Digital receipts for paperless living

In trying to live a relatively paperless lifestyle, I notice what options stores and restaurants offer for providing electronic receipts instead of paper ones.

My favorite kind is where you use a credit card or mobile payment method that some lower level of infrastructure already knows about and you automatically get an email receipt without further prompting. Square has a great implementation of this.

Slightly less awesome but still great is the version where you use a digital payment method and then have to enter your email address manually, even if you've used the same payment and receipt delivery method at the same location before (I'm looking at you, most American chain restaurants that have the little mini-computer waiting at the booth when people sit down). A bit annoying, but still paperless.

Then there's everywhere else where printing a receipt is probably the only option. Especially at the grocery store, where the receipt and personalized coupons are several miles long, requiring their own bag to carry out. And look, there I am a few days later, awkwardly holding a crumpled piece of paper up next to the networked super-computer on my desk, manually typing in some details that some other networked computer somewhere else already knows about.

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When you lose track of millions in taxpayer dollars

Alzando manosThe state of Indiana recently discovered it had lost track of $320 million in taxpayer dollars, payments collected from corporations over the last couple of years. This during a time when the state was cutting funding in the millions of dollars for superfluous things like education.  The problem was attributed to a "programming error," presumably in the software used to manage state accounts.

Here were some of the phrases state administrators and legislators are using to describe the error:

  • "eye-catching"
  • "unique"
  • we maybe need a "fresh set of eyes"
  • "bank error in your favor"
  • "We drew the Community Chest card"
  • "glitch"
  • "It did seem...those payments were light"
  • "Christmas came early"
  • "We know what happened and we're correcting it."

Am I the only one who's a little bit disturbed at this trivialization of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars being hidden away for years, even if through omission or oversight?

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On the 2012 City Budget Process

This entry is part 11 of 20 in the series 2011 City Council Campaign

a security guard, a stack of papersIt's been an interesting experience to watch the 2012 budgeting process for the City of Richmond, being performed by the very City Council that I aspire to join.  If I'm elected, I'll be a part of a city government that is operating under the budget that's now being considered, so it feels even more important than usual to understand how the City is deciding where and how to spend money.

As I watched various department heads present their requested budgets for the upcoming year, I observed a few things:

  • It's been taken as a given that there will be no changes in compensation for any city staff.   I'm not sure if this happens because it's made clear at the outset that requests for compensation increases will be rejected, or because the staff already know that to be true, but it's got to be a challenging experience for city workers who know that cost of living is increasing and their own pay is staying level.  I know that when the citizens of a community are feeling limited in their own financial situation, it can be an easy target to claim that this person or that person in government is making too much money, and I'm sure in some cases, those claims might be true.  But I would also hope that as a community we can recognize the value of having our city run by professionals who are compensated fairly and equitably for their work. Continue reading On the 2012 City Budget Process

The U.S. debt ceiling: Sam needs an intervention

Don't Feed WildlifePoliticians in Washington D.C. sometimes make the issue of whether or not we raise the U.S. debt ceiling sound like an essential and complex challenge, one that only their particular brand of political maneuvering, posturing and compromise can rise to meet.  But from what I can tell, there's actually some fairly simple financial math involved, and the implications for the state of our nation are fairly straightforward.

But more importantly, the conversation about raising the debt ceiling is the wrong conversation to be having.

I'd like to present those observations, but instead of referring to "the U.S. Government" every time, I'll just refer to this guy "Sam."

Please tell me if I'm wrong or over-simplifying:

Two bank interface stories

Bank interface story #1:

Got a new debit card for a new checking account.  Sticker on card says "must be activated at an ATM before use."  Went to ATM at bank, inserted card, entered temporary PIN (securely mailed in a separate envelope).  ATM menu came up, one option was "Change PIN."  Entered new PIN.  ATM said "Card is being retained" and ended my session.

What the heck.

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Super ultra mega-secure EFTPS enrollment

As an employer, my company Summersault is required to withhold and then turn in federal taxes from our employee paychecks.  In the past we've turned in those withheld funds by printing out a check, walking it a block down the street to the bank, and getting a receipt.

I recently took the IRS's advice and inquired into enrolling in "EFTPS" - Electronic Federal Tax Payment System.  (It's too bad they didn't call it something really cool like "Maximum Velocity Pay" or "Blue Tiger," but I guess EFTPS is at least accurate.)  The idea behind EFTPS is that it will save you time and simplify payment and filing of federal taxes.  So far, here's what the process has involved: Continue reading Super ultra mega-secure EFTPS enrollment

Waiving fees on charitable donations to Haiti

Moon Over MonteleoneA few petitions and e-mail campaigns have been circulating that demand financial institutions waive their processing fees for the handling of donations to help relief efforts in Haiti, following the earthquake there last week.  Some of the requests that I've gotten have expressed irritation that fees are charged at all on charitable giving transactions of any sort.

While I commend the efforts of those who are seeking to maximize the funds that have a direct impact on the actual aid work, I'm not sure that this particular request makes sense to me.

First, a little background on how processing fees work:

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