Tag Archives: Credit Card

Uber vs. Taxi

Uber vs Taxi. It is a fight that is happening in all major US cities and many European cities as well. Here’s a story from my personal experience. Just throwing it out there…

When travelling for work, it makes sense (financially) to take a cab/Uber to the airport if I’m staying for longer than 8 days. From experience I know I pay around 150 USD (including tips, 2-way) for being driven, and parking at DFW costs 20 USD/day. So 8 is the ‘tipping’ point for me in deciding to drive myself or take a cab/Uber.

This time, I was out for 2 weeks, so I decided to not drive myself. Usually I use a cab driving to the airport, but this time I somehow forgot to reserve a car, so I ended up using my Uber app. usually Uber drivers are very nice and you have great conversations with them. This guy… not so much. He had his radio really loud on some Muslim praying channel in Arabic or some Middle East language. I do not like people forcing me to take part in their religious (or other) believes, but I figured I would survive the 30 min trip. Uber apparently has fixed fees driving to the Airport, and I ended up paying 75 USD (For a ‘Black Car’, the classic Uber). Which is the second highest fare I ever paid going to the airport from my apartment. Goodbye myth of Uber being cheaper than cabs!

On my return, I decided to get a cab, because that is what you do getting out of the airport. The driver and airport guy were joking about something about the tire… which made me not feel comfortable. Unfortunately nobody else was waiting for a cab, and since this is ‘first come, first serve’ I had no choice. The cab driver ended up being a Kurd, thanking the Belgian government for their involvement against ISIS. “Your accent is from Europe, no? What part?”. Not a lot of good words for the Turkish government. “Oh I need to get gas, I will stop meter”… (OK… could you not get gas before picking people up at the airport?… whatever). We continue and when I get at my apartment I pay with my Wells Fargo visa card. “Ooh Wells Fargo, they lost me lots of money! I not trust them!”. (Ok… weird, but whatever). Then he adds some bullshit about that he needs my phone number as a prove of ID otherwise they are not paying him. I’m already thinking to put a fake number on that paper (because that is just plain weird), but I’m tired and before I know it I have my real number on there. He gives me his card in case I need a reservation in the future, and urges me to contact my government “to do more for the Kurds”. It is late, and I am already just happy that I’m home.

Waking up this morning, I think about all the things that happened and start searching the internet to check why on earth they need a phone number. The reason is simple: to commit credit card fraud in your name.  Yup, that shit again. I called the guy (from his card that he gave me), it is voice mail. I tell him that I want him to remove the number from the paper. (I’m not sure if he is the one going to scam me, or if it is his boss that is basically abusing him to scam me), and that I want him to send me the name of the person asking for that information, so that I can go to the police. Let’s see if I ever get anything back. In mean time, I have blocked my card again. And Wells is going to send me a new one in 10 days.

So all in all, even though Uber being cheaper is a complete myth (we figured that out in New York last weekend as well), at least it is safe. You do not need to worry about credit card fraud, these cars are tracked all the time and that makes it so much safer. You can give your driver a bad rating if they decide to get gas while they are driving you, etc. The main argument taxi services have against Uber, is their price (“unfair competition”); but that seems a myth. So why are we still having this discussion? Uber is a perfect addition to the market, and should in the end raise the standards of cabs. I feel like it is much easier to become a taxi driver, than an Uber driver, given the quality of drivers I have had. Even though Uber is not always perfect, on average it ranks a lot higher in my opinion.

Additionally, Uber can be used anywhere. No language skills needed (only a working internet connection on your phone).  If you are interested in using Uber, you can get a free trip up to $30 by using the following link (I will get the same as well, thank you for that) https://www.uber.com/invite/4ddz9



I know I write a lot about credit cards in this blog… It is one of those things that keeps surprising me… apologies for bringing this up again!

