Thursday, April 6, 2017

Mess Mutual

Whether you reside overseas or in the U.S. if you have a traditional IRA or a 401(k) account, upon reaching age 70 1/2 you may have to start taking required minimum distributions from your account on an annual basis for which, if you're an American citizen,  you will  receive  from your account administrator a 1099-R form at the end of the year to include with your tax filing  If you're a foreigner, you will receive a 1042-S form instead.

The administrator of my 401(k)   is Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, aka Mass Mutual.  This is a multi billion dollar insurance and investment company,  but their customer service is of wretchedly low quality. For example, last year Mass Mutual made an error regarding my 2015 1099-R which I went to great lengths to correct. Well, not only did I have the same problem again for 2016 but MM made an additional blunder as well.

It all began when it occurred to me in February that I had not yet received my 1099-R for 2016. When I called Mass Mutual customer service about this delay, the representative stated that the form had not been generated because MM had no  record of my taking an RMD for that year, when in fact I had definitely done so. Fortunately, I had kept a confirmation record from which I furnished the information for Mass Mutual to dig deeper. In doing so they finally found the file for the transaction.

When  I then inquired how soon my 1099-R would now be forthcoming, the CS rep stated that I would not receive that form after all because of my foreign address. Instead Mass Mutual would issue me a 1042-S which is for foreigners who have accounts in the U.S.  subject to withholding. Well here we go again I thought. This is the same problem that I had with MM for my 2015 RMD.  I explained this time just as I did before that I'm an American citizen and no matter where I live, I should receive a 1099-R, not a 1042-S. The representative continued to argue the matter, but I stuck to my guns and even gave a change from my Philippines address on file there to my mail forwarding address in the that this issue wouldn't keep cropping up each year.  I finally prevailed and received my 1099-R for 2016 which enabled me to proceed with my IRS filing.

The other day I received correspondence from Mass Mutual: a second  1099 and under separate cover another document. Each communication still reflected my Philippines address. So I called MM and confirmed my suspicions that the change of address that I had previously ordered had never been processed.but I was assured  that it would be done immediately.

While I was editing this post,  I tried to pull up my 401(k) account on line to see if that correction had finally been, but instead I received an error message''We cannot process your request at this time. Please try again later.''

Oh, BTW. the other document that I received was a 1042-S form, about which the rep said ''not to  worry about it'', except now my name may be on file with the IRS as a foreigner, as one copy of that form is automatically also sent to Uncle Sam.

Finally,  I would like to add that the amount in my 401(k)  is chump change as is my required minimum distribution compared to most accounts that Mass Mutual deals with every day. If they can't keep proper track of simple accounts and basic transactions like mine, what kind of errors might they making on major accounts? If you do business with that company, that's something to think about.   

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

When Ill Fortune Befalls an Atheist

Like Many other atheists, I'm been told by theists that in a crisis, I will turn to God  (or in my case ''return'' as I was also once a God-believer) and beg him for help. This  assertion reminds me of the adage that ''there are no atheists in foxholes'', because in the extreme danger of combat, all soldiers fear for their lives and supposedly pray to  God for deliverance. That assumption is wrong.  There are indeed atheists in foxholes. In fact there is an it organization comprised of  such non-believers: Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers.

This unwavering resoluteness obtains with their civilian counterparts as well.. In my own situation, namely three cancer operations plus the removal of a kidney all within one year, I can attest that not once during that time did I ever consider renouncing my unbelief for the simple reason that I find no evidence for the existence of a supernatural being.  In other words, just because of difficult or  even life threatening health circumstances, why  should I abandon reason in favor of superstition? Any hope that I had for recovery  was based on my trust in the skill of the surgeons and the other members of the medical team who were involved with my case. And they are the ones who deserve the credit for the favorable outcome of my surgeries, not some imaginary sky-daddy.

But what about atheists whose family members or friends are stricken with a serious condition? It's one thing for the patient him / herself to refute the existence of a supreme being, but many (most?) theists think that the wish for the victim's well-being is enough to cause these loved ones to re-evaluate their own non-belief and instead resort to prayer for a successful outcome.  On that  they couldn't be more wrong.  My wife who's also an atheist and  who lovingly saw me through this critical period confirmed that all the while she remained steadfast in her non-belief for the same reason I did.

At this writing, I'm fortunate enough to be in remission. However,  that status can change any time, and I know that no beseeching of an imaginary supreme being can make that reality go away.  To put it another way, when there is a genuine commitment to critical thinking in the face of adversity, God-belief doesn't have a prayer.