I was very pleased to see new government regulations on credit card companies. It was lack of regulation that put the world in our current precarious financial situation, and putting some controls around the massive, faceless credit card companies is a great move.
To be fair, I have had some good experiences with some credit card companies. I have had an American Express card for almost thirty years, and with a few bumps have found their customer service to be consistently good. I have had a Chase Freedom card for a couple years, and have also found them to be top-notch. But unfortunately others have not performed so well.
Last October I cancelled a credit card from Bank of America I was not using very much. As always, I paid the balance in full, and notified the company I was cancelling the card. And I never heard from them again, until last week, when I received a letter that I was past due for $187.00. Confused, I called to inquire what was happening. The customer service representative explained that they had no record I had cancelled the card, and in December they billed me the $50 yearly card membership fee. Since they did not send me a statement, I was unaware of this. In three months this $50, with interest and penalties, had grown to $187. (Normally you would have to borrow money from someone named Vinnie Brokenose to get this kind of deal.) I explained that I had cancelled the card, and therefore should not be expected to pay. And since they had never sent me a statement, I also had to assume they knew I had cancelled the card and this was just a technical error. The representative agreed with me, and noted that it especially made sense because there were no charges after October. But unfortunately it was not within his power to credit the charge or the fee.
For the next 45 minutes I went through credit card hell. They switched me from rep to rep – much in the same way car dealerships keep bringing more people in to try to close a deal. Nobody had the power to credit the amount, and they began to negotiate with me.
“Sir, we can credit the $50 fee, but we will need you to pay the $137 in penalties and interest”, came the first offer.
“Absolutely not”, I replied. “If you acknowledge that I didn’t owe the $50, then why should I pay the penalties and fees”, a rationale I had to repeat at least five times, each time with my voice elevating.
“Sir, how about this? We will credit the interest and fees, but you pay the $50?”
“What if we were to just charge you a $25 administrative fee?”
It was quite clear this was a game that they continually played. Regardless of whether or not the customer owed them money, they would cajole, negotiate, and threaten just to make a few bucks. It’s a sleazy and evil business model that corporate America should not be participating in. Ultimately, I wore them down and they credited the entire amount, but I could not help but think of what would have happened if my elderly parents had been faced with this situation. This kind of business model preys on the weak, and companies that participate in it should be forced to pay a high price.