November 3, 2006

Is TIAA-CREF Still Falling Down?

It's been almost a year since I posted the note below.  The problems I reported were finally resolved by February, 2006, after I suffered a couple of anxious months. Since that time, I have received numerous emails from people who continue to have problems prying money out of their accounts at TC.  A recent article in also reports further problems.

What seemed most effective in my case was complaining to the SEC.  Filing a complaint was easy to do, and I'd recommend it to anyone having problems similar to mine.  Go to the SEC's main web page and find the link to "File a Tip or Complaint" under the "Investor Information" heading.  You can get also there directly using Then take the link to the "Online Forms," which lists several categories of complaints. None of the possible categories seemed to fit, so I selected "other", and that worked fine.

December 23, 2005

TIAA-CREF is Falling Down

What’s the matter with financial giant TIAA-CREF? I’ve had problems with an account transfer during the past few weeks, and from what I’ve learned, I’m not alone.

I sent in the paperwork to transfer assets from a 403(b) (tax-deferred) account at TIAA-CREF (TC for short) to a traditional IRA, also at TC. That’s a routine transaction. It’s allowed because I contributed to these accounts while working for a previous employer. I did the same thing at Vanguard a couple of years ago. At Vanguard, the mutual funds disappeared from the first account one day and showed up in a new IRA the next day. TC has been working on this transfer for three weeks and still hasn’t finished. The money is in limbo. It has left the first account but has not arrived in the IRA.

I’ve called TC several times and sent one fax, but it doesn’t seem to help. The reps agree how slow it is and offer to “escalate” me to another level, whatever that means. Sometimes they tell me that a member of the “team” will call me. I’ve told them more than once that I don’t need telephone calls from the team; I need for them to get the job done.

TC seems to be noticing that I complain a lot. Someone named Susan Jenkins called me on Dec. 21. She told me that thousands of people were having similar problems, and that TC had a special team working on their problems. Unfortunately, nobody on the team had fixed my problem yet, and Susan wasn’t able to give me any estimate of when they might. On the bright side, Susan was well trained to handle irate clients. No matter what I said, she just replied, “Oh, that’s too bad. I’m so sorry.”

Susan did tell me something useful. She said that an online magazine had carried stories about TC’s problems. I went to , searched the site for “TIAA-CREF”, and got more information. TC has had problems upgrading their computer systems, and lots of accounts are messed up. The problems started in mid November. Despite assurances from company spinmeisters, the problems have not been solved. Many people have not gotten scheduled minimum distribution checks from their IRAs. Some people got checks that were 100 times to large ($60,000 instead of $600.00).

How can a big, reputable company screw up so much with other people’s money? What can be done? My only answer is to try to drum up as much bad press as possible. Folks considering where to save their retirement dollars should know how poor TC’s service has been. I saw one article in which TC CEO Herbert Allison bragged in October, 2005 that TC had upgraded their computer systems in two years, whereas outside experts had predicted it would take three or four. Too bad they didn’t take more time and get it right.

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