms were plenty large and the master was very nice. None of the homes we looked at had great bathrooms, but none were really bad.

The other two homes we looked at we ruled out completely. The second one, on Tilda Trail was actually a nice place, but had no backyard at all, at least none that would make the dogs happy. The view was nice, backing up to DNR land and steep hills.

The last home was on American Legion drive, and we all agreed that it sucked. It looks like rental property. The quality of materials was poor, it was too small, and just a bit ugly. It did have a few nice things, but the bad far outweighs the good.

The first home is quite nice, but is only $15,000 less than the 4 bedroom home across the street, and that home has 600 more square feet. We are going to look at it Thursday evening, and tomorrow evening are looking at a FSBO home on Lewis Street.

Finally, I Know (Politically) What I Am

I have always considered myself a Republican, and my voting record supports that. I have not always voted Republican, and never voted a straight ticket, but when choosing between multiple candidates that I knew nothing about, I would choose the Republican over the Democrat.

Why would I consider myself a Republican? I have no idea, but with the exception of a few things in their agenda, I agree with most of their beliefs. But wait a minute. I am agnostic, certainly not a bible thumper, and am pro-choice which would get me tossed out of a convention. Ok, other than that, I am a Republican. But I liked Bill Clinton and could not stand Bush Sr. and even though I worked on Dubya’s campaign, I cannot stand him now. Reagan, now that was a president. Love him or hate him, Reagan was an incredible leader of this country.

But what about John McCain? I like him, and I do believe strongly that he deserves the job. He is a good American and by all accounts a good, honest and decent man. He is not extreme right, just a little right of center, and by all accounts I should like him, and I do. But I don’t want him as my president. I cannot pinpoint exactly why, a little bit of “he’s been there forever”, and “he’s too much like Bush”.

Hillary Clinton. Maybe. I definately like the idea of having a woman president, if only to prove to my 3 daughters that they truly can be whatever they want in this country. I think she would make a fine president, and we basically get 2 for 1 with Bill in the picture. Not bad at all. She would be more appealing if she could lose the Perma-Bitch face and pant suits.

About a month ago, the whole family went to a Barrack Obama rally in Madison at the Kohl Center, and yes, we took the girls. Now that guy can carry an audience. He is a wonderful speaker, and I think I am a pretty good judge of character. He seems honest and naive, but I like that. He is somewhat of a dreamer, but I am not going to cut him for that. We need more of that in Washington. He was not negative, even against those running against him, and while he lacked specifics of how he would implement his idea’s, he was refreshing and hopeful. Seems like the kind of guy you could hang out with, player poker with, joke with, even while he runs the country. His wife Michelle would also be the best looking First Lady in US history, she’s hot.

He said something during his speech that rang true with me. He mentioned that a lot of Repulicans were backing him even though he is a Democrat, and a pretty liberal one at that. I knew this was true because I had heard this from other sources as well, not just him. I also knew it was true, because I am backing him, and I’m a Republican. Right?

He mentioned the word “Obamican”, a Republican that supports him. Now I had a word for my political affiliation. I am an Obamican. Even though I represent only a single vote, in a small state, I take my vote seriously. When the Wisconsin Primary came around I made sure I got out and voted for him, he won Wisconsin, thanks to me of course.

I like Hillary too, so when the time comes in November to cast my vote, I look forward to voting for either of them. The dream ticket of Obama/Clinton does not seem so far fetched either, what I believe would be an unbeatable combination. Clinton/Obama would be good too, let Barrack get some more experience and age under his belt, and let Hillary be president before she is too old, that would be a winner too. Sorry John McCain, you are good and deserving man, but 4-8 more years of Republicans running this country? Not this time my friend, and you can thank W for that.

As best I can tell, the only thing Barrack and I disagree on is the death penalty. I am 100% for it. If I was going to reform something it would be doing away with life sentences without parole. If it can be PROVED, without a shadow of a doubt (witness’, DNA, etc) that someone is guilty of a murder or rape, I am all for putting them down. Why spend all that money keeping someone alive that is going to die in prison? That makes no sense to me.

