How Debt Service Prevents Financial Prosperity

Understanding what debt costs.

Last night, in the middle of the night, U.S. Senate Republicans voted in a tax bill that would add an estimated $1.4 trillion to the deficit over the next 10 years (per the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report). The bill was long with many handwritten amendments and no one was given enough time to read and comprehend the entire thing. There was no debate in the Senate; Democrats were not even allowed to ask for enough time to read it all. Despite all this, almost every single Republican voted in favor of the bill.

Democrats did not. I like to think it’s because they want to fully understand something they vote in favor of, which I double many Republicans did. Or perhaps they actually believed the data in the CBO and Joint Tax Commission reports, which both indicated that the middle class would be harmed by the bill for the benefit of the wealthiest of Americans — many of whom just happen to be the biggest donors to Republican candidate campaigns.

All politics aside, however. This blog post isn’t about politics. It’s about the financial impact of living in debt.

My Qualifications

Before I dive into the numbers, let me take a moment to explain what makes me qualified to write about this.

First, my education and early work experience. I graduated from Hofstra University with a BBA with Highest Honors in Accounting. From school, I went right to work with the New York City Comptroller’s Office — and no, that’s not a spelling error — Bureau of Financial Audit. My job was to audit various organizations that had contractual agreements with the City of New York. I started as a Field Auditor and, within two years, became a Field Audit Supervisor responsible for overseeing up to 13 auditors. When it became apparent that the only way to move up in the Bureau was for someone to retire or die, I moved into private industry. I wound up in the corporate headquarters of Automatic Data Processing (ADP) where I was a Senior Auditor and then a Senior Financial Analyst. I audited various divisions of the company all over the country and later crunched numbers for executives who needed numbers to say certain things.

Second, my own experience with debt. It happened right out of college when I got my first credit cards. It was easy to buy things so I did. Trouble is, I had a lot of credit cards and I carried a balance on all of them. After a while, I could only afford the minimum payment on most of those cards. And if there’s one thing you must know about credit card debt is that it will take years to pay off a credit card if you only send in the minimum payment every month. I learned this lesson the hard way. I was able to avoid bankruptcy by simply cutting up the cards, reducing my spending, and putting more money toward my balances until they were all paid off. These days, I only have two credit cards — one for personal use and one for business use — and I pay the entire balance in full every single month before the due date. (More on the amount of money this saves in a moment.)

Third, my second career as a freelance technical writer. Writing 80+ books gave me plenty of experience explaining somewhat complex topics to readers. Among my books are about 10 editions of Quicken: The Official Guide for Osborne/McGraw-Hill. We wanted a book that went beyond simple software how-to and actually provided good financial advice for readers. I wrote sidebars and created downloadable worksheets for readers to use to help them improve their financial situation. A lot of them dealt with debt. (More on this in a moment.)

So yes, I know a little about finance and debt and I have the skills to write about them. If you need to learn, read on and be educated. If you think you already know what I have to say, read on and let’s compare notes in the comments section that follows. Fair enough?

Debt Service

The online Financial Dictionary, has several definitions for debt service. I like the second one because it applied to both businesses and individuals:

The amount of money required to make payments on the principal and interest on outstanding loans, the interest on bonds, or the principal of maturing bonds. An individual or company unable to make such payments is said to be “unable to service one’s debt.” An example of debt service is a monthly student loan payment.

So let’s take that student loan payment as an example — especially since student loans are in the news so much these days.

I was fortunate; I only had to borrow $5,000 and I had 10 years to pay it off. My payments were about $60 per month. (And no, I won’t tell you how long ago this was.)

Let’s do the math on a more realistic modern example. Suppose you graduated from college with $50,000 in student debt. While there are many types of repayment plans, let’s go with a simple one: 12 years at 5% interest. This spiffy loan calculator template in Excel does all the math for you on monthly payments, and interest paid:

Loan Example
Not only does this Excel template calculate the amounts for a loan, but it charts the percentage of interest in your debt service.

In this example, your debt service for this loan would be $462.45 per month for 144 months. Over that time, you’d pay off not only the $50,000 you borrowed, but an additional $16,592.11 in interest.

