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Stephen Collins Headshot

The Time Tax

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We hate to spend money needlessly, but how much of your time are you giving away these days to fix seemingly small mistakes that other people -- and companies -- make? I just spent forty five minutes on the phone with an irritating woman from Credit Collection Services (CCS). They've called our house for months trying to collect $175. The thing is, we paid the $175 last November. It was a medical bill for my daughter. We held off payment while waiting for an insurance payment, but the medical company sent the bill to CCS.

You might think that the medical company, after cashing our check, would have notified CCS that our bill was paid. But nooooo. Instead, CCS continues to call us. And they now require that we mail them proof of the canceled check. So, in addition to the forty-five minutes I spent online and on the phone with CCS today, my bookkeeper has to spend at least an hour getting a copy of the canceled check from the bank, scanning it, and mailing it to CCS. And this bill is paid!

Our American "health care" system in action...

Welcome to the Time Tax.

How about the two hours I spent this week with Verizon customer service? Their FIOS installers ran wires sloppily across our back fence to access our neighbor's property, spoiling the view from our bedroom window. Verizon said they'd call yesterday to schedule a time for someone to come and fix their mess, but they didn't. So I'll call them and it'll probably take another hour, plus the time I'll have to be here when the guy comes out to fix it.

Oh, and I spent four hours -- four hours! -- this week with Amazon customer service because they sent me a 1099 form for gift certificates I never received. Color me wacky, but I don't want to pay taxes on something I never got. Don't get me wrong, I love Amazon in many ways. The Kindle is amazing. But the mistaken 1099 form was connected to an email address I cancelled six or seven years ago. Of course, since I can't remember the password associated with that defunct address, they would not send me a new password -- "for your protection" -- even though they have my mailing address, phone number, and Social Security number! A perfect circle of frustration. Finally, after more hours, I reached someone willing to take responsibility and make the problem go away. But this was their mistake.

"What did you do today, Daddy?" "Well, princess, I spent hours on the phone with 'customer service' people trying to avoid lawsuits while covering their asses for their own mistakes."

Most are outwardly polite, but the woman from CCS was bored and hostile. When I balked at having to retrieve a canceled check and mail it to them, pointing out that the payment in question had cleared the bank four months ago and the onus is on them at this point, she said, "Do you want your credit record to continue to show non-payment?" A threat, and not even veiled.

Ah, the Time Tax. I'm not holding my breath that it's going to get better. Are you?

For those of us whose time is valuable (and whose isn't?), for those who are paid by the hour and expected to produce at work -- well, you know the drill. By the time you've paid the Time Tax, your day is going to be shorter, your productivity lessened, and your patience exhausted.

Remember the Golden Age when we didn't have to pay a Time Tax? When people answered telephones, when a business took responsibility for its mistakes? No budget deficits, no credit card debt, no "health care system." Somehow, I think it's all connected.

So I suggest that we institute a system of repayment for those times it becomes clear that they have erred. If your salary is $80,000 a year, you make $38.46 an hour. Wouldn't it be blissful -- and wouldn't it be simply right? -- if we billed Verizon, Amazon, and collection agencies like CSS for our time when they screw up? I'm fortunate to make more than $80,000, but at that level, I could bill Amazon $153.84 for their use of my time this week. Verizon would have to fork over $76.92.

Just take it off my phone bill, okay?

No, really.