So, unless I am convinced otherwise, I am an Obamican. Here are my beliefs, someone please tell me if I am voting for the wrong candidate:

  • Pro Death Penalty
  • Pro Choice
  • Anti Iraq War (Leave when ready though, no immediate pullout)
  • Pro Afghan War (I support all military action against terrorists)
  • Anti IRS (Support fair tax plan, everyone pays the same percentage)
  • Wellfare Reform (If you can work and won’t, you are cut off)
  • Pro Medical Insurance for Everyone
  • Support Legalization (or Decriminalization) of Marijuana
  • Agnostic / Non-Religious
  • Support Vigorous Separation of Church and State
  • Anti Same-Sex Marriage (Sorry, nothing against gays, just believe in sanctity of marriage)
  • No “Gas Men” Running the Country
  • End Tax Breaks for Big Oil and Very Rich
  • Open Full Relations with Cuba
  • Require Fair Trade (Yes, even with China and Japan)
  • Watch Iran Like a Hawk, Same for Korea and Venezuela
  • Tax Breaks for Company’s that Manufacture in USA
  • Repeal or Heavily Modify NAFTA
  • Beef up the FCRA (Force FICO to change credit card requirements)
  • Reform Immigration to Make Legal Immigration Easier, Illegal Immigration Harsher
  • Restore Economy Before Recession
  • Make Mortgages Easier to Get, More Regulation and Limits on APR’s, etc.
  • Campaign Finance Reform (Real reform, gov’t and private funded, no SIG or PAC money)
  • Repeal DMCA
  • Modify (but keep) US Patriot Act
  • Bring Terrorist Detainee’s in Cuba to US for Trial

Halle and Josh's Birthday

Today was a very good day. Halle turned 9 and Josh (Missy’s brother) turned 32, and we had a little family party for both of them. It was a very full house, be we all had a great time. Halle cleaned up pretty nicely, she got her ears double-pierced, a new Guitar Hero guitar for the Wii so we can play doubles, a digital camera and journal for the PC, and the game of Life, along with a Claire’s gift certificate from Josh. She is officially richer than Missy and me now. Josh didn’t do too bad either, despite having to open a box with multiple (WAY too many) layers of wrapping paper while having his hands in oven mits (compliments of Missy), he did manage to score a couple new shirts.

We thought this might be a real tough day for Halle, since her dad was just killed 2 1/2 weeks ago in a horrible snowmobile accident. They had had big plans for today, including a trip to Appleton, Wisconsin to visit the American Doll store, something she had been looking forward to for a real long time. Fortunately, she still had a wonderful day, one that she does not want to end. I am very happy for her, and happy she was able to accept that life is sometimes tragic, sometimes magic, and there is always time for fun and celebration. Today was a day for celebration, Mike would have wanted it that way.

Here are some more pictures of today’s fun!

We Look at the First House

Ok, so Missy and I are looking to purchase our first home. I have owned 4 homes in the past, she has not, and this is our first home together with the merged family. We are getting our credit and finances in order, hoping to be able to move in sometime during the summer. We really liked a house on the south side of Cross Plains, and contacted the realtor that has the home listed, Heidi Uhrig with Glass Slipper Homes, part of Keller-Williams. She informed me that the house was sold, something we expected.

I told her about what type of home we were looking for, a 3-4 bedroom ranch style, 2-3 bathrooms, a place for an office either in a finished basement, or unfinished one where I could build an office. We need a 2-3 car garage, good size living room and master bedroom, and do not want an old 60’s or 70’s style home, nothing ugly. There are a lot of ugly houses in Cross Plains, mixed with a lot of newer nice looking homes.

I told her about another house Missy and I had been looking at. It was built in 1978, but instead of looking old and outdated from the outside, has more of a rustic country look that we liked. It also has a small greenhouse added onto the front, a great place to put a hot tub. The seller is asking $219,000, a price point that is hard to find in Cross Plains, where most (decent) homes now sell in the upper $200’s. We looked at the home last night, and due to circumstances out of our control, had to take all 3 girls with us. I will never do this again!

From the outside, we really liked the house. Good size 2-car garage and a nice deck on the back. The exterior is mostly wood, which I like, and the landscaping was very well done with multiple tiers of large rocks in the front and back. Of course it was all snow-covered, but you could tell it was tasteful and well done.

Inside we were impressed by the slate entry foyer, which was small but functional. You have to go up or down when you walk in, we went upstairs first. The first things I noticed were that the handle on storm door was damaged and needed replaced, a very large window above the foyer which was very nice, and a light hanging from the high ceiling (since 1978) that would have to be changed.

