13 August 2007

My smear campaign against Chase

Chase, like most banks, has encouraged customers to receive paperless statements because it saves them money. It saves me from the risk of having my mail stolen and my account number used—again. But I confess, since it’s not an account I use, I rarely open the actual statement. Why should I? All the information I need is conveniently provided in my online account summary: balance, minimum due, date due.

Now I know why I should. This month I logged on to my Chase account, as I always do when my end-of-month paycheck posts, and was dumbfounded to find that the account that has always been due on either the 2nd or 4th of the month was now due—past due—on the 29th of the previous month.

So now I open up my statement, and sure enough, there’s a note telling me what’s already become painfully obvious. It seems that Chase feels the only notification they need offer when changing a due date is a note at the bottom of the statement, the statement for the very month the date is changing. They are also kind enough to offer me the option of calling to set the due date for any old day of the month I want.

That’s what really gives me pause. If they don’t care what day of the freaking month my due date is, then for crying out loud, WHY DID THEY CHANGE IT IN THE FUCKING FIRST PLACE?

I’ll tell you why: Because this was an account on which they’d made the short-sighted error of offering a promotional rate on a transfer for the life of the balance—quite a nice promotional rate, at that, and yet another