Wednesday, April 14, 2004

THINK THE INTERNET HAS CREATED A "NEW ECONOMY"? Try refinancing your mortgage and get back to me.

Mortgage companies, banks, insurance agents -- the world still revolves around allowing untalented people to collect a paycheck for unnecessary paper-pushing. Instead of calling up a document that you know damn well is in their records, for instance, these people force the customer to dig up a copy and fax it to them. Instead of employing modern money-transfer techniques to collect their rip-off gouging fees, they ask that a check be overnight-mailed to them.

The fax machine is to the untalented paper-pusher what horrible '70s clothes are to small-town fashion victims. I could accept it (well, no, I couldn't, but play along now) if these slow-things-down-to-make-me-look-useful clock-punchers insisted on U.S. Postal Service delivery of original documents. It would make some sense if the default wardrobe for Middle America were functional dungarees and traditional gingham. But what we get instead on both fronts is a reverence for what was new and exciting two or three generations ago. Faxes! Disco-era haircuts!

The irony here is that we selected the mortgage company partly because of its Web site, one of the best of its kind we had ever seen. That may sound stupid, but what else do we have to go on? Mortgage companies advertise interest rates and "points" but aren't obligated to even begin to disclose the real prices they charge until you've spent weeks or months faxing documents to them and not getting your phone calls returned. By then, the ability to avoid repeating the hassle is worth hundreds, maybe thousands, of dollars.

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