The kitchen has been recently remodeled and was very nice, with the exception of the wallpaper. I hate wallpaper. The appliances were newer and black, and all looked very nice, except the old white refrigerator looked out of place and would need to be replaced. The floor seemed somewhat warped, but only a little and only in one place. Another project probably. A large cutting board island thingy in the middle of the kitchen was nice, but the pot-holder hanging above it would have to go. I sort of liked it, Missy didn’t. I liked it, other than a large shiny bolt holding it from the ceiling, it just didn’t look quite finished.

Off the kitchen was a “sewing room”, which also contained the washer and dryer. It was small, but nice, though I did notice the built in desks were just barely attached to the wall, another project for me.

The dining room was separate from the kitchen, and would require walking everything around a wall to set the table. I didn’t mind this, but Missy did, and we started talking about knocking out a section of wall between the two and creating a bar area, with a pass-through between the kitchen and dining room. Same for the wall between the family and dining rooms. A fairly large project, but one that I could handle. The dining room itself was small, but fine for our family of 5. Entertaining more guests would be tight, and the only entrance to the deck was through the dining room, which means the dogs would have to walk through there to go outside.

The upstairs family room was long, but narrow. It has a nice wood-burning fireplace with a separate nook for storing wood. The bricks were more of a blond style, but looked nice. Woodwork above the brick was tasteful and nice. Our current couch, a large leather L-Shaped sectional would not fit in there, and finding a good place for a LCD TV would be a little tough, but there is room. As a major project down the road, I thought about extending that room out the back about 15′. I could not do this myself, this would have to be contracted, and from watching HGTV a little too much for a straight guy, I am guessing 20 grand for that.

The master bedroom is on the main level and is very large and nice, with a half-wall separating the sleeping area and reading area. Two small, cheap, old brass lights were mounted low on either side of the bed. Another project to nix those, but not a big deal, especially since I could use the existing wiring to add much needed electrical outlets. A day project. The master bathroom was small, but usable, and appeared to have new shower doors. This could be enlarged by losing the smaller of the two closets in the master, but would be quite a job. I could do it myself, but more than a weekend for sure. There is a very nice walk-in closet in the master bedroom, and the view out the back of the ridge through very large windows is terrific.

Going downstairs seems to be the killer. There are 3 bedrooms down there, and a small living room that leads to the glass-enclosed greenhouse. All 3 rooms are very small, and the wallpaper, paint and (green) carpet are hopelessly out of date. The girls did not like the idea of having their bedrooms downstairs while Missy and I slept upstairs. I would tell them to “grow a pair”, but they are girls 🙂

The greenhouse is a very nice addition, though we would likely put a hot tub in there, though that would be a job in itself. I would need a bunch of guys and beer to get that one done. On the plus side, because it was intended to be a greenhouse, it has water and electricity already there, and even has electric-hydraulic overhead window openers. Very nice.

The basement would be a major project, but one that I could do. It would be a complete “do-over”. I would tear down all interior walls and rebuild using much of the existing hardware. All 3 bedrooms would be enlarged significantly, at the expense of the living room and wasted space at the bottom of the stairs. What is now the living room would be gone, and I would add a small home office for myself. The entrance to the hot tub room would be at the bottom of the stairs, as would the door to my small office. I think I could pull this off in about a month of weekends, and maybe a week of vacation. Then I would need a vacation 🙂

The garage is large, with lots of room. It is finished, but just barely. It would take some paint and TLC to make it look nice, but had no major cracks in the concrete or anything like that. After all, this is a garage! Off the garage is a storage room that contains the AC and heat unit, water softener and Aprilaire machine, which is nice. Off that room is another room for cold (emphasis on COLD) storage or wine, again, I like this.

The driveway needs work. Several holes and deep cracks would need repaired and the entire driveway resealed. A day project that I could easily handle.

The house’s list price is $219,000. I could see, at most, $180,000 considering the amount of work we would have to do. On the plus side, once this work is complete, I believe the house would be worth much more. The lot is large and well landscaped, and backs up to one of the many ridges in Cross Plains that is full of old-growth tree’s and abundant wildlife. I could shoot the damn deer from the comfort of my bed 🙂

If it were up to me, I would probably make an offer on this house, saving the $100,000 difference between this and the newer home (most of which are smaller and not on such nice lots) a

nd investing a little (ok, maybe more than a little) money and a lot of sweat-equity into making this house a lot nicer. It would take about a year, but this could be a real nice home.

