Monday, July 21, 2008

Why I'm never opening my mailbox* again

Lest my blog seem to devolve into nothing but rants, I actually have a happy financial-services post in the works. But my train of thought on that was sadly disrupted by what I found in the mail today.

Thin envelopes. Three of them. Nothing else but three thin envelopes.

As we all learned back in the tense days of awaiting college-acceptance news, nothing good comes in thin envelopes.

Sure enough, my envelopes were lurking.

The first was from JPMorgan. Return service requested. "Important benefits information enclosed."

My financial life involves so many different accounts that I'm amazed I haven't overlapped yet on providers, but so far, each financial-services company remains attached to just one account. JPMorgan is the vendor for my old-job 401(k), the one that is mysteriously still vesting me nine months after I left.

This Lurking Thin Envelope from JPMorgan had just one page in it. The one-page letter opened: "This notice is to inform you about certain operational failures that occurred with respect to the [OldJob] 401(k) plan ..."

Operational Failures has to be one of the great euphemisms of our time.

The letter has three sections. A) The Operational Failures. B) The Correction Method. C) Comments. And what do they boil down to?

I have no earthly idea. My college minor was economics. I write and read words for a living. I spent 10 years as a beat reporter prying financial information out of swampy 10Ks. I have no idea what this letter is actually saying went wrong. It seems to involve "the timely remittance of certain deferral contributions" [deferred?, my internal editor inquirers] and "deferral contributions ... remitted to the Plan outside the statutory time frame required."

Ok. Having read the letter a half dozen times: It seems to be saying that from 1/1/2005 to 2/2/2007, contributions taken out of my paycheck were actually sent to JPMorgan later than they should have been.

It appears to be blaming this on OldJob's "outside payroll provider" (*cough* ADP *cough*), and indicating that "five participating employers" were affected.

Two things make this particularly amusing. One: This letter indicates the problem started in early 2005, but my OldJob didn't actually start using JPMorgan till early 2006. So, ok, the problem is definitely more widespread.

Two: I caught this. I started OldJob right around the time the company switched to JPMorgan. Since I didn't want to bother setting up a 401(k) with the old provider (Fidelity) only to move it within weeks, I waited till things were running with JPMorgan and simply opened my 401(k) account there. But four weeks or so after my first payroll deduction -- no 401(k). Six weeks in, contributions finally started showing up, but only for one paycheck's worth of contributions, not three. I was perturbed enough about this to call HR and ask if they knew what was up. I didn't want a month's worth of 401(k) contributions to vanish into the ether.

Just lag, they assured me. It'll catch up.

Not wanting to muck around with reconciling totals, I let it go, and trusted that 401(k)s were serious enough and regulated enough that no one would screw 'em up.

Oops/ha ha ha.

Anyway, the letter indicates that OldJob has "remitted to the Plan" all my "earnings for the applicable time period ... using the Department of Labor's Online Calculator under the Voluntary Fiduciary Correction Program."

Um, ok.

Fortunately, the last bit of the letter is designed for people like me who are going "er, I'm lost." It is a five-step guide on how to "view the amount that your individual 401(k) account has been credited." The steps are things like 1) go to site. 2) select plan. THIS, I can handle.

So, following the Five Steps, I find that for the period from 12/01/07 to 12/31/07, I was (under the DOL's VFC Online Calculator Calculations) shorted $1.86.

Having been made whole, I can now retire nanoseconds sooner!

(Okay, this is getting long, on to Part II for the second envelope, which bore far more catastrophic financial news.)

* Technically I don't have a mailbox. I have a table in the hallway where our landlords put our mail, after the mailman chucks it over the doorway gate. Maybe I can train the smarter of our two kittycats to fetch the mail so I don't have to risk these sorts of shocks again.