Misadventures in License Renewal

Let me just say it. February sucks. It’s a short month. It’s a cold month. It’s the month when I must renew my car tags. Luckily, my county/state has joined the 20th century and allows me to renew my tags on-line. Unluckily, they are stuck in a 19th century mind set where they think they must charge for this extra-added service.

Here’s how it works. They mail postcards with the renewal information. At the top of the card is a PIN which you can combine with your plate number on the county web site to renew your tag. Sounds pretty straight forward. So what is the cost? First, they charge $2 per tag to cover their mailing costs. Forget the fact that both my tags (tiny stickers with “2011” on them) came in the same envelope. Second, the software company who maintains the site for the county is going to charge me another $5.50 to cover the bank charges of the credit/debit card.

So I get to pay an extra $9.50 to save the county the labor costs involved in processing my tags in person at the courthouse or one of their handy satellite offices. Genius! Well, if you know me even from just this blog, you know I’m not one to let idiocy go unchallenged. Fortune smiled on me and gave me the perfect opportunity to mess with these people because the instructions on the web site were convoluted to say the least. Remember, you must use your tag number and PIN (Personal Identification Number) to complete the transaction. The PIN has about 4 leading zeros, but I’m not prejudiced. Zero is a number, too.

These are the instructions on the renewal site:

The renewal notice will be required so that you have your “ONLINE PIN” to type in to the OnLine Pin field on the renewal form. Your OnLine Pin is case sensitive and must be entered in all capitals.

The bold emphasis is theirs. I’ll let the fact go that they are inconsistent with the use of “on-line” and “PIN”. Now tuck this away. We’ll need it later. Here is the feedback I left after completing my renewal transaction:

Charging a “convenience fee” to use an on-line system that saves the county hundreds of dollars in labor by not having to process transactions in person is counter-intuitive. “Counter-intuitive” is the only polite word I could think of for such a ridiculous concept. Even charging the $2.00 mail coverage fee doesn’t take into account the savings over the more labor-intensive, in-person, courthouse transaction.

I received a very polite, detailed, and lengthy reply from the company who provides the software and service for the county. I’ve changed the company and respondent’s name to protect the innocent. I haven’t changed mine because I’m far from innocent in this whole affair.

The convenience fee is not charged by the county nor do they profit any amount of this money from this service. This is charged by us, Milking You For Nickels LLC an online processing company that provides this service for the certain counties. We charge this amount because we pay the bank fees, credit card fees, provide software, telecommunication lines and customer service. This service is just another option of paying for your tag renewal. You could have gone to the county yourself and stood in line, used your car and your gas money to get there and not had to pay this fee nor the mail fee. You also could have mailed in this payment and sat and worried if they received this payment with the mail fee included and guessed at when you might receive your decal and pay the mail fee. This service is simply for the convenience of not having to do this by mail or go to the county office. If we did not provide this service, the county would have to raise taxes on the residents of your county to provide this and I don’t believe that would go over well. I am sorry you are vexed by this fee and hope you understand the concept now. Thanks and have a great day!!

Jane Smilesalot

Sure I understand. I understood where the money was going before I left the feedback. The point that is lost on them is the on-line process more than makes up for the labor involved in processing my transaction in person or even paying someone to sit at the courthouse and open envelopes.

Here’s a recent news tidbit to prove my point. Another Alabama county has laid off so many workers they don’t have enough staff to process their tax collections arriving by mail. They literally don’t have enough money to pay workers to open, process, and deposit the checks that would (you’re ahead of me here aren’t you?) pay for workers to collect the taxes. I think we all see how they could benefit from an on-line tax payment system.

Anyway, back to my exchange with Milking You For Nickels LLC. Let’s pull out those instructions I quoted previously for this one.

Ms. Smilesalot,

Thank you for your reply to my feedback on the tag renewal site.

I see we agree that we are both saving the government money by not overwhelming their facilities in person. I certainly don’t begrudge your company from making a profit from their contract with the State. It seems that the state has forgone their responsibility to collect the tax and simply allowed MYFN LLC to collect it directly as compensation for their services. I actually like that since the more the money changes hands, the less effective it is. I guess convenience and tax are a matter of perspective.