But it’s not up to me. I got married last July 🙂

What I Have Learned About Credit Scores

I have been educated over the last several weeks about how credit (FICO) scores are calculated and what you can do to improve your score, sometimes by a drastic amount. During this educational process, I found bits and pieces of critical information scattered all around the net, and by talking to mortgage brokers, banks and others. I am not a lawyer, and this is certainly not legal advice, but here is the (relatively) short version of what I have learned.

Your Fair Isaac FICO score is a 3-digit number that can be used to quickly evaluate your past credit performance, and can be used to predict your likely future credit worthiness. The valid range of numbers is 350-830, with the US Average somewhere in the 680 range. Scores above 620 are considered fair to good, 650 and higher good, and over 700 is basically the same as those over 800. Anything under 600 is poor to very poor. In today’s mortgage market, you won’t get anyone to talk to you with less than a 620, and they really want to see a 650, especially if you are looking to do a 0-3% down payment. Many mortgage companies are even going back to the old style of underwriting, requiring more documentation, proof of employment and salary, etc. in addition to determining your FICO score.

Fair Isaac scores are based on your payment history, at least primarily, that is the largest component of your score, some say as much as 35% of your score is based on this. The best way to improve your credit score over time is to ALWAYS pay your bills on time. Some mortgage companies will not offer a mortgage to you even if you have a high FICO score if you also have more than 5 late payments to your creditors in the last 2 years.

Another major player in determining your FICO score is how you use credit. This is the part that I feel is totally un-American and contrary to excellent money management skills. You must have credit cards, even if you don’t use them. In fact, you need at least 3 credit cards, and you need to use them, but just a little. Most experts will tell you to never let your balances go above 10% of your available credit, other say 30%, but never more than 30%. So if you have 3 credit cards with a total credit limit of $6000, you should never have more than $600-$1800 on them. The best practice is to use credit cards for day to day purchases, such as gas and food, and then pay off the credit card balance before any interest has been charged. The credit card companies will report this to one or more credit bureaus. They will report not only that you pay your bills on time, they will report the percentage of available credit you have. Good credit card skills, keeping balances below 10-30%, paying the bills on time, etc. go a long way towards your FICO score. Some believe this is worth up to 30% by itself.

Pay off your credit cards, now! Carrying high balances, or specifically high percentage of used credit to available credit, will bring down your score. Credit cards are a necessary evil, at least with regards to your FICO score, you have to override common sense with what is required to “fit” into the FICO system.

Don’t make the mistake I made. When you do pay off your credit cards, DO NOT close the account. The length of time your account has been open also plays into your credit score. Closing the credit card accounts is a bad thing, pay them off, use them just a little to keep the account active and keep the credit card company reporting to the credit bureaus. If for some reason your credit card company does not report inactivity to the credit bureuas, you can request that they do.

Do no accept credit cards with a very low credit limit. Having a card with a $300 limit will likely lower your score. It shows creditors that the company “just barely” trusts you. Plus, if you stick to the 10% utilization rule, you will only have $30 worth of credit to use. You cannot even fill your car with gas these days for $30, so don’t bother. Of course if you are rebuilding your credit and can only get a card or two with these very low limits, do it. Within just a few months of low usage and paying the balance off before the interest can be charged will probably be enough for the card issuer to increase your limit, though you may need to call them to request this. If they refuse after several months, take your business elsewhere. Often the threat of doing this will be enough for them to increase your limit. Some say it costs credit card companies up to $200 to attract a single new customer. Take advantage of this. When they do increase your credit limit, stick to the 10% rule. Your score will go up.

In addition to credit cards, always pay all of your bills on time, especially car and other loans. These are scored somewhat differently than revolving accounts, but paying on time is critical. If you must let something slide for a month due to financial hardship, let it be the telephone, power or other utility. In my 21 year credit history, none of these companies has ever reported to the credit bureaus, good or bad, so if something must be deferred, let it be one that nobody will ever see. DO NOT not pay them, just pay them late. If you skip out on them, they will turn it over to a collection agency, which certainly will report it.

