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What to do when you’re mad at your credit card company

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Setting up automatic payments will help protect your credit scores.
(Matt Rourke / Associated Press)

Dear Liz: This past summer I was traveling in a foreign country and the email alert that a credit card payment was due did not reach me. Upon returning to the U.S. and attempting to use the card, I was verbally assaulted over the phone by a credit card company representative demanding payment. I’m 80 and have never missed paying off any credit card charge at the end of the billing cycle or paid a penny in credit card interest. The card company reported the missed payment, lowering my credit score 133 points.

This is no way to run a business! I’ve cut up both cards and closed all accounts I had with this company. I had no problem getting a card from another issuer. I’d think that best practice in my case would have been a flag raised on their computers that the missed payment was unusual. A polite contact could have been made, the check would have been in the mail the next day and the company would still have a customer.

Answer: Being verbally assaulted after a one-time lapse suggests either a poorly trained representative or a company that doesn’t care much about customer service. Unfortunately, your leverage to get the missed payment taken off your credit reports pretty much disappeared when you closed your accounts. Some card issuers will make such “goodwill” adjustments to keep longtime customers, but others won’t. It’s always worth asking before you take your business elsewhere.

Now that you have your new card, please consider setting up some kind of automatic payment so this doesn’t happen again. Credit card companies typically offer the option to have your minimum payment, your full balance or a dollar amount in between pulled from your checking account. Making sure that at least the minimum is paid can prevent further damage to your credit scores.

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The gift of organization

Dear Liz: You recently responded to a widow whose pension income stopped on her husband’s death. She was told the company had no record that he had chosen a “joint and survivor” option that would have continued the pension for her lifetime. This is outright fraud and elder abuse. My mother was given the same answer by an insurance company when my father died after collecting his pension for 25 years. If someone signs up for a “single life” pension that ends at death, the company will always have a record.

If you select the surviving spouse option, their standard operating procedure is to say they have no record. They prey on the elderly hoping the surviving spouse has dementia or lost their contract. Before my father died, other surviving spouses told my parents and me about this practice, so my parents kept all their retirement papers in a safe place. When I told the insurance company representative that I had the contract in front of me, her attitude changed from combative to helpful. She said, “I will mail you the paperwork to sign, and include a copy of the contract when you mail it back.”

Answer: Having a copy of the contract seems to be key in getting such conflicts resolved. Let’s hope the original letter writer still has this essential document that can prove her case.

Many people hang on to way too much paperwork because most of it will never be needed or can be retrieved or re-created. Documents relating to pension choices are among the exceptions. To be useful, though, important documents must be not only kept but also accessible. A contract buried in a pile of utility bills may never be found. Having an organized filing system and keeping it maintained can be a gift to yourself and your family.

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This year’s natural disasters, including hurricanes and fires, remind us that just having paper versions of documents isn’t enough. It’s a good idea to scan important documents and store copies at another site, on a secure internet site or (preferably) both.


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