Look: I am eager to learn stuff I don't know--which requires actively courting and posting smart disagreement.

But as you will understand, I don't like to post things that mischaracterize and are aimed to mislead.

-- Brad Delong

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Problems with HowWhat

I would like to start a dialog with my fellow retirees about difficulties with HowWhat (name disguised, because I'm paranoid) and getting our pension statements and health care information to make sense. As of now, things are far less than perfect.

The people on the HowWhat help lines try, but they don't seem to know much, and from my experience and what has been reported to me, if you are on for more than a few minutes, or need to get put on hold, you run the risk of getting disconnected. At that point, many bad words are spoken.

Here are some facts I've discovered.

On the HowWhat web site, it will always show the Balance in your RHCA as $0.00. This is because they are not privy to the information in your RHCA at Merrill Lynch. Nothing on the HowWhat web site indicates this. Grrrrrr.

When you process a claim on that money, the HowWhat web site will indicate it as "disallowed" until the funds are cleared from ML. They should label it "pending" but would rather have you believe it is disallowed. Grrrrrr.

Now, about me.

I'm in a special circumstance, having hit my 62nd birthday, when everything changes, during the first month of retirement. Here is my experience. It's complicated, so I'm going to go through it in considerable detail, and try to avoid confusing either myself or you.

My first pension check was direct deposited on or about 1/1/09. So far so good. It appears that this check might be doubled to include both December and January pension payments, but I am not 100% certain that is correct. The check stub statement that I got in the mail is sketchy on helpful information. There is a better statement on line at HowWhat, but is also less helpful than it could be, and the numbers for withholding from the two sources do not exactly match.

If the payments classified as "1 Time" do, indeed, represent payment for December, then that much makes sense, though I wish they would actually say so definitively, and make it clear.

Now it starts to get dicey. At age 62 and 1 mo, the interim supplement goes away. If you're already 62, you never saw it, so never mind. If you're younger, this is in your future. For me, the supplement should be included for December and January, then go away, starting in February.

The supplement, which I've called $Int1, ought to be the total of the SERP change and the Basic Pension (BP) change which occur at 62, 1 mo. This part is weird. SERP actually goes up. For me, the bump is about 14%. On the other hand, Basic Pension is reduced. For me, it is a huge bite. Your mileage may vary.

So. $Int1 should = SERP delta + BP delta

Since SERP delta is negative in this reckoning, $Int1 should be less than BP delta.

But, in my January check, they paid me a value of $Int1 = BP delta.

Thus, they overpaid me by 2*SEPR delta, in the absence of other errors.

I didn't discover the discrepancy until I went to the HowWhat website and saw the payment detail for my March check. (As an aside, I'll mention that the detail for my February check is not available at this time. Grrrrrr.) The March check detail, which is available, indicates a substantial reduction, labeled "DB OverPmtDed," which I am deciphering as "debit overpayment deduction."

So I called HowWhat to find out what is up. The nice young man on the phone explained to me that I got overpaid in January. Since I had not yet done the above reconciliation of statements, this was a startling and disturbing revelation. He also explained to me that the Jan. check did indeed include Dec. But, this came after he thought it would be included in Feb. I asked him what my Feb amount would be, and he couldn't easily generate a number. Then we got cut off before he could give me any further explanations. Grrrrr.

Instead of calling back (I was spitting nails by this time) I wrote this.

In attempting to reconcile all of the above information, I discovered:

Tax withholding amount on the website does not match that on the check stub.
There is a lease car deduction withheld, which is almost certainly not the correct amount.
The amount of my January overpayment is different from any number I can generate with information at hand.

Also, if you have question on different topics, like health care benefits and pension, you will have to deal with different divisions at HowWhat. The same specialist will not be able to assist on both topics

I know other people are having difficulties getting sensible, correct information. Maybe we can help each other. Or at least offer crying shoulders.

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