Limit “hard” inquiries into your credit. Credit bureaus classify inquiries into 2 groups, hard and soft. A soft inquiry is when you check your own credit, or when credit card companies or others are “pre-screening” potential credit customers. These DO NOT reduce your credit score. Hard inquires are done when you request credit, via a loan or credit card application, for example. Having many hard inquiries in a short period of time can reduce your score, and these inquiries stay in your report for 2 years. Having many in a short period of time can indicate you may be overextending yourself. There is an exception to this rule, however. When you are shopping for a home mortgage, multiple mortgage companies can make hard inquires into your credit in a 2-week time frame and basically count as a single inquiry. I guess the logic here is that a smart mortgage shopper will shop multiple companies before picking one, and you are not likely to be trying to secure multiple mortgages in a short period of time. Use this exception to your advantage when shopping for a home mortgage.

Pay off ALL collections and charge-offs that are reported. These account for up to 30% of your score and collection companies will always report negative data. After some period of non-payment, your credit report will show “KD” for each month. This stands for “Key Derogatory”, and no, I don’t know exactly what that means, but it ain’t good! Basically after you go past 150 days late, they flag it as KD, which is worse than worse. These must be paid! KD’s have to go. Even accounts that are marked as “charge off” or “account closed” can and should be paid off. Contact the creditor or collection agency. Chances are very high they will accept a settlement offer from you, taking less money than is actually owed. This is good for both parties, they get most of the money you owe instead of none, and you get them to remove the negative data from your credit report.

Subscribe to credit monitoring, or at least check your credit report and score every 3 months.
The scam here is that there are 3 major credit reporting bureaus, all with different information about you. Some creditors report to all 3 (which is a good thing as long as you pay your bills on time), some report only to 1. There seems to be no pattern as to which companies report to which bureaus, but I suppose you can ask before you open accounts. The big 3 are Experian, EquiFax and TransUnion, and to get a valid picture of your credit, you must get reports from all 3. You are entitled to reports from each of these companies once a year for free by going to They will give you the report online, but not a score, you will have to pay for this. An alternative is to use one of the many companies that pull these reports for you, such as, which is run by Experian, and despite its name, is far from free. This can get expensive, especially if you are monitoring all 3 companies. But this is the price you have to pay to keep on top of what is in your credit report. Yes, I think this is a scam too. If you have deep enough pockets, you can even monitor your credit with all the bureaus using Fair Isaac Corporations (the FICO people) MyFICO service. It’s expensive, but accurate.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act provides consumers with good protection from misinformation contained in your credit reports. Without hiring lawyers or “credit fix-up” companies, you can request that inaccurate information be removed from your credit report. This can be done online with each of the credit bureaus, or by mailing form letters to each disputing the information. When you file a dispute, if the credit bureau cannot verify the information in the report, by law, it must be removed. They have 30 days to investigate disputed information, and up to 60 days to remove inaccurate information.

If they fail to repond to your request for changes to inaccurate information, you can report them to the Federal Trade Commission. You can also hire a good law firm to force their hand. One of the most respected is Lexington Law, who’s only business is helping consumers legally clean up their credit reports. Their fee’s are reasonable considering the level of service they provide.

This brings up another point. There is no “quick fix” to cleaning up bad credit. It takes initiative, time, and money on your part. Companies that claim otherwise are trying to sell you snake oil, don’t believe it. At best, you will be out some more money, at worst you will be breaking the law. The ONLY WAY to clean up your credit is to take responsibility for the negative marks on your credit by working with the creditors, having inaccurate information removed from your record, and time. A history of late payments will only go away over time, up to 2 years. You may be able to talk some of the creditors into removing late payment history, but this is entirely up to them. If you do decide you need help clearing up inaccurate information, use a respectable law firm that deals with this, one that knows the law and does not break it.

As for mortgages, everyone knows that right now they are hard to get with less than stellar credit. Most mortgage companies that I have talked to will pull your credit report from all 3 bureaus, then toss out the low and high score, using the middle score as the base for determining if they will extend a mortgage to you. This is why if you are shopping for a mortgage, you must monitor and correct information with all 3 bureaus. The difference in interest rates between a 620 and 720 score can be staggering, literally up to $1000/month difference in your home payment for a modest midwestern home.

It is said, even by Fair Isaac, that 90% of banks use FICO scores for determining who they will extend a mortgage to, and what interest rates will be offered. Who is the other 10%? I have not found a single mortgage lender that does not use FICO as the basis for mortgage decision.

As bad as this whole system is, Fair Isaac is far from fair, having 3 different companies with different sets of inaccurate information about you that you must to pay to see should be illegal, this is the way it is, and will not change for a long time to come. This is the world we live in, knowledge is power, and I hope this blog entry summarizes accurately the research I have been doing over the last several weeks and months. I’m not done yet, and as I learn more or remember things I forgot, I will update this page.