Now imagine you have a Visa card that you just used to pay for a much needed — in your opinion, anyway — vacation to the Caribbean. You’ve got decent credit and the issuing bank gave you a $10,000 line of credit. But when you called to ask if you could raise that limit, they graciously popped it up to $14,000 — which is a great thing because you managed to charge up $8,459 on top of the balance you were already carrying for that big screen television you bought for the Super Bowl and last year’s trip to Hawaii. Now you’re looking at a balance of about $12,500. But when the bill comes, you’re relieved to see that the monthly minimum payment is only $273.33 per month.

But let’s take a moment to take a closer look at the numbers. As this extremely helpful Minimum Payment Calculator explains, credit card companies calculate your minimum payment based on either a percentage of the balance or your interest plus 1%. (You can get the details for your credit card in the fine print in your bill or credit card agreement. You did read that, didn’t you?) For this example, I used the details for my Chase Amazon Visa card: currently 14.24% interest (tied to prime so it could change at any time) plus 1% of the balance plus any interest, late fees, or unpaid amounts due. If all that adds up to less than $25, then my minimum payment is $25.

Minimum Payment
The minimum payment calculator explains just why it’s so dumb to send in just the minimum payment on your credit cards every month.

Going a step farther with the math on this, you’ll learn that it will take 305 months to pay off the debt if you only pay the minimum payment. Why is that? Simple: each payment you make goes mostly to pay off interest so the debt is reduced at a very slow rate. If you stopped using that credit card and paid just the minimum payment every month for 305 months, you’d pay nearly $14,000 in interest on the original $12,500 debt.

Minimum Payment
The CFPB — yeah, that’s the government agency that Trump says is hurting banks — added what’s in the red box to every credit card bill in an effort to educate consumers about credit card debt.

A side note here. Because so many people don’t understand this, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was created during the Obama administration in part to help protect consumers from deceptive lending practices, began requiring credit card companies to make it clear how long it will take to pay off your credit card with just the minimum payment each month. Here’s an actual image from one of my Amazon Visa statements.

If you put all this together, you can see why it’s easy to get bogged down in debt when you have a bunch of credit cards and only send in the minimum payment. The debt never goes away unless you pay more than the minimum and stop using the credit cards.

Remember this: The money you spend on debt service is money you can’t spend on anything else. It should be considered mandatory spending, not discretionary. This is an important concept to keep in mind, not only for this discussion but for the way you manage your personal or business finances. The more debt you have, the less choices you have on how to spend your money. And the less money you’ll be able to save to get ahead.

Paying Down Debt

One of the things I recommended in my Quicken books was to pay more than what’s due on a debt — especially a large debt like a mortgage or a high interest debt like a credit card or consumer loan. That spiffy Excel template I showed earlier makes it easy to do the math. Suppose you pay an additional $100 per month toward that loan. Here are the results:

Loan Example 2
By sending in an additional $100 per month in this example loan, you can knock nearly 3 years off the term and save about $4,000.

Of course, it isn’t always easy to send more to pay down a loan. Maybe you can’t do it every month. But sometimes you can. Maybe you’ve sold a motorcycle you never ride for $1000 or got a $1500 holiday bonus. Or maybe this month’s commissions were better than expected. Send the extra money to a debt you want to pay down. It will make a big difference.

True story: When I was married, I was in charge of household finances. Whenever there was extra money in our joint checking account, I put that cash towards our mortgage. The result? We paid off our 15 year mortgage in 11 years, savings thousands of dollars in interest. (Yes, at the age of 50, I actually owned my home. And here’s a secret: I own the home I’m in now, too. Life is very good without a mortgage payment.)

My final piece of advice about personal credit is this: there is no reason to have more than one or two credit cards. Cut up the department store and gas credit cards. Get yourself down to just one or two MasterCard/Visa accounts. These cards can be used anywhere and some of them will earn you nice points or rebates. My Amazon Visa accumulates dollars I can spend on Amazon and, since I buy a lot of stuff there, I use them as they are accumulated. My AOPA MasterCard earns rebate dollars I apply to my account. Neither card comes with an annual fee and I pay balances in full every month so I don’t pay interest. This is free money, folks. It takes a lot of willpower to spend only what you can afford to pay off every month, but it is possible — I’ve been doing it for about 15 years now. Keeping your debt under control is the best way to stay financially secure when weathering unexpected hardships.

