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Rants: Coverdells, Paper, Faxes, USAA, Fidelity, and TD Ameritrade

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Ever have one of those tasks that seems like it should be simple and then turns into a mess that eats up hours and days of your time? For the last month, I've been trying to do something really simple...

... open a Coverdell account for my oldest son.

Opening one for my youngest son took my wife under an hour with USAA. They have exactly the same circumstances, just different names and Social Security numbers. So you'd think you could simply say, "Open one for the oldest son too."

For some unknown reason USAA's system got stuck in the application process. We reached a screen where we supposed to have a drop-down of the oldest's and the youngest's name. However, it displayed a blank entry and the youngest's name. After hours and three calls into USAA, they admitted there was a problem, but they weren't able to fix it. We could probably have spent many more hours and many more calls getting it fixed, but it seemed easier to just move to a different bank. After all we were able to get the youngest set up in an hour with USAA... another bank should be as efficient.

My wife next went to a local Navy Federal which can set them up. Unfortunately the Coverdell person only works one day a week and we were busy that day. We didn't want to lose another week as we have to get the account set up before tax day to make the contributions for the 2015 tax year.

I told my wife that I'd take the task over. (In hindsight, it might not have been my best idea.)

My first thought was to go to Fidelity. I already have a Solo 401k with them and as one of the biggest banks, they seemed like the best bet. A Coverdell isn't very common nowadays. In most cases, a 529 plan is a better option. Well, it seems that Fidelity believes that Coverdells are completely useless, because they no longer offer them.

Fortunately, as a personal finance blogger, I know what sites I can trust and Jonathan from My Money Blog has a list of best brokers for Coverdells. I noticed TD Ameritrade on the list. Since I have a Roth IRA with them dating back to 2002 when they bought Datek, I figured I'd give them a shot.

I went to the website and followed all the prompts to open a new Coverdell. I was expecting it to work like USAA where I'd open it all online, especially since I'm an existing customer. Unfortunately, TD Ameritrade seems to work by creating a PDF form that you have send to them. While they claimed that they could pre-fill my application from my existing information, they could only produce a blank PDF application.

I spent an hour filling out the application. It's a typical application except for the page on trading options. Trading options in a Coverdell seems weird to me. The contributions are limited to $2000 a year and the purpose, to fund an education, does seem to lend itself to making such speculative investments. It really doesn't seem like it should be a significant portion of the application, but it was. I think they should assume that people don't want to trade options unless they specifically choose to fill out additional paperwork and send that in.

I printed out the application, wrote a check (with an additional contribution form), and put it in something called an envelope with "postage" for it to be delivered very slowly to TD Ameritrade for their review.

I was happy to finally cross it off my list because I was going on vacation (which is why you didn't too many posts from me last week).

Halfway through the vacation I got notice from TD Ameritrade that it wasn't able to open the account due to a missing signature. I think I signed everything, but there's a chance that I only signed the options agreement and not the main application. That's my fault, but honestly I'm surprised that's the only error they found as it was an extensive application with no error checking that you'd get if they simply did it online like USAA.

While on vacation, I didn't have easy access to printing documents like I do at home. I was away from the hotel for about 16 hours of the day which would have been a natural solution (albeit at a likely high expense).

I tried to convince TD Ameritrade to process it since they at least had my signature in one place, but they wouldn't budge. You'd think that in 2016, we'd have a digital signature solution that very big financial companies could use... especially if you already have an account with that very big financial company.

I decided to wait until I got back from vacation. Today is the first business day since I've been back, so it was time to pick it up and give it another shot.

Fortunately, I had saved the PDF with all the information, so it was just a matter of printing it, signing it, and faxing it. Mailing isn't really an option, because we're now down to one week until the tax day deadline. I've never been able to get faxing to work with our VOIP phone. I decided it would be easiest to go to the local Kinko's FedEx Office and use their fax. TD Ameritrade's fax is toll-free so it doesn't cost anything other than overhead for FedEx to send it. They really don't need an employee since I'd be doing the faxing myself.

Unfortunately the cost was about $1.50 a page. I'm sure some people would have paid the $12 just to the end this headache, but I couldn't support that pricing on principle. One page was just fine print and I would have been tempted to save the $1.50 to leave it off, but I couldn't risk wasting $10.50 for an incomplete application only to have TD Amertitrade tell me that I need to fax the complete thing again.

I left and went home to look for other options. I was able to scan the signed as a PDF and use a free service from MyFax.com to send it. They needed my email address which probably means that I'll be spammed forever (I used my junk email account), but it got the job done...

... or at least I think it did. We'll see if TD Ameritrade will finally open the account and deposit the check that I sent now nearly two weeks ago.

Why a Coverdell?

Some of you might be asking why I would open a Coverdell in the first place. Coverdells can be used for a wider variety of educational expenses such as computers. Also, they can be used for private high school where 529s can not. Who knows if that's in the cards for our kids... they are only 2 and 3 years old. However, it seems like smart idea to have the option. We can always use it for college if that doesn't pan out.

If you are still reading this rant, you are some kind of saint. I usually don't like to complain, but I had to get this out of my system. I'm allowed a few financial rants a year, right?

I'll write about Coverdells more in the future. If this had gone smoothly, I would have been writing about them today.

Posted on April 11, 2016.

This post deals with:

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College, Investing

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2 Responses to “Rants: Coverdells, Paper, Faxes, USAA, Fidelity, and TD Ameritrade”

  1. Daniel says:

    I also opened a Coverdell account for my son two years ago with Ameritrade, and like you, was surprised that I had to fill out a paper form and send it in. It’s also frustrating that you have to send additional contributions in by a check in the mail. They have an option for bank transfers, but it is not setup for the Coverdell account. I even called the Customer Support line, because I thought I made a mistake setting up my Bank information, but he confirmed that I needed to mail a check.

    Ameritrade’s Coverdell program feels like it’s just something they maintain but do not actively support.

    Also, thanks for the tip about the AchieveMint website you tweeted about a while back. I’m close to getting my 2nd $50 from them.

    • Lazy Man says:

      Thanks Daniel. I’m glad it’s not just me who thinks this is odd.

      I just got to my 2nd $50 reward this past weekend with Achievement. Unfortunately at that point you stop earning more money. Makes sense as it is a little too good to be true.

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