I’ve been travelling so much for work (and holidays) the past months, that I have come into issues with my credit card limits. Staying in hotels, rental cars, airfares, restaurants,… it adds up. My employer is really good at reimbursing expenses; I’m usually the one who takes too much time to expense all my notes in time. Anyhow, I’ve never really had issues paying off my credit card balance. Just like back in Belgium, I use my credit cards as an extension of my checking account, rather than as a loan. Since I’m using a very high percentage of my credit card limits, constantly (20%-80%), this has a negative impact on my credit history. So I thought, lets give the bank a call and let them raise my limits. Shouldn’t be that hard, right? After all, I do have 100% on-time payments.

Oh boy. I almost forget what I joke this is. Somehow they always make you feel like a criminal when you apply for a card, or raise of limit as was the case now. It’s just the way they talk. I explained the situation, but that of course did not matter. Answered some questions and the computer came back with a slight raise in limit (less than 20% of what I asked for). Whatever.

So now this is finished, the bank tries to sell me all kinds of other stuff. Apparently the ‘personal loan’ is an all-time favorite. “You can get really low rates”. I tried to be nice and explain to the lady at the other end of the phone, that I do not need a loan, I need limit to pay for travel costs. I have the money, I need a way to spend it. She did no sound like she understood what I meant.

A little ‘fait diverse’, without much consequences. I just thought that I had crossed the magical ‘Credit History’ line and I would just be able to get what I asked for (especially, since I do not feel like I’m asking for something I could not afford). I keep forgetting, the system does not care about what I can afford, it cares about what I used to pay off. But in a country where even the President’s credit card gets refused, what did I expect? :)


1 year USA

I am here for 1 year now. It is still fun and exciting, for example this month I got my first credit card approved (party!), I renewed my vehicle inspection sticker, I visited the DMV (changed the address on my car, they did not even ask my ID… I must have a very trustworthy face),…. yes, I do find those things fun and exciting! It is part of life here, and it is fun to feel part of life. The holiday feeling I’ve had the past year, is starting to fade a bit. Perhaps it will come back with the heat, we will see.

Some news in Dallas this week! The city council is banning free plastic and paper bags starting Jan 2015! This means we all have 9 months left to stock up on bags!

Dallas City Bans Free Bags

Also see 6 months in the USA

Credit Card Issues

By now most frequent readers of my blog know that one of my biggest frustrations in this country is related with credit cards; it is impossibly hard to get a credit card, which is an issue because america runs on credit. It is hard to imagine for Europeans, but literally everything here is paid with credit cards. It does not matter whether you are paying for a “$4,00+tax sandwich” or a “$1200-20% clearing discount + tax HD-TV”; you pay everything with credit cards. This includes the drinks you buy on Friday evenings.

Last Friday, I went to my favorite bar -The Old Monk-, met some new people of which I forgot most of their names (sorry!), had some fun. Around midnight we decided to go the another bar and ended up at the Dram, a fancy lounge-bar across the street. All good, met some more new people; had more fun, all was good… until the waitress came back with my bill… and a blue MasterCard -which did not have my name printed on it-…

I knew right away this was not good. I have only one credit card, and kind of have a lot of things to purchase the next weeks, so I could really not have the very hot blonde waitress loose my card right now. Unfortunately she did. They ‘looked’ for it, but did not recover it by the time the bar closed. As with any major crisis in the USA, the manager took action and came to apologize with me. They had reversed my last drinks (sadly I closed an earlier tab already) and gave me her number in case something was wrong.
The people I just met did the same; gave me their number in case I needed help with something, and I went home. Slightly drunk, but seriously frustrated.

I called the bank, locked my card. Refused to pay $16 to get my card within 3 business days. It takes them 7-10 business days to send a card someone else lost for me. Then I realized that all my utility bills get paid trough this card too, so I had to cancel all my recurring payments and replace them with other payment methods. It is kind of a miracle I thought about this at 4am on a drunk morning, but it probably saved me hundreds of dollars (in fees, un-reimbursed security deposits and interests) and a credit history hit that would take months to recover from.