From the consumer’s perspective, using the internet to transact business isn’t a convenience. It’s a necessity. Please excuse me for not sharing your “just another option” perspective. Most businesses prefer and promote internet solutions for the simple cost effectiveness. I think you’re selling your service short in that respect.

While we are on the topic of convenience and standing in lines and saving gas, who will compensate me for my inconvenience due to your site’s unusual instructions and requirements?

When I read “Your OnLine Pin is case sensitive and must be entered in all capitals,” (quote from the renewal site) I was confused since PIN (note the proper capitalized form) is an acronym for Personal Identification NUMBER. My keyboard lacked any capital numbers.

I rushed to my local computer store to purchase a keyboard compatible with your site’s capital numbers, but was told there were none in stock. I then visited three other stores until I found the equipment necessary to input capital numbers and complete the transaction. My expenses are itemized as:

1 high-end, specialty keyboard with capital numbers...$74.99
48 miles round-trip travel @ $0.52/mile...............$24.96
2.25 hours @ my customary billing rate of $48/hr.....$108.00
1 bottle of water to prevent dehydration..............no charge
Total expenditure....................................$207.95

As you can see, this was not a convenience for me at all since your site’s software did not work with standard lower case numbers (I say lower case because number entry does not require the Shift key) available on standard computer keyboards. I would deduct your $5.50 fee from my charges, but you’ve already billed me for that so I must insist on the full $207.95 in compensation for the convenience of your services.

This being the internet age and for your convenience, I accept payments via this email address @PayPal.com.

Thank you,
Mr. Randy Barefoot

After giving poor Jane a few days and receiving no reply, today I followed up with this:

I haven’t heard back from you, Jane. How about a barter? I’ll waive my charges if you will change the following paragraph found at www….renewinfo.shtml

“You must have your renewal notice in order to use the online renewal system. The renewal notice will be required so that you have your “ONLINE PIN” to type in to the OnLine Pin field on the renewal form. Your OnLine Pin is case sensitive and must be entered in all capitals.”

Since a PIN is by definition a number, there is no need to emphasize the entry of it “in all capitals.” I know that sometimes the term PIN can be used loosely to apply to a combination of letters and numbers, but in the case of your on-line renewal system, your PIN is an actual number.

Your instructions combined with the fact that your PIN has leading zeros could mislead people to enter the letter O.

Please correct your instructions.

Just to complete the circle of crap, they actually have instructions on the page where you enter the tag and PIN combination that warn against confusing the letter O with zero.

So here I sit wondering where my correspondences went. Did they take it seriously and kick it upstairs for further evaluation? Did they simply stamp it “ass hat” and delete it? Did they get my snarky point? Are they going to change their poorly written instructions? I don’t expect them to stop charging people for the convenience of doing business on-line. That would be too much to hope for.

Remember folks, someone has to do these things so you don’t have to. As you see, I’m fully willing and able to fall on this grenade for the team. If I do hear back from MYFN LLC, I’ll certainly let you know what their decision was. Until then, keep smiling and hoping that stupid groundhog was wrong. We don’t need to prolong this winter. I don’t know if I mentioned it, but February sucks.


2 thoughts on “Misadventures in License Renewal

  1. I don’t get it either…but you handled it beautifully! Are you going to send a follow-up bill?

    I think your ‘service’ is better than what we have in Ohio. My MIL did hers online six weeks before her tags were to expire. When she didn’t receive her tags by their expiration date she then went into the license bureau and they charged her an addition $9 for duplicate tags. They were feeling generous so they waived the $20 late fee.

  2. Oh, don’t you just love bureaucracy? I think our government has offices filled with lawyers who write convoluted documents designed to infuriate readers. Their sole intention is to obfuscate the reader, hoping the reader will consider himself (or herself) too stupid to understand the directions, and, because of that feeling of stupidity would never think to question authority.

    Then along comes somebody like you. Employees of that same government who themselves don’t understand the wording, cannot explain anything to you either, because what they are trying to explain DOESN’T MAKE SENSE!

    I’ve had conversations with some of these bureaucratic dolts myself. I’ve asked them to explain the nonsensical forms I’m trying to understand, and their explanations leave me more confused than when I started. They speak in “robotic” mode and repeat their nonsense until finally I leave in frustration at the idiocy of it all.

    I’ve often said, you can make nonsense out of sense, but you can never make sense out of nonsense.

    Great blog.

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