About Credit Scores, Ignorance, Stupidity, and Frustration

In my previous post I mentioned the need for our family to find and purchase a new home. This was easier for me when I was younger, when I had a credit (FICO) score over 800, was not divorced and only had 1 child. At one time I even had 2 mortgages for over a year while waiting for the old house to sell. That was also before the crash of the housing and credit markets, money was easy to get, and just as easy for me to earn.

Skip ahead 6 years, 6 tough years. A divorce and bankruptcy in 2003, $3000 per month to my ex-wife for child support (I never complained about this) and “maintenance” (AKA alimony, this I will forever complain about), and total meltdown of my chosen profession in 2003 and 2004, I find myself with a credit score just a shade above 600. The alimony stopped in December 2007, thank God! It is truly amazing how much of a beating one person can take and still manage to pull themselves up. I won’t even mention the gory details of these years of my life, they were very tough years and I would just assume block them out permanently. Kind of like 1987-88, but for very different reasons.

My life is so much better now. I married Missy in July 2007 and we are rebuilding the American Dream together. Life is much better now, and in a strange way I am happy to have experienced 2003-2006. It gave me a new perspective on everything financial. I took so much for granted before that, I always had money, good credit and a great income. I was miserable, but financially I was sound. Now I am broke, but happy. This is a better place to be.

But only for now. Dare I say the best place to be is financially sound AND happy? I think so, and that is the remaining goal. I make a decent income now working like a dog for a great company, Missy is employed as well, the alimony ended in December, the credit cards were paid off (we put some back on them, but that will be taken care of by mid-April), and collections on our credit reports were paid. We did not even know they existed until we pulled our reports, many were 6+ years old!. This is the ignorance part of this post. If you have not looked at your credit report lately, do it! You will be amazed how much information is wrong!

So, back to the credit scores, speaking only in generalizations here. Missy had very little credit history, a car loan, an old credit card account, and a JC Penney credit card she got in 1996, never used, and didn’t even know she had. She had 3 items in collections or charge-offs, from many years ago. She did not even know they existed, only one company ever bothered to even call her to ask her to pay. Her score was in the mid-500’s, not good. The total amount she owed to old accounts was less than $900. I contacted each of the companies listed in her report and paid them the balance owed. 48 hours later, her FICO score was over 700, well into the “good” area. She literally went from being a very high risk to lenders to a very low risk in less than 48 hours, the change in FICO score was over 150 points!

Now to me, mine is more complicated. Like I said, I used to have a score over 800, but that was yesteryear. When I pulled my credit reports, I was alarmed to see my scores in the mid 500’s. Now I am not stupid, I realize I had a bankruptcy in 2003 associated with the divorce, but most people with a bankruptcy hover around 600, so why was I considered more of a risk than someone with a recent bankruptcy? I have established good credit since then, including car loans and credit cards, all with decent rates. Well, let me explain…

In 2003 I went to Oconomowoc Memorial hospital following a 3-day migraine headache that would not go away. I was there about an hour, got a shot of some miracle drug that I still don’t know what it was (could have been cocaine for all I know), and left ready to party like it’s 1999. I received a bill for about $700 and paid it. Another bill arrived for almost the same amount and figuring my check and their bill crossed in the mail, I discarded it. A month or so later I moved, chasing work in 2003, no more bills arrived even though I left a forwarding address. Well, there were indeed 2 bills, one for the doctor and a separate one for the hospital. Apparently I paid the doctor $700 for him to ask me how I felt (which should have been obvious as hell) and give me a shot. I apparently did not pay the hospital $700 for the 1 hour rental of a bed. I would have happily laid on the floor and saved the $700. This went into collections with State Collection Service of Wisconsin. They never contacted me, just put it on my credit report as a collection. It sat there until I discovered it last month.