Other than that… not much happened the past weeks. Or nothing I want to share with the internet anyway :-)

Edit Aug 3rd: I received a letter from the bank asking to call them about my credit card to verify account activity. I call, telling them all is OK, I’m just waiting for me to receive a new card. Funny thing… apparently no new card was on its way. They only locked it. So now they blocked my account and I will need to wait another 7-10 days to get my card… I thought I was pretty clear on that last week, so now I just lost another week. I really need to get a backup-card somewhere for when something like this happens again. Maybe I should try Macy’s again… although that didn’t work out too well last time :-) !
… aaaah credit history, it is a funny thing.

Foreigner in the mother country

Weird things happen when you move to another country. The weirdest feeling up till now, was going back to my mother country (Belgium) for business. I spend 2 weeks in a hotel in Belgium trying to use all my US stuff. My US credit card, US drivers license, US phone number (this failed, as you could read some posts ago). I found out that all the issues you encounter as a foreigner traveling to the USA, actually apply for Americans traveling abroad too. My credit card was rejected at gas stations because I lack a pin code, just as my Belgian card used to be rejected in the US because of lack of ZIP code (a colleague informed me that you can ‘skip’ this check by pressing zero (“0″), did not try it myself yet).
I got an automatic transmission car, as a real american, unable to do any shopping because stores are closed, working on a national holiday and no split bills. It is weird. You do not feel at home, yet everything feels very familiar.

I had a good time with friends and family in Belgium, but I really was happy to open the door of my Dallas apartment, go to a fast food restaurant and sleep in my own bed. Belgium may feel too familiar to be considered ‘abroad’, but ‘home’ definately is Dallas, Texas in the US of A.

Traveling for work

I cannot count the number of times I traveled abroad for work the past 4 years and this has never been a problem for me. I had my credit card, my passport and cellphone with me and never had issues.

So some weeks ago I am told I need to travel to Belgium for work. I think: cool, visiting my friends and family and getting paid for it. However then I start to think about what I need; my basic travel-kit: credit card, passport and cellphone. I cannot see the passport being a problem at all, but I start to wonder about the credit card. Credit cards need to be activated abroad before you travel. I’m sitting at the bank, using the clerks phone to call customer service and get the card activated for my travel destinations in Europe for the travel period. As everything in America, you cannot call the customer service without them activating all kinds of new programs for you. This time I apparently qualified for 1% cash-back on all my credit purchases. Fine, activate it (one wonders why they did not activate this before). This was not a very difficult task.

Then I figure, I cannot even call foreign numbers, so I need to get that fixed and activated too.
Now, Americans reading this should know the following: When you have a phone contract in Belgium, and you want to go abroad, all you need to do is not forgetting to take your phone charger with you. You just call and text and use roaming all you want. It may cost you a lot of money (especially the data), but everything simply works. If you are travelling a lot you can get special plans at reduced prices. Here I start chatting with one of the AT&T employees (they have some kind of weird messaging system, they sometimes feel like talking to bots) on how I can activate this stuff: Calling foreign numbers from the USA, calling US and other numbers from abroad. Now she transfers me to the ‘international calling’ department (the what? ok whatever…) and this guy explains to me that he cannot do this online and I need to call the customer service because my account is not active for more than 90 days. (eh what now? Well duh, I didn’t even live here 90 days ago)!
Now the customer service department can only activate this using a “special procedure”. He goes trough some security questions and at the end he said the result turned out false. So according to the ATT system, I am not me, which is very interesting given the questions he asked me. I also wonder who I am and who is supposed to pay that insane high bill I get from them every month.

Anyhow, I gave up and decided to go to Belgium without my phone. I guess I can still activate my old Belgian number again once I arrive and pretend not to have a US phone.
Why is this country making it so difficult for people to just do what they need to do? What can go so horribly wrong by activating a phone?
Every day is an adventure…

Week 1 & 2, in the USA

My colleague and team lead always said that “a hotel is the worst place to be sick”… but I trumped that during my first week in the US of A.

It all started fine on monday morning, slept well, got up at 5.30am (CET), my dad took me to the train station in Lille and I took the TGV to CDG airport for my ‘moving flight’ to the USA.