The Big Picture

What prompted this particular blog post is the news that the new tax plan will add an estimated $1.4 trillion (with a T) to the budget deficit. To understand what that means, let’s look at what a deficit is.

According to the Financial Dictionary, a deficit is:

A situation in which outflow of money exceeds inflow. That is, a deficit occurs when a government, company, or individual spends more than he/she/it receives in a given period of time, usually a year. One’s deficit adds to one’s debt, and, therefore, many analysts believe that deficits are unsustainable over the long-term.

(Again, I like that second definition because it applies to government, businesses, and individuals.)

Let’s look at an individual first. Supposed your take-home net pay is $3,000 per month. Every month, you pay $1200 for rent, $250 for utilities, $500 for groceries, $462 for your student loan, $100 for gas for your car, $80 for car insurance, $273 for your credit card-funded trip to the Caribbean and other stuff, and a total of $195 in payments toward your other credit cards. That’s a total of $3,060. Without even accounting for small miscellaneous expenses, pocket money, and the countless things I didn’t think to include here, you’re already running a $60 per month deficit. (Good thing your health insurance is a benefit that’s already taken from your paycheck; some of us aren’t so lucky and have to pay that out-of-pocket, too.)

So you increase your debt with cash advances or payday loans to see you through to the next month. Or maybe you’ve got some savings and you’re dipping into that to make up the difference. But eventually you’ll max out your debt and your savings will run out. What happens when it does? What happens when your monthly expenditures exceed income and you simply can’t pay what you owe anymore? Eviction, auto repossession, bankruptcy, homelessness. These are all possible.

This is the little picture — what happens when one person has a deficit. It’s easy to imagine it on a larger scale, like for a business. Think of a local retail business. The owner has to invest a bunch of money up front to set up the store with fixtures and get it properly decorated. He might have gotten a loan for that. Then more money to buy inventory. Rent, utilities, advertising, insurance. Then employees, with or without benefits but certainly with wages and employment taxes. He’s already at a deficit before he opens his doors. The business opens and he slowly builds a customer base. But what happens when/if revenues don’t cover monthly expenses? Or if a Walmart moves into town and half of his customers decide to shop there instead? More loans can help in the short term, but as the definition of deficit that I quoted above says, “many analysts believe that deficits are unsustainable over the long-term.” Of course they aren’t. When you spend more than you take in, you will eventually lose the ability to pay for what you’re spending.

CBO 2017 Budget Numbers
The CBO 2017 Budget numbers.

Now let’s look at the very big picture: the United States economy. The Congressional Budget Office has the numbers for 2017; the U.S. government spent $700 billion more than it took in for 2017. That means that the government added that $700 billion to its debt. And, according to the CBO, the country now has $14.7 trillion (yes, with a T) of debt.

(Suddenly, that $12,500 of credit card debt doesn’t seem so bad, eh?)

It’s hard to imagine $14.7 trillion in debt, but a few infographics show its impacts. First, here’s one from the CBO for 2016:

CBO Income and Expenditures for 2016
The CBO prepared this infographic for 2016. Can’t read it? Click here to download the big picture in PDF format.

I know it’s hard to read here — I had to reduce it to get it to fit in my blog page format. (You can download a PDF that’s easier to read.) What I want to draw your attention to is the number at the top of the chart on the left: Net Interest: $241 billion. So in 2016, the U.S. government spent $241 billion dollars on interest for its debt.

This next chart puts interest paid in perspective to various categories of spending. It’s from the National Priorities Project and is based on Office of Management and Budget (OMB) numbers for 2015. You can find it on the site’s Federal Spending: Where Does the Money Go page. I assume that this data is updated regularly, so if you’re reading this in the future, you may see different numbers. Here’s the spending chart that illustrates my point:

Total Federal Spending 2015
Here’s a breakdown of spending based on actual services provided. I think it’s tragic that the United States spends more money on interest for its absurd debt levels than it does for vital services that really can make America great again: education, energy, science, and food and agriculture, to name a few.

