Let me tell you something. This blog of mine could be a full-time job. I get a lot of email -- and a lot of good stories to write about. Most of the time I do not turn my email messages into stories. Every now and then, though, I do. That's especially true when I start to see a trend in my email box. Which brings me to today's story.
One of my readers, we'll call him Hank, recently scheduled a payment on his eBay MasterCard. The card, which is underwritten by GE Money Bank, has a modest limit. Hank uses the card to make purchases on eBay (shocker). Anyhow, this month's payment was around $165. The statement closed toward the end of February and the payment was due on March 14. Once the statement closed, and the bill was generated, Hank scheduled the payment through his PayPal account, which is how he pays his eBay card each month. All is well.
Until yesterday. "Got home from work last night and it occurred to me that the money had never been withdrawn from my checking account. So I log into PayPal, and then to the card details, and I note that a late fee of $39 has been assessed," Hank says. Sounds like a simple mistake. Somewhere along the way, the technology hiccuped. The payment never got to GE Money Bank. A simple call should fix this right up.
"I have paid this card in full every month since I got it; since it was their error, and I have an email confirmation of my payment being "set-up," I call them to try and get the charge removed," Hank continues. In addition to the error that occurred somewhere along the payment chain, the late fee appears to have been assessed on the payment due date, too. No matter. This looks like as an easy case to resolve. Just call GE Money Bank and explain the problem.
Hank lobs a call into GE Money Bank. The first customer representative cannot help him. Hank escalates the call and gets a supervisor. The supervisor offers to refund $15 of the $39 late fee. No dice, says Hank. He refuses to make that concession. He wants the entire $39 back. Cancel the account, Hank tells the supervisor. The supervisor, according to Hank, begs him to keep the account open. "I told him sorry -- if this is the way they treat their best customers, I would hate to see how they treat distressed ones," Hank told me. "Sorry, it is not a lot of money, but it is the principle for me. If they are not willing to waive a late charge that is their fault, I really do not want to do business with them." (Note: Hank accesses the card through PayPal, but he is ultimately redirected to GE Money Bank's site to make the payment. That's why this isn't a PayPal problem and it is a GE Money Bank problem.)
Hank believes this is happening more and more -- though this was the first time it had happened to him. Hank's right. I have noticed a pick up in these kinds of complaints. Don't get me wrong, though. These kinds of errors are not new. What is new, though, is that card issuers are becoming more and more reticent about refunding the fees. When things were going well for the card issuers, it wasn't a problem. Now that they're going broke, though, good luck.
What has Hank learned from this experience? "I guess I would say if you pre-schedule payments, double check them right before the due date. A $39 late fee on a $165 balance is usurious," Hank says. "And I would also say [this]: if negotiation doesn't work, be prepared to walk away. Just because they successfully stuck it to me once doesn't mean I have to give them the opportunity to do it in the future. Card issuers clearly have no loyalty to their customers, why should we have any for them?" Anything else, Hank? "I will not do business with them anymore. It is going to get to the point, and I think sooner rather than later, that they need us more than we need them -- especially those of us who don't carry balances."
Here's my take. Watch the payment trail. If you schedule a payment be sure that it actually clears on time. Hank didn't catch the error early enough. In the future, he will. Used to be that an error like this could be resolved easily and quickly. Those days have seemingly passed. Card issuers -- desperate for fees -- are not as sympathetic to errors as they used to be. Let this story serve as a reminder of that.