Took a taxi from DFW to the rental car office downtown (If you rent long term, it makes sense not to rent from the airport rental, since it is a lot less expensive; also it is cheaper to rent a car with a Belgian Drivers lisence, than it is using a US drivers license… A difference of 300$ for 25 days, weird). Anyhow, I cannot remember whether I paid the taxi using my Belgian credit card or cash, (see below why this matters). I got in the rental car office, used my Belgian credit card (the only one with enough credit limit -or so I thought-) and drove the car to my new apartment. Got the keys, checked the room, liked what I saw, tried to picture the size of everything and drove off to Best Buy a bit down the road to buy a GPS. Then got to the Hotel to check in (I took a hotel room for a day, because my apartment is empty at this point and I do not feel like sleeping on the ground/carpet). I have spend 60 days in this hotel in 2012, so the people at the reception recognized me and welcomed be back. I asked the receptionist if the ‘Full Breakfast coupon’ from last year was still valid, and she confirmed. I was happy, already thinking of the good food that awaited me the next day.

I took the day off the first day planning to get furniture, a mattress and other necessary stuff. I had a good breakfast and took off to the closest Target to buy basic stuff like toilet paper and forks, knifes,…
Got back to the apartment and suddenly started to feel sick… really sick… To cut a long story short, I spend the first 3-4 hours in my new home no further than 3 feet from my toilet. Then I fell asleep on the carpet (remember, I still have NOTHING whatsoever, except for -thankfully- toilet paper and some basic stuff like a glass to drink some water. I feel like shit and all I really want at this point is the comfort of a bed or sofa, a blanket and a pillow. I have none of that. My colleague and team lead always said that “a hotel is the worst place to be sick”… but I trumped that during my first week in the US of A. Being sick in an empty apartment, trumps everything and I do not wish it to anyone. After laying on the carpet for a few hours, I get a call from the rental office. Apparently there was a problem with my credit card and they needed me to get that fixed asap. I get up, walk around a bit, feel slightly better and decide to just go to the rental car office and get things over with.
We try several cards, none work (or better; none have sufficient credit limit). We decide to make the renting period shorter, and now it works. I promise to get back to them one of the following days once I have the credit resolved. It is now about 5pm, Needless to say that my objectives for buying furniture were not met. I do not want to go back to the hotel, and decide to go back to Target and buy a (camping) air mattress, pillow and some blankets to get trough the first days. I am going back to work tomorrow.

On Friday, I called my bank to raise the limit on my debit card (yes, there are limits on debit cards!?), and plan to go to the rental office in the weekend. Also, I got myself a contract with AT&T. I was expecting a huge discussion, but I just went into the shop at NorthPark, explained the situation (just moved here, already have an Iphone, want minutes, messages and 3gb of data on a monthly contract). In half an hour everything was fixed, including the transfer of my prepaid card to a monthly contract. I pay slightly below 100$/month. It is still crazy expensive compared to europe, but taking into account the regular contract is 240$/month I’m fairly happy with the monthly rate. Basically every half year I ‘save’ a new Iphone by using a monthly contract on an unlocked phone. I still wonder why so little Americans take this option. It is not that hard!
On a funny note, while I was walking to the shop, my Belgian service suddenly stopped. Perfect timing is what that is called! ( And again, many will wonder why I would take a contract with AT&T, well yes they are expensive but they are also to only one that allow you to surf and talk at the same time, and they have an extensive and reliable network).

