Wednesday, May 22, 2024

State Farm Insurance Rates Rise (2024)

 This month I received my annual homeowner's insurance rate statement from State Farm. For 2024 the rate is going from $104 per month to $125 per month. Thats a 20% increase over last year's rate. It adds $252 to the annual premium, which is now $1512. The home is located in the upper Midwest and is currently valued at $384k per Zillow. State Farm, California's largest insurer, announced it will discontinue coverage for 72,000 homes and apartments starting this summer. You would think that by cancelling high risk policies, rates could remain the same in lower risk regions, but it looks like that isn't going to happen. State Farm is also raising rates for everyone to compensate for their claim losses.

Reading a homeowner's insurance policy from State Farm is very confusing. You come away feeling like you are paying for things that you don't need. On my policy they add coverage for other structures, fuel oil release, and bed bugs, none of which I have. This year they added watercraft bodily injury liability, which I don't need. You get a lot of stuff you don't need built into your insurance policy. If you question them about it, they just tell you that it can't be removed. They also have a lot of fine print with exemptions for just about every situation imaginable. You can't be sure what level of coverage you are paying for.

I was looking at my auto insurance information on the State Farm website and noticed that they had one of my vehicles being driven 4000 miles per year and the other at 12,000 miles per year. The vehicle at 12k per year had a higher premium despite being 3 years older. Since I no longer have to commute to a job, I decided to change the mileage to 4000 on both vehicles. To my surprise, this reduced the semi-annual premium by $30. So, yes it makes a big difference how many estimated miles you have listed on your policy. It still doesn't cover the increase on the homeowner's policy, but it helps. It can be a challenge to find ways to minimize the amount you pay for insurance. Most of the time your only option is to raise your deductibles. I have only made one claim on my homeowner's insurance in 13 years. In 2017 a storm blew some shingles off the roof. I was able to get half the cost of a new roof covered under my homeowner's policy. But I have easily paid them back for that in premium payments.

So, you may be thinking, why don't you switch to a different insurance company? I've been with State Farm for a long time. They have local agents in town if I have a question. The few times I have had to file a claim, the experience has been fairly smooth. I have both home and auto policies with them, which gives me a discount. Switching to another insurance company would require switching both home and auto. I don't think the cost savings would be worth the effort. All insurance companies have their pros and cons, and they all can raise their rates for any reason. You could switch and get a lower rate, but next year you might end up paying a higher premium. I am not a big fan of insurance companies. It is a necessity that we have to endure. Most states now require proof of insurance to register a vehicle. No states have laws mandating homeowner's insurance. But a lender will require it if you have a mortgage.

Wednesday, May 08, 2024

Refurbishing Xbox One controllers

I think I finally found an item that I can sell on Ebay to make a (small) profit. I recently decided to look for a newer Xbox One controller and went to Shopgoodwill.com to see what I could find. They had numerous controllers, but most were getting bid too high. On Ebay, used controllers typically sell for between $30 and $40 depending on the model. I eventually found a gray/blue one that I liked and won the auction for $32.27 with tax and shipping. Since it was a custom color scheme, I didn’t mind spending a little more. I was planning on selling my old controller to get some money back anyway. When it arrived, I discovered that there was a problem with the vertical movement on the right joystick. In a game, the vertical axis would move on its own, which was a sign that the analog joystick actuator has worn out. This is also known as “Stick Drift”.

It turns out that this is a common problem and a reason why there are so many used controllers at Goodwill and other thrift stores. I decided to see if I could fix the problem on my own. I first needed to get a tool kit to take the controller apart. Since this problem is so common, there are dozens of tool kits for sale on Amazon and Ebay. The kit I bought had 3 different screw drivers, 4 actuators, 4 joysticks, a cleaning brush, and 3 nylon pry tools all for 12 dollars. With the tools, I was able to open the controller to get access to the actuators, which are soldered onto a circuit board. I next watched several YouTube videos to find out how to best go about replacing a bad actuator. Several videos showed the old actuator to being completely dismantled with wire snippers before being desoldered. There are 14 leads on each actuator, which makes desoldering a challenge.

I discovered that it was easier to remove only the horizontal and vertical pots that are attached to the sides of the actuator. These two pots are the main failure point. So instead of desoldering 14 leads, I only had to desolder 6. I used a desoldering tool to remove the solder from each lead, then used a small screwdriver to ply each pot loose from the base. They just snap on/off and are then easy to remove. I installed new pots and soldered them in place. The controller worked perfectly after it was reassembled. Since I didn’t remove the whole actuator from the pc-board, I was not as concerned about calibration. I found a YouTube video that explained calibration. Most methods involve manually adjusting the pots. Of course, other problems are common, such as sticky buttons and controllers that won't turn on.

After I was able to repair the controller, I bought two more online for $28.83. This was a better price and they only needed to be cleaned. Now I had 5 controllers, so I decided to sell 2 of them on Ebay. There are four primary model numbers. Model 1537 released on November 22, 2013. Model 1697 released on June 9, 2015, which added a 3.5mm audio jack and the ability to do firmware updates wirelessly. Model 1708 was released on August 2, 2016, alongside the Xbox One S console; this model added Bluetooth connectivity. The fourth and current model, Model 1914, was released on November 10, 2020, alongside the Xbox Series X|S; This model has a flat concave D-pad, an additional “Share” button, and changed from Micro-USB to USB-C.