My point is this. Because we’re so deep in debt — and have been for a very long time now — we spend a huge amount of money just paying interest on our debt. That money could be going to education or health care or science. It could be doing so many things that actually benefit the American people — just like the interest on your credit card debt could be paying for a gym membership that might make you healthier or piano lessons that could develop your kid’s talent for music. Or any number of things that could make you or your family’s life better.

Why Are We Making this Worse?

These are the numbers. I know I’ve presented data from three different years, but it really doesn’t matter. We’ve been in this deficit/debt situation for a very long time now. Despite efforts to reduce the debt with a budget surplus as President Clinton managed to do during his term, the situation gets worse every year.

And now the Senate has approved a tax plan that will cut taxes for big businesses and the country’s wealthiest individuals, banking on a disproven “trickle down effect” to bring up the economy as a whole so more taxes can be collected. The CBO has already said that this budget will increase the deficit by $1.4 trillion over the next 10 years. Can we really afford debt service on that? What will we be giving up in order to pay interest on that debt?

Personally, I’m sick of Fox News-brainwashed right wingers complaining about Democrats increasing the deficit and debt. The truth is here for anyone interested in knowing it: the Republicans are even worse about budgeting. Last night’s ill-informed vote on a hastily prepared tax plan proves it.

Americans already pay among the lowest tax rates for individuals in a developed nation. We pay taxes for a reason: to pay for the services we get. When my house catches fire, I want the fire department to show up. When I drive to Seattle or Portland or Arizona, I want to drive on smooth roads and cross bridges that won’t collapse. If I had kids or grandkids, I’d want them to go to a school where the teachers were well paid, happy, and effective. I want the FDA to make sure the food and medications I take are safe. I want the FAA to make sure the planes I fly in are safe and that pilots I share the sky with are properly trained and certificated. I want to be as proud of my country today as my parents were when we put the first man on the moon.

US Taxes Compared to World
Pew Research study of U.S. taxpayer burden in 2015 compared to other developed nations. Get the details here.

None of this is possible without the revenue to cover the expenses of these services. Revenue comes from taxes. I’m willing to pay my fair share and I know that many others are, too. Why is that so hard for Republicans to understand?

As a fiscally responsible individual, I want this deficit budgeting to stop. Don’t you?

How can we ever expect our country to become “great again” if we throw away so much money on debt service?

My MATE Bike: The Wait is Finally Over

It’s a nice bike, but I honestly can’t recommend it. Here’s why.

Way back in September 2016, I blogged about ordering a MATE foldable electric assist bicycle. It was offered through an Indiegogo crowd funding project. The makers wanted to raise $60,000. They wound up raising over $6.1 million.

From Copenhagen my ass
The Overview of MATE’s Indiegogo campaign, which still appears on the Indiegogo site. From Copenhagen? Not exactly.

And that’s where everything went south.

The Delays

If you’ve come to read a review and don’t want to read my whining complaints about delays, damaged parts, and customer service issues, click here to skip ahead. But if you want the whole story from an actual funder, keep reading.

You see, they sold a lot of bikes — apparently enough to make them cheaper in China. So they sent the project there and spent months working with a Chinese manufacturer to get the bikes made. This added huge delays to the project. I was originally supposed to get my bike in September or October 2016, which would have been in time for my annual migration south. But instead of a bike, I got numerous progress report emails that apparently went out to everyone in my situation all over the world. Emails about new features available. Emails about working through design bugs. Emails about picking a color. Every few weeks, there would be another one, but none of them would specify a delivery date.

I went online when directed and set up an account on the Mate website. I picked a color (red). I changed my shipping address to where I’d be that winter. Later, when I left Arizona, I changed my address back to my home address. I reviewed my invoice to see if I had to pay any VAT tax (I didn’t) and tried to understand the confusing instructions about finalizing payment (I had paid in advance — over $1,000).

Months went by. When the emails came, I’d scan them to see if there was any delivery date. There wasn’t. These people wasted a lot of words on email messages that talked a lot about progress but delivered nothing.

I emailed them. I got canned responses about them being busy dealing with the amazing response to their incredible bike. I seldom got any response from a real person and, when I did, it didn’t answer my questions about when the bike would arrive.