Weekend! I get up early to go shopping, spend hours at several stores (Ashley’s, Rooms to Go, Ikea, Mattress Firm) On Saturday I actually left my apartment at 9: I go back to the rental office to extend my rental again to the original request. Weirdest thing, I have to pay a 10$ extension fee, but for some weird reason the total is suddenly less than the original request. I check everything, seems all OK so I just walk out again, happy this is resolved, and ask my GPS where the closest furniture store is. A nice salesman shows me around the store, explaining me all kinds of things, helping me choose the mattress I need. But, I cannot buy here just yet. That would be wrong, I need to check more stores. He understands, gives me his card and tells me that if I decide to buy there, I can get discounts up to 20%. Sounds good, but I forget to make notes of prices of the furniture; a rookie mistake I will not repeat. I check out several stores, all of them have huge sales. Basically everything is a reason for sales in the USA: Valentine sales, birthday sales, presidents day sales, Christmas sales, summer sales, special sales… you name it.
I left my apartment at 9am, and only got back at 10pm. I was in shops all day trying out, getting info, trying to get discounts (What? 0% financing, but no discount if I pay cash!? Are you trying to rip me off? -salesman looks weird, repeats: “no discounts for cash”, and I decide to leave the store-). Another funny comment a salesman gave me was: “look how strong this is! This is real wood, directly from the Indonesian rain Forrest! Cheap and strong, not like the European stuff!”; There is no way a comment like that would ever sell anything in Belgium, and I didn’t know if I should be amused, or ashamed for even considering that furniture.
I checked out 2 different Ashley stores, their prices were the same, but the type of discounts you could get was very different and made things hard to compare. At one shop I got free delivery and 10% discount, the other gave me 25% discount. My advice: Really do check several stores, even from the same brands; they might be operated very differently.
When I got back to my apartment, there was a huge storm, I have not seen many storms like that and it was pretty scary to drive. When it rains in Texas it rains like there is no tomorrow. Even a week later, some lower-grounds are still full of water.

I did not fall for the sales, I did the calculations and ended up buying at Ashley (bedroom, mattress and living room). I got a 25% discount from my salesman Scott (if you are in the Dallas area and want furniture, let me know I will give you his contact details, refer to me and you might get a discount like that too!). I paid cash in 100 dollar bills, which made people look funny at me. I had to explain to them that it is extremely difficult to get a decent limit on your debit/credit cards as a new immigrant in the USA. They thought it was pretty funny when I said: “It is more difficult to spend your own money here, than it is to spend money you do not have.” Funny, but also true.
The delivery of mattress was done a few days later. The other stuff is going to be delivered by the end of the month.
The next week my colleagues (they seem the closest to family I have around here) were so nice to drive to Ikea and help me buy a dining table, chairs, desk chair and some lamps. Too much stuff for me to carry on my own, and too much for my rental car to carry. It took me 4 days to build all the stuff and I am now really happy I did not buy everything at Ikea (they did not seem very cheap anyway compared to the other furniture stores).

I had to buy a TV, vacuum cleaner, iron, washing machine and dryer. I am still not convinced I actually need a dryer, but there is no possibility of a decent conversation on the topic, talking to Americans (I mean that in a very nice way), so I just bought one and got it over with. I bought all this stuff at Fry’s, their in-store service is -to american norms- horrible; I think I used an entire tree on papers to fill in between the departments. They also refuse to ship everything once you pay for shipping, they actually wanted me to pay twice because I had to many items! After threatening to just leave some of the items in the store if they did not deliver it, they proposed to get everything nice and save into my car. That was fine with me. (Dryer and washer were still delivered). Mediocre service, but comparing the prices of the stuff I bought on the internet and other shops, they were always cheaper. Sometimes small savings, sometimes huge. Still worth the trouble of filling in a zillion papers in the store.

To end my 2100-word post of the week (yes, you have been reading a lot if you got here!), I want to end with something typically american: My (Belgian) credit card got hacked and was used for all kinds of internet purchases. 1400 EUR (1800 USD) of sales I have nothing to do with. As I said in the beginning, I do not know if I paid the cab driver with this card. If so, he did it. If not, it was the rental car service. I have not had any issues for almost a year and I thought the chip would help, but as I found out just yesterday, you can actually purchase stuff on the internet with just your credit card number. Pretty scary. I hope I will get that money back, it is a lot of money… and I’m still wondering if I should go to the police office and file a complaint. It MUST be either one of these purchases, and the more I think about it, the renting office makes more sense given the dates and the ‘problems’ I had there.
Fraud happened between March 7th and March 13th. on the 13th my card was automatically blocked, a new card and code was sent to my Belgian address, but I only found it there was a fraud problem on March 19th. Why would the credit card company block my card, send a new one, but not inform me about what happened??? FAIL to BCC corporate, you should at least send me an e-mail and let me know. Calling Belgian card stop 070 344 344 was an awesome experience with a phone contract that does not allow you to call foreign numbers. I still need to fix that (and thank you again to my colleague who helped me out in the time of need!).

