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Papal blessing not worth twice the cost

Updated: February 12, 2012 2:02AM



A blessed resolution

Dear Fixer: Last February, I sent in an application to the Vatican for a Papal Blessing for my in-laws’ 25th wedding anniversary. I included the required documentation, which included a letter from their parish priest. The parchment blessing document was supposed to arrive by May — plenty of time for the September anniversary. The check I sent for $45 was cashed in March.

I didn’t receive it. Twice, I wrote letters with a copy of the deposited check.

In October, the papal blessing finally arrived. However, I also received an invoice saying I owe 35 euros (about $46). I have already paid for the blessing. We did receive what we paid for, but now we need to get them to take away this incorrect bill.

David New, Chicago

Dear David:

You wrote The Fixer that you couldn’t believe you were “getting the runaround from the pope.” We’ll assume Pope Benedict XVI can take a joke (after all, he has been quoted as saying that God has a great sense of humor).

And we have some good news. After we sent your problem to the Holy See’s press office in Rome, Archbishop Felix del Blanco Prieto sent a very apologetic explanation. Apparently, they did mail the first parchment, but since they use regular mail, there was no way to track it after it went missing. Then they sent out the second parchment, but accidentally enclosed another invoice — which you may ignore.

He also explained that the parchments are not a money-making venture. Any offerings made in exchange for a parchment are used for charity.

Dear Fixer: I read with interest your recent column about the trial home-loan modification process and the problems with Bank of America, and it brought tears to my eyes.

That story could have been written almost word for word by me, except I have made 10 trial modification payments, have never missed a payment or been late.

Now, Bank of America is threatening to foreclose on my home, even though they have told me they have all my paperwork, complete and in order. No one will listen or help, and I am at my wit’s end to know what to do.

Unless I get help, my boys and I will be out on the street. Also, my credit report shows my mortgage as being delinquent because of the trial modification.

Chris Wandrey, Lisle

Dear Chris: It seems you’ve entered the wild world of “loan-mod limbo,” where consumers make payments hoping to get on the banks’ good side but never quite know where they stand. As we’ve detailed in this column before, problems like this are occurring with just about all the major banks. It seems no one was prepared for the crush of loan modification applications under the Home Affordable Modification Program. As a result, it’s not unusual to be left hanging for a year or more, wondering whether you’re really going to be able to save your home.

In your case, the problem was aggravated by your divorce combined with a job loss — and then a new job with lower pay. That’s a tough situation for anyone.

But we have some good news. Team Fixer was able to get Bank of America to take a closer look at your file. Soon after we contacted them, you said you got a call from the CEO’s office and they told you to disregard any foreclosure notices.

They were able to work out a new mortgage plan for you that began Dec. 1. Your mortgage payments will be modified to give you some breathing room until 2017. At that point, the interest rate will remain the same until the end of the loan. We’re hoping that by then, your finances — and everyone else’s — will be better.

More on loan-mod limbo

For more on loan-mod limbo, check out propublica.org, the nonprofit investigative journalism website. Another place for info is the National Consumer Law Center, which is suing several banks on behalf of consumers. They are at nclc.org.

Serving the customer,
but getting no help

And now, the latest installment in our ongoing discussion about the state of customer service, from an anonymous retail employee:

Dear Fixer: I work in retail, and customer service is stated as our No. 1 commitment. At the store I work at, all the employees are friendly and try to help people. There are times when you can’t satisfy the customer no matter what you do. We are expected to take our customer to the product they are looking for, greet every customer, etc. We are also expected to get our work done in our departments and work in other departments. We honestly don’t have enough time in each shift to do all that our company says we should do.

The bottom line is that the company preaches customer service but doesn’t give their employees enough time to actually do their jobs. This creates friction between management and employees and will trickle down to customer service. Companies are only looking at their profits; they don’t care about employees or customers, as long as both keep coming back.

Don’t look for customer service to improve anytime soon. At my company, even our support section for problems in the stores has been moved to a call center in a different country. As an employee, I can’t get good customer service from my own corporate office!

R.F.

COSTLY LESSON:
A consumer’s tale of woe

You know the cliche, “It is what it is”?

Well, when a used car is “as-is,” it really is what it is.

Which is not good for this week’s Costly Lesson protagonist, Cassandra of Lansing. Cassandra got ripped off on a used car purchase when she bought an “as-is” vehicle on the strength of a salesman’s pitch.

It happened last winter, when Cassandra bought a used 1995 Buick Park Avenue.

“I’m a single mom. I asked the salesman if was there anything wrong with the car and I was told nothing was wrong, that they service all their cars. So I trusted these people,” Cassandra wrote The Fixer.

“Two weeks later, the transmission was going out.”

And unfortunately, since the car had been marked “as-is,” Cassandra had no recourse.

The people at the dealership fixed the car — but they added the cost of the repairs to Cassandra’s loan.

“I drove the car for two months. After that, I started hearing a really bad sound coming from the motor,” Cassandra wrote. “The motor was about to lock up and the car has a major gas leak that’s going into the fuel pump. The passenger-side rear engine cradle mount bolts have pulled out of the frame, and the brakes do not work right. The pedal goes almost to the floor, then the wheels lock up. The frame is cracked and rusted out.”

To make matters worse, the dealer is hassling Cassandra over the now-larger monthly payment and talking about garnishing her meager income.

Unfortunately, “as-is” is what it is.

Under the Federal Trade Commission’s Used Car Rule, vehicles that are labeled “as-is” are sold without any warranty protection.

Another lesson from Cassandra’s expensive mistake is to never, ever, ever take a salesperson’s word about the condition of a used car. Always have an independent mechanic look it over, inside and out. An independent mechanic would have seen the mess under the hood of this car. Hiring a mechanic will cost you a little, but you’ll make it up by avoiding a clunker or by using the information to help negotiate down the price.

What is a Costly Lesson? It’s an UNFIXABLE problem that cost someone a lot of money but holds a valuable lesson for the rest of us. If you’ve got something to warn the rest of us about, e-mail szimmermann@suntimes.com with Costly Lessons in the subject line. And don’t worry — for Costly Lessons, we leave out last names to prevent further embarrassment.



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