After a while, I started to think the whole thing was a con. I contacted a friend of mine in New York who had bought one. He didn’t have any more information than I had.

More Problems with Shipping

Finally, in August 2017 — yes, eleven months later and at least nine months after the the original expected ship date — my bike was shipped. I got an email message about it and was hopeful. But if I’d read the message more closely, I would have anticipated the phone call I got from my friend in Arizona. The bike had been shipped to his house.

I went online. I looked at my record on their website. There was a billing address and a shipping address. My address in Washington appeared in both places. The Arizona address did not appear anywhere.

But now there was a 50+ pound box for me sitting in Arizona.

By some miracle I was able to get someone in MATE’s Customer Service who put me in touch with a woman in California who dealt with shipping. She had a Chinese accent. I suspect that she worked as a shipping agent for the Chinese manufacturer. She was very apologetic. After some back and forth by phone and email, she sent me a PDF for a UPS shipping label. I sent it to my friend. He printed it, stuck it on the box, and brought it to UPS for me.

“By the way,” he told me in a text, “the box is pretty beat up.”

Mate Shipping Box
My MATE finally arrived at my home in August, eleven months after paying for it.

The box was still beat up when it arrived and I made sure the UPS driver noted the damage. I took a photo of it before I opened it. The brown outer box fit snugly around a MATE inner box — the same kind of packaging Apple uses to ship computers. That inner box had some dings but nothing had fallen out.

A Damaged Part

The next day, I set about assembling the bike. It was mostly assembled; just a few pieces had to be put on. Putting on the front tire was Step 1. For some reason, however, I couldn’t get it on.

That’s when I realized that the front fork was bent. Badly. As if it had been crushed.

In all fairness, the packing job looked good. There was lots of foam and everything was secured with plastic wire ties. Everything fit tightly in the box; nothing had rattled around during shipment.

The damage to my fork, however, had likely been caused by a crushing weight. Whether it happened before the bike was packed or when it was put into the container or while it was moving across the ocean or when it was removed from the container or when FedEx or UPS shipped to to my friend or me is something I’ll never know. And frankly, I don’t care. The bike arrived damaged and was useless.

Knowing how bad MATE’s customer service was, I took the bike to two bike shops in Wenatchee to see if they could fix the fork. Biking is a big sport here and we have two excellent bike shops right in town. They both said the same thing: the fork was too badly bent and I needed a new one.

Crap.

I contacted my friend in New York. His bike had arrived damaged, too, but not as badly as mine. They’d been able to get the wheel on, but he admitted that it had been wobbly. I don’t think he was impressed.

Of course, there was no customer service phone number. The woman I’d worked with on the shipping issue could not help. I emailed MATE. About a week later, I got a message telling me to fill out a form on their website. I did.

Then I waited.

And waited.

I went online and filled out another form. I included photos of the damaged fork, as instructed. And I waited.

And waited.

I started sending emails to the same address I’d been communicating with. I got no response. None.

Meanwhile, I’d begun following @Mate_Bike on Twitter. When someone tweeted a photo of their new headquarters with a bunch of MATE bikes parked out front, I went ballistic. I’d helped pay for those headquarters and I had nothing to show for it other than a bike I couldn’t assemble. I tweeted a nasty response.

Any time @Mate_Bike retweeted someone’s praise for the bike, I’d reply that they were lucky to get one that worked. I was going to be the squeaky wheel, making sure that other folks knew about the crappy customer service I’d been getting.

And it worked. After a few tweets, I got a direct message (private tweet) from MATE. They were looking into my problem.

More time went by. I kept tweeting. I began using direct messages to nag them. I still can’t believe it was necessary to be such a whiney bitch.

But it was apparently the only thing that worked. I finally got a message saying the part had been shipped. I asked several times for a tracking number and after a week or so they sent me one.

And then, two full months after the bike arrived damaged, the new fork arrived.

Yes, I waited two months for them to replace a damaged part.

Assembly

I took the bike, which was back in its box, and the new fork to one of the bike shops in town and told them to assemble it for me. I was tired of screwing around with it. If there were problems with other parts — which was possible since I hadn’t been able to get past step 1 of the assembly instructions — I hoped they could deal with it.

