Credit cards are a pretty bad thing in general; If you don’t have the cash to pay for it, you probably shouldn’t be buying it in the first place. That being said, it is near impossible to get by in day to day life without having one of the precious plastic things in your wallet/purse. Just imagine trying to make hotel/car rental reservations without one. Sure the same can be done with a debit card, but you are a far braver soul than I if you are willing to give your personal bank account information to the stranger on the end of a phone line.
True, now that the debit cards are actually subsidized by VISA they are covered by the exact same fraud protection as a normal credit card, but you have to file a claim and wait for a couple of weeks to get reimbursed for the fraudulent purchases. That is a lot of time to have to wait to get the money back in your bank account, especially if the rent is due. If your credit card is used fraudulently all you have to do is cancel it, then take care of the paperwork at your leisure. Much less stressful.
Of course I would be lying if I said that the only reason I use a credit card is to book hotel rooms. I do use them for all sorts of stuff, and I do maintain a balance on one card. It keeps my credit in good standing (funny thing about credit is if you quit using it the companies assume that you are no longer creditworthy), and is far cheaper than doing some highway robbery rent to own type bullshit.
Anyway, I cancelled a credit card in January. They decided to jack the interest rate from 6.9% to 14.9%, and homey don’t play that. So I sent in a final payment, cut the credit card up and that was that. Until today that is.
I sent in a check that was one dollar more than the total balance, thus leaving the account with a 1 dollar credit. It seems that their computer systems are pretty serious about what they consider a “balance”. I guess my contract stated that there was a minimum one dollar finance charge when the card had a “balance”, the fine print must not have stipulated that it be a positive balance, cause they charged me the finance charge on a negative balance. Now, through some sort of weird math that only credit companies can understand, that didn’t take my account balance to $0 (which it should have, -1+1=0, right?), it took my balance to $.03. Yes, three cents. Very fishy math, that.
The last statement that I saw was still showing a credit of one dollar. The next one I got was showing a balance of 15.98, without a purchase being made. The one dollar credit became a 3 cent balance, which they tacked a one dollar finance charge onto, then, then, they had the nerve to tack on a 14.95 late payment fee, even though they hadn’t been sending me statements! Yeah!
So I dialed up India (that is where all the call centers are, isn’t it?) and, after about ten minutes of navigating the maze that is the automated call center, got to speak to Apu himself. I told him I simply wanted to close the account and be done with it. I think he asked me what I was disappointed with, though I could barely understand a word he said so I can’t be sure. I told him that I didn’t appreciate being charged a finance charge and late fee on a negative balance, which he said he understood, and he would gladly close the account if I would remit payment for 15.98. That pissed me off even more. I yelled at him for about five minutes, even though I know it wasn’t his fault, simply because it made me feel better to lash out at someone.
Apu said that he was authorized to waive the late fee one time based on my good history with their company, (I could almost hear him reading it from the form letter, I bet they get this phone call a lot). But this still left me with a balance of 1.03, which I would have to pay in order to close the account. Not only that but there was a 9.95 fee to make the payment by phone. Fuck That! Okay, now the gloves were off.
You know that point where you get so pissed off that you go beyond anger and into a sort of freakily-tranquil, rage-induced calm? Where every word that comes out of your mouth is with a sort of firm staccato? I was there. “Send me a copy of every statement since December please.”
“I can do that Mr. Burgess, can you verify your mailing address for me?” He mispronounced my name, but I didn’t care.
I verified the information for him, then added “I would also like your name and the name of your supervisor…” paused for a moment, then added, “my attorney may need it.”
This was, of course, and idle threat; I would have to be insane to try to take on a credit company as large as Citibank (woops, let the name slip). Then again, it wasn’t the money that was pissing me off, so who knows. Thankfully I won’t have to know, since the moment the word “attorney” left my lips Apu wanted me to talk to someone higher up in the chain of command.
The supervisor had a worse accent than Apu, I really couldn’t understand anything she said. I did most of the talking though. There was generous use of the words “close my account”, “waive all fees”, “or else” and, of course, “attorney”. I probably said each of them a half a dozen times, basically whenever she tried to say anything. In less than five minutes my account was closed, and she had graciously offered to send me the one dollar credit that remained in my account. It was so simple.
I just have to wonder how many people just pay the fees. In my case it was pretty clear that I was being fleeced, but what if someone’s statement never arrived? Do most people simply pay the fee as opposed to going through the hassle of getting the fee removed? Do the credit card companies intentionally not send out statements to force the members to pay the fees? If I had to go through all this with Citibank (being one of the larger credit companies), what would you have to go through with some smaller bank?
Being the cynical person that I am, I believe that the majority of this is intentional. Most credit cards are not issued in the state that you live in, I think it is either Maryland or Massachusetts that most are based in, precisely because of lax regulation. Since you signed the contract in that other state, it would also have to be litigated in that state, which would be a heck of a burden for most people, especially when they could just pay the 9.95 (or whatever) and be done with it. The fact that they so quickly reverse all the charges really bolsters my case: They seem to know what they are doing is wrong, they simply don’t care. The second they are challenged on it they fold. Their actions are criminal, hell, worse than criminal, at least you know what to expect when you get involved with the Mafia.