I mentioned above that I moved in 2003, and left a forwarding address. This is true, so is the fact that I gave my apartment complex (Country Aire in Hartland, WI) 60 days written notice from my employer regarding the relocation, and knew that I would lose my security deposit. This is the contract that I signed, so all is good, right? Wrong. They turned almost $2800 in broken lease fee’s over to La Chapelle Collection Service in Green Bay, Wisconsin that got a judgment against me in 2004. They did contact me, by their own admission and their own records, in 2005. See something wrong with this? They got a judgment against me a year before they bothered to even call me! I even had the same cell phone number following the move, I would have been real easy to locate. They had my new address and my phone number, but used neither. If $2800 was really due to them, my employer would have paid it on request. It was never requested. As stated, they did contact me in 2005 and I refused to pay. I have no defense for this, other than I maintained (and still maintain) that I did not owe them the money. Yep, this was in my credit report as well, and since it was not marked for deletion until 2011, I paid it. Actually I paid $3300. The total amount due was over $4000 with interest, La Chapelle settled for $3300. Because this was a judgment, when I get the settlement letter, I will have to drive 80+ miles to Waukesha County to have it removed from my record. As far as I am concerned, this is scam; get a judgment that a person has no knowledge of, no recourse to fight it, let it collect 12% state sponsored interest for a year or so, then contact the person to get paid? Something is fishy here.

So I moved to Florida. I opened a checking account with SunTrust bank. For various reasons, I only lived in Florida for 4 months before transferring back to Wisconsin. When I got home, I moved most of my money from SunTrust back to my local bank and waited a month before zeroing out my SunTrust account and contacted them by phone to close the account. I thought everything was fine, until I looked at the credit report. Apparently they put $222.87 into collections. I called them to find out why. They told me it was sent to NCO Financial for collection in 2004, they have no records of it other than that. I contacted NCO and they informed me it was sent to Chex Systems. I contacted them via their web site, I could not find a way to actually talk to a human being there. They mailed me information showing that I owed $222.87, but could not explain why or what the money was for. I called them with the number provided in the mail. They had transferred it to Enhanced Recovery Systems, which I contacted next. ERS confirmed the amount and that they were now in charge of the collection, but again, had no information about what the $222.87 was for, other than it was from SunTrust. I had spent 4-6 hours chasing this down and was no closer to figuring out what the collection was for, but needed this removed from my credit record. In a move very unlike me, I surrendered and paid the $227.87 + $9.95 fee to ERS.

The final blemish on my record was reported by the law firm of P

askin and Oberwetter, a Princeton Club fitness center contract that I had defaulted on. Okay, this one I can own up to. I did default on the contract, shortly after signing up with the fitness center, but I did contact the manager via phone and express my dislike of the club. It was dirty and oversold, you could not get lockers for your stuff, and whenever I went the place was full and you had to wait to use equipment. They also rented out the gym and swimming pool to every organization that wanted it, seems like they always had something going on. He said he would suspend the contract. This was my mistake. Don’t do this over the phone, get it in writing. Princeton Club sent it to Paskin and Oberwetter for collection, and to their credit, they did contact me, both by mail and by telephone. I explained (in writing, they are lawyers after all) my contention that the contract had been suspended at my request following a conversation with the Princeton Club manager. Some time lapsed, maybe 2-3 months, and I had not heard anything. In this time frame, they reported the collection to all 3 credit bureaus. They sent another letter offering a settlement of $500 (the original charge was almost $700) and I reluctantly paid it.

So where am I now? Theoretically in the same place as Missy. All negatives on my credit report, with the exception of the 2003 bankruptcy, have been paid in full or settled. So where is my 150+ point jump in my FICO score? My score hasn’t moved any, not a single point. Why? I don’t know, maybe it just needs more time for the accounts that I paid to be removed. Maybe I will have to get my own attorney to force the credit bureaus to remove the accounts that have been paid. Maybe I will have to study the Fair Credit Reporting Act myself, possibly resulting in complaints filed with the FTC. I have notified them using their online dispute forms that these have all been settled. I expect my credit reports will be updated with this information before the end of March.

(Re)Building the American Dream

When Missy and I got married in July 2007, we formed very specific goals and milestones for achieving those goals. They are not far-fetched, pie in the sky type daydreaming, just a simple plan for achieving the American Dream.

1) We needed a better family car. When we got married, Missy had 1 daughter and I had 2. She drove a Toyota RAV-4 that we called the “Go Cart” because of its size, and I had a Pontiac Grand Turd, err Am. These cars were fine for us at the time, but our new family of 5 could not go anywhere together. Within 2 weeks of getting married, my Grand Am was gone, replaced with a shiny new Ford Explorer. Problem solved, we no longer needed to borrow my ex-wife’s minivan to take the family on trips, we just have to add gas every time the damn thing passes a gas station.