They did. The fork arrived partially crushed but they were able to repair it well enough to put it on the bike. They got the bike assembled and even took it for a test ride, although they didn’t seem able to figure out how to get the motor running. (They thought that something needed to be in the USB port on the computer to turn it on; in reality, the port is provided to provide battery power to a mobile phone or other device.) They did, however, charge it up for me. So when I returned the next day, in pouring rain, I had a working bike.

Not a moment too soon. It was Friday. I was due to leave on my two-week autumn vacation south on Sunday. One purpose of the trip was to reposition my truck and camper in Arizona for the winter. If I didn’t get the bike on board my truck before I left, I wouldn’t have it with me for my big winter vacation.

Of course, it was raining like hell all day Friday so the only place I could test ride it was inside my garage. My garage is big, but not really big enough to test out a bike. Because I was kinda sorta hoping to leave on Saturday, I folded the bike up and packed it in the truck that morning.

First Test Ride

It wasn’t until Monday, at an autumn leaf strewn campground along the Salmon River in Idaho that I got a chance to finally test it out. The campground roads were paved and there was only one other camper around. I pulled it out of the truck, unfolded it, inserted the key in the lock, and turned it on. I turned on the computer display. I got on and started to pedal.

The electric assist gave me a little push between pedals. I dialed it up to help more and it did. I dialed it down to help less and it did. I used the “throttle” lever and let the electric motor do all the work.

Yes, the bike worked as advertised. And from what I’d seen so far, I liked it.

Mate Bike
Here’s my MATE bike, parked after my first real ride in an Idaho campground. Does that look red to you?

Of course, I couldn’t seem to set the on board computer to display distance in miles instead of kilometers. I tweeted to MATE about that and was shocked to get a fast response with an image laying down step-by-step instructions for getting the job done. When I finally got around to trying them a few days later, they worked. (Unfortunately, when I tried them again to change the bike’s maximum speed, I couldn’t get back into the settings. I shut the bike down with the key and tried again in the morning; it worked. Go figure.)

The Big Test Ride

I put the bike through its paces on Sunday. I was winding up the traveling portion of my vacation and my last night on the road was in Natural lBridges National Monument in Utah. I found a campsite in their very pleasant campground but the parking area was so small I had to unhitch the boat I’d been towing for the past week and leave it parked on a gravel area near one of the restrooms just so I could back the camper in. Once I was parked and semi leveled, I wasn’t interested in moving the camper. So I decided to take a bike ride through the park. I knew there was a paved loop road with overlooks and figured that the bike should be able to handle it.

When my campground neighbor saw me getting on the bike with Penny in my backpack, he asked if I was doing the loop road. I told him I was.

“It’s nine miles long,” he told me. “And it has some pretty steep hills.”

I told him the bike had electric assist and should be able to do it. I sure hoped it would. The return trip was uphill and I had no desire to walk several miles rolling a bike with a dog on my back.

It didn’t take long to fully understand the power assist feature. It has six levels of assistance: 0 (none) to 5 (the most). It seemed to work at certain speeds (depending on the setting) when I pedaled down on the left pedal. So it was like a pulsing timed with my pedaling. Kind of annoying, frankly.

The model I bought also has an independent throttle that I can use whether I pedal or not. That’s limited to the speed you can set in the computer. (Which is why I wanted to try to change it; it was too slow.) It seems to have plenty of pep on level ground and gentle uphill climbs. But when roads get steeper — as the loop road did — the motor can’t seem to keep up. I soon learned that if I kept the bike in top gear (7) and pedaled while using the throttle, I could keep the speed above 15 miles per hour and not get fatigued with pedaling.

The trip computer crapped out on me once during the ride. It registered zero speed and the odometer didn’t click. I had to turn it off (thus turning off the electric motor) and then turn it back on to get it to work again. I have a feeling that the computer is going to be a problem in the future.

Going down hill with pedal power only is pretty fast. At one point, I had it up to 30 miles per hour, which probably wasn’t a good idea. But the bike is very solid and stable. It felt good, even at that speed. The brakes work well, although they do squeak a bit.