Many experiences… many more to come. Next big thing is getting a drivers license.
Oh, and last weekend was Saint Patrick’s day. The day religious Irish people celibate the extinction of snakes on the Irish Ile, and Americans celibate Irish culture with huge amounts of green beer. I will try and post something about this phenomenon some time later.

Almost there?

Step by step, we are getting there.

Last Friday I went to the Social Security Office to apply for my social security card. I had my SS-5 form ready, so armed with and all my papers (passport, I-94, employment contract proposal and my tablet) I went to the SSO. I expected this to be a pain, because that is what people told me it would be. I walked into a room with a lot of people speaking all kinds of languages, took a number, and sat there waiting for my number to be called. I started my tablet, to learn for my Texas drivers license while I was waiting and was ready for a few hours of waiting-game.
However, only 27 minutes later, my number was called. I gave the nice lady my papers, she typed everything over into her computer program (which is why I recommend filling in the PDF form before you print it, just like I did! It saves on spelling errors) and I was gone in 3 minutes.
I’m supposed to get my papers within 7-14 days. I just wish everything was as smooth as this process. *touch wood*

The past days, I also received my bank debit card, a nice letter asking me for my social security number in order to complete my credit card application (which I not have at the moment) and a weird letter about Debit Card Overdraft Service explaining to me that my debit card actually allows me to spend more then I have on my account and using this “service” will cost me money if I do not make a covering deposit the same day. Well duh.
The banking system in Europe and the USA are very different, yet both seem to have a weird need to send as many separate envelopes as possible. I guess it is a hidden subsidy to the national postal services.

The above reminds me of the letter a Belgian bank sent me last year to get their 43 eurocent of interest. The funny thing was that a postal stamp costs 56 cents and the account I was supposed to pay the 43 cent for was blocked and in debt due to their own miscalculation of value dates. They fixed it (for free), but I thought it was pretty funny they paid a 56 cents postal stamp to get 43 cents of income (and I’m not even calculating the cost of manpower, paper and ink).

Anyhow. The really weird thing -for me as a foreigner- I received from Wells Fargo is that my debit card comes with a “POS limit” (POS = Point of Sales) of 1500 USD. Basically this means I can only spend 1500/day with my debit card on sales. (Any European will find this extremely weird, as far as I know my Belgian debit cards limit is the amount of money on my checking account, I certainly have never had a blocked debit card). So , I send my personal contact person at the bank a nice e-mail asking him how they expect me to pay for furniture, electronics or a car with a 1500 USD limit debit card and no credit card at all (remember, the US uses credit history, which I do not have yet since I have no US history at all). He came back to me that I can simply let him know I’m planning to spend “a lot” of money and they will make sure it is OK. I understand why. If you steal my debit card in Belgium, you really cannot do anything with it without my pin-code. However, in the USA while you actually do have a pin-code (used to get money from ATM’s), you never need your pin when buying things at a random shop. Consequently, you loosing your debit card is a big deal. It’s funny and weird, but OK. If this is how it works, I’ll join this game and let the bank know when I go out shopping.

For your information (especially if you are also an immigrant like me), when you call Wells Fargo to active your debit card, at some point they ask you for your social security number (which you might not have at this point): Simply press start (*) and the voice message will just continue and not care that you didn’t enter it. I do not know whether this is a bug or a feature, I just pushed anything I could think of and it worked. :-)

Totally unrelated note while writing this post: Why on earth is Geico changing their cool green salamander (or whatever that thing is) into a pig???

On Edit 01/31/2013: Social Security Card is in!!! Next: Drivers License. I also found out that paying by Debit Card generates a direct update from your checking account here in the US. In Belgium you need to wait till the next day to see the changes, since the store payment terminals are updated “in batch”, in the USA it seems to be real-time. Kinda cool.