2) We needed a truck. I had a great Dodge Dakota truck that was destroyed in the Stoughton tornado way back in August 2005. I had to buy the Pontiac Grand Turd, err Am quickly because of that, I need a car quickly, and the Pontiac was available for the right price. My needs for a vehicle are not that high, I sort of prefer crappy old trucks, but did not want a POS. We traded the RAV-4 for a 2001 Ford F150 at Suburban Wheels of Madison. Problem solved. Actually 2 problems solved, I will never own a non-American made vehicle, but that is for another post.

3) We have to pay off our credit cards! Ok, they were my credit cards, but still they had to be paid off. The balance was over $11k and they were maxed out following the wedding and honeymoon in Mexico. I set up a plan and we did this in less than 5 months.

4) We pulled our credit reports from the 3 major companies, Experian, TransUnion and EquiFax. There was some old stuff we didn’t even know about, things we had to take care of to get our credit scores up. Nothing too major, but combined was several thousand dollars we had to pay. We paid it.

5) We need a house. Before I was married, or even seriously dating Missy, I rented a 2 bedroom duplex. It’s a real nice place, for a single guy or small family, but 5 of us is really pushing it. All 3 girls have to share a bedroom which means the kids room has a bunk bed and a regular bed in it, sort of cramped when you add the other stuff in there too. The single car garage is great for Missy, but I have to scrape snow and ice off my truck whenever I want to drive somewhere. The basement is unusable because it is filled with the leftover stuff from merging two households, my kitplane cannot even be reached, so that project sits dormant. The house is cluttered because we have too many people and too much stuff in too small an area. My home office is in our bedroom, and I work about 80 hours a week, about half of that while Missy is trying to sleep. The 1987 IBM M keyboard I refuse to give up does not help any. Like I said, we need a house.

It Only Took 13 Years…

Hard to believe that an accomplished computer programmer with a flare for writing and speaking his mind managed to somehow take 13+ years to create a blog. Well I was busy, yes, since 1995.

I have always thought I preferred to maintain my own web site ( and that whatever I wanted to say I would say there. Why not? Doing that means I have complete control over the look and feel, content, programming language, servers, etc. True, I have all of those things, but it’s a real pain in the ass. Oh let me count the ways…

Hosting your own web site means you have to have and maintain the hardware (server) required to do it. I have plenty of machines around that are capable of hosting a simple site like ToddTown, so that is not really a problem. In fact, runs in a virtual machine (VMWare Server) on the same computer that hosts my Windows Media Center, as well as a bunch of other stuff. It is a very powerful Intel Quad Core computer that I built myself and is more than up for the task. Other than doing 300MB downloaded updates from Microsoft every Tuesday for Windows Vista Ultimate and Windows Server 2003 (in the virtual machine), this is pretty easy. Yeah, I know this is odd, combining a Media Center with an Internet Server, but it works well and I get the most bang for my buck doing it this way.

Charter Communications; Other than Experian, TransUnion and EquiFax, I doubt there is any other company out there that I hate as much as Charter. To host your own web site (and email server), they make you pony up for their ‘business class’ Internet. This is basically a way of getting a static IP address that allows inbound connections, which allows you to easily host web and email servers. You get a little bandwidth, much less than residential customers get, for $120 per month with basic cable TV service, and are committed to 3-year contracts. The ‘business class’ service is no more reliable than residential, with at least 2-3 hours a month of downtime. This is okay for a lightweight personal web site, but I sure could not see hosting a real business site using Charter. Charter has no clue about reliable Internet connections. Hell, they only provide a single DNS server, no backup, so when they are doing maintenance on it, I cannot even get out to the Internet. Of course our phone (AT&T) is also done through this connection, so when Charter is down, so is our phone. The small amount of bandwidth I get easily gets bogged down, which can make phone call quality sporadic as well.

We are planning to move this summer into a real house, one that we own. I am not planning to take Charter with me. I will either go DSL, or if that is not a option, I will have to keep Charter, but will only pay for residential Internet service. I plan to get DirecTV for television, which I have not had for years, but miss. Look, I don’t give a rats ass about the fight between the NFL Network and Charter, they are both greedy assholes in my book, but I am tired of missing Green Bay Packers games because those two cannot work out their differences.

Damn, I knew that would happen. I start talking about one thing and end in a rant about something totally different. Well, that’s what you can expect on my blog. The next battleground here is going to be about credit scores and credit reporting agencies, and the education I have (involuntarily) received in the last several weeks.