Mate at Natural Bridges
My MATE bike parked near one of the bridge overlooks at Natural Bridges National Monument. I’m thinking it’s orange.

I answered a lot of tourist questions about the bike when I stopped at viewpoints. My speed was almost enough to keep up with the people driving the road (where the speed limit was 15 mph) and making the same stops as me so I saw a lot of the people a few times. The bike obviously looks different and that starts conversations.

The battery seems to last well. It was fully charged a little over a week ago and I put nine miles on it Sunday after about two miles of screwing around with other short rides last week. When I finished on Sunday, four of the five battery level indicator bars were still solid. I can’t remember offhand how long MATE says the battery should last, but I’m sure I’ll get at least 25-30 miles out of a charge, even using the motor as much as I did on the loop road.

On ease of folding, I give it a 6 out of 10. The handlebars fold down and then the bike folds in half. There doesn’t seem to be any way to hold the two halves together; I use a bungee cord. Once the bike is folded, it’s awkward to roll. And it’s heavy — more than 50 pounds — so it isn’t very easy to lift in and out of the back seat area of my pickup truck, which is where it’s riding on this trip. I have learned to fold and unfold it right next to the truck door.

And the manual? Very nice looking waste of paper. It has very little useful information in it. I shouldn’t have to figure out how the bike works. The manual should explain it. And I shouldn’t have to use Twitter to get instructions for setting the computer with miles instead of kilometers. That should be in the manual, too.

Do I like it? Well, it meets my needs: it provides portable transportation that I can take with me in my truck, boat, or helicopter. The electric motor, if fully charged, will give me a good range on steep uphill climbs that I likely would not be able to pedal on my own. That means I don’t have to worry much about how far I might have to ride from, say, a landing zone to a local restaurant or motel.

But do I like it? I really don’t know yet. I don’t think I regret buying it, and that says a lot. But after talking to other people about electric bikes they’ve used, I’m not convinced this one was worth the wait and aggravation.

Customer Service is a Real Concern

Despite any level of satisfaction I have with the bike itself, customer service remains a serious concern.

What I want to know is where the customer service person who finally helped me with the fork issue and was so prompt with computer instructions was last year when I was waiting for my bike to arrive and two months ago when I first reported the fork problem. It’s almost as if it took the company fourteen months to set up a decent customer service department and even then, it only works through Twitter.

So no, even though I like the bike I honestly can’t recommend it to anyone.

Why would I? Until recently, I’ve had almost zero customer service. I can imagine recommending the bike to a friend and that friend having the same frustrating experiences I have had. And that friend coming to me and saying, “I thought you said this was a good bike?”

And don’t even get me started on the fact that when I dished out $1,000 for a bike thirteen months ago, I thought I was getting a bike made in Denmark. There’s no way in hell I would have bought the bike if I knew that manufacturing was being farmed out to China and I’d be waiting a year to get it.

This has been a big lesson for me about crowd-funding purchases. I realized that funding a project doesn’t mean you’ll get what you paid for timely. Or get any kind of acceptable customer service related to it. Or, in the case of Lily, an amphibious drone a friend of mine funded, it doesn’t mean that you’ll get what you paid for at all.

So even though I’ve now participated in three crowd funding projects through either Kickstarter or Indiegogo, I will not fund another one. Nothing is so amazing that I can’t wait until it hits the market to buy it from a real store with real support.

I just hope I don’t have any other issues with my MATE bike in the future.

Wells Fargo New Payee Scam

Another sloppy phishing attempt that might fool you.

My only interaction with Wells Fargo is the truck loan held by Wells Fargo Dealer Services. So imagine my surprise when I got a message from billpay@wellsfargo.com to confirm that a new payee had been added to my Bill Pay service.

Wells Fargo Phishing
Honestly, if you’re fooled by this and open the attached file, you should have your Internet privileges revoked.

Of course, it’s a scam. They want you to open the attached file. Malware is likely installed when you do so.

Don’t open attachments in email messages unless they are from someone you personally know and you are expecting the attachment.

This is pretty sloppy, too. The message makes no sense. But all they need is for people not paying attention to open the file. Then they’ve got another victim. Don’t let it be you.