Saturday, November 15, 2008

Something to Bitch About in Mexico

You've certainly heard about all the layers upon layers of stupid bureaucracy. Paperwork. Forms to be filled out. In duplicate. Stamped in one office and takend to another office. In Mexico, this paperwork is called "tramites." Frustration mounting, snippy customer service. Getting the wrong answers, and later...a completely different answer. Initials for every organization. Workers not in, it's a holiday. Everything you've ever heard about Mexico's administrative nightmares is true.....except this story isn't about Mexican bureacracy, but good ol' American. Read on:

Trying to get the paperwork for my state pension done from Mexico has been trying at best. To start with ASRS (Arizona State Retirement System)informed me two weeks after I retired that my former employer, the college district, had NOT submitted my ending payroll verification form, a prerequisite for my getting my pension checks. Damn! Huh? The college knew I was leaving. I talked to HR. So when I called to check to see where things were, the retirement clerk at the colleges said, "Oh, yeah, I see that you are retiring, but I only handle people with more than 10 years of service." Great, then get off your butt and get my retirement over to the clerk who handles short-timers like me. I then called her the next day to confirm that he had brought her the paperwork, and that she had faxed it down to ASRS (before I left town.)

So far, so good. My second day on the road, I called ASRS from Mexico to verify that they had--indeed--received the paperwork from my employer. "Yes," she said, "we have it and it will take approximately 6-7 weeks before we send you your final payoff statement." I owe a balance on a Service Purchase of years. I clarified, "so I should have that letter about mid-December, right?" "That is correct," she assured me.

So, on my merry way I went on my 6-week tour of Mexico, expecting to be back in PHX in mid-December to take care of my pay-off and rollover from my IRA. Free of worries, no deadlines. Off to enjoy the trip!

Wait! Not quite! Nine days later....not 6 weeks, not 7 weeks....nine days later, that damn payoff letter came to my mailing address (at Jeanne´s). In it was a deadline for me to complete this paperwork at execute the roll-over. Someone in ASRS is surely calendarly-challenged. Panic set in on this end. How can I do this complicated financial stuff from a foreign country? Do I have to cancel the trip and go back to PHX to take care of this...mid-journey?

After several (very) long distance calls and some fast scanning of the forms by Jeanne who emailed them to me, I was back in business. I completed them and faxed them back to ASRS. And one page to TIAA-CREF, where I have my IRA.

The saga continues: The next morning on my telephone voicemail, I have a message from TIAA-CREF, "Mr. Fensom, we received your rollover request, but you are not allowed to do rollovers." Here, I said a bad word. OK, a long series of hyphenated bad words. So, I called ASRS to make sure I had done the right thing with the forms. Yep. I also wanted to see if ASRS had received the forms I'd faxed back the previous day. "Sorry, we were closed for the Veteran's Day holiday and their is no record of your fax." But she thought TIAA-CREF was confused....indeed, I could do the rollover.

So now it's ME who}s confused. Next I call TIAA-CREF for a 25-minute arguement just to start the day off right. All this from a phonebooth storefront place. They explained that my employer didn't allow for rollovers. Panic, once again! What in the hell am I going to do to pay off that invoice? Sell the car? Take out a loan? After being put on hold a half dozen times (from Mexico, remember)...she's checking with colleagues....she has conflicting information. Finally, she came back and explained "Oh, yes you CAN do the rollover. You are no longer an employee, you're retired, so it's fine." I'm glad someone was fine, because I WASN'T!!!

Seems to me like their calling with 100% incorrect information and then arguing with me for near half an hour cost me plenty of expensive phone time and plenty of anxiety. TIAA-CREF faxed me their own proper forms to the little shop where I was waiting. I completed them and faxed them back immediately. At least someone in the sorry tale can be organized.

Moral of the story--pain-in-the-ass bureaucracy isn't limited to Mexico. It's alive and well in the good ol' U.S. of A. But I'm looking at it positively. It was great practice for whatever "tramites" Mexico can throw at me in the future.