I sold one model 1537 for $30 and one model 1708 for $34. I asked a little more for the newer model and they both sold in one day. I think that was a fair price for a used controller that has been cleaned and tested. For the newest model 1914, I would expect to get around $32 + shipping. When looking for used controllers, I avoid 3rd party controllers because the resale value is not as good. The only problem is that there are a lot of other folks that have figured out that you can make money refurbishing and reselling used controllers. The bidding on used/untested Xbox one controllers is very competitive. It is getting difficult to win an auction and still make a fair profit at resale. I used to focus on the games, but the trend is for all future games to be downloads. All controllers eventually wear out and Gamers will always be looking for an affordable controller. In the past two months I have sold 6 controllers at an average profit of $8 each. I only buy two at a time to refurbish so I don't have a lot of used controllers sitting around. It makes good use of my electronics knowledge, video game, and reselling experience.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Still Paying for 2021 Weather Event?

Back in February 2021 there was a winter storm that brought sub-zero temperatures across the United States. The extreme cold weather led to record-high winter electricity demand in Texas and a decrease in electricity supply due to limitations in gas availability and inadequate weatherization against the adverse conditions. People in Texas mainly use electricity to heat their homes and the power plants use natural gas to create the electricity. This brief weather event caused the price of natural gas to spike over 500%. People in cold weather states mainly use natural gas to heat their homes. Here in Minnesota, utility companies had to pay an extra $660 million during the week-long event. Months later, utility regulators in Minnesota got the figure reduced to $600 million. 

On Aug. 5, 2021, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) approved a plan to begin recovering the unusually high natural gas costs. The recovery period was initially supposed to last for 27 months. On December 2, 2021, the MPUC accepted a proposal to lower the monthly Feb 2021 Weather Event surcharge and extend the cost recovery period from 27 to 63 months. I was curious about how much longer we would continue to pay for something that happened 3 years ago. As of today, natural gas customers in Minnesota have been paying this extra fee for 31 months. This means that we are only halfway through the event recovery period. The extra fee won't go away until November 2026! 

As a follow-up to my last post about Medicare, my partner was recently approved for part A and B. We knew there would be a monthly fee of $174.70. What they didn't tell us was that they bill you quarterly if you haven't applied for social security. This means that we will have to come up with $524.10 every 3 months. Most people have this deducted from their monthly social security payment. My partner wants to wait until her full retirement age, which is in two years, before applying for social security. It will cost $4192.80 out of pocket to wait, and that doesn't include payments for additional coverage and deductibles. This affects both of us because now I will have to cover more of our monthly expenses. I now understand why many older American's are taking part time jobs... so they can cover the cost of "mediocre care" health insurance. 

Friday, March 22, 2024

Going From Medicaid to Medicare

 If you are under 65 you only need to pass an income test to qualify for Medicaid. Once you turn 65 you need to pass an asset test to continue coverage under Medicaid. An asset test is the total money you have in bank accounts, stocks, bonds, CD's, and retirement accounts. Just before her 65th birthday, my partner received a denial letter for Medicaid. Then she received a letter asking for a list of her assets. Since she only has a checking account, she went to their office and gave them a copy of her last bank statement. Shortly after that she received an approval letter. Then a week later she received a denial letter, and a week after that, a pending approval letter saying they needed her asset information. It became clear to us that Health and Human Services was overwhelmed with medical assistance requests and letters were being automatically sent based on arbitrary deadlines. In total she received six letters alternating between approval and denial within 6 weeks.

She decided to call her assigned HHS case worker to try and get the status of her health insurance application. The case worker said that she never received her bank statement. She also said that my partner would need to spend down her assets to $3000 to qualify for Medicaid. I looked it up online and it said that after you turn 65 the income limit is $14,820 and the asset limit is $10,000. The $3000 asset limit is for long term care coverage. Prior to age 65, the income limit is $19,391 for an adult without children. So, with that, my partner has no health insurance and will need to apply for Medicare. It would have been nice if they had told her this was going to happen and listed her options. Instead, you have to figure it out on your own. Going down the Medicare rabbit hole also includes deciding when to apply for Social Security. 

We logged into the Social Security website, and it showed that her full retirement age is 66 and 10 months. If she applied for Social Security today at age 65, she would get $689 per month. At her full retirement age in two years, she would get $785. Her income history is sparce, but at least she had the 10 years of earnings needed to qualify. I'm a few years younger than her, so this is a preview to the decisions I will need to make. My estimated benefit at age 67 is $2699. It would be advantageous for me to delay Social Security for as long as possible. But having to wait another 5 1/2 years will be difficult. My taxable income for 2023 was only about $14,000 and my partner had zero income!

We also discovered that Medicare isn't free. It gets progressively more expensive depending on how many options you add. Medicare part A (Hospital Insurance) has no premium, but there is a $1632 deductible. Medicare part B (Medical Insurance) costs $174.70 per month with a one-time $240 deductible and a 20% co-pay after the deductible. Part C & D (Advantage and drug coverage) vary in cost depending on which company you select and which deductible and co-pay options you choose. They do have free Advantage plans, but the deductibles are so high that it isn't really an option. A plan with dental and vision and $3000 deductible costs about $80 per month. We are expecting to pay at least $260 in monthly premiums. This money would need to be deducted from her monthly Social Security payment. That doesn't leave much for living expenses or saving for future needs. 

Since she is divorced, she qualifies for ex-spousal benefits. But it would only be 50% of her ex-husband's full retirement benefit. Either her benefit amount or 50% of her ex-husband's benefit, whichever is greater. For example, if his benefit was $1700 per month, she would be able to get $850 instead of $785. If you are the divorced spouse of a worker who dies, you could get benefits the same as a surviving spouse, provided that your marriage lasted 10 years or more. Widows are due between 71 percent (at age 60) and 100 percent (at full retirement age) of what the husband was getting before he died. That goes both ways, if you made more money than your husband, then he might be due a widower’s benefit on your record if you die before he does. It's ironic to know that the Social Security office considers an ex-spouse to be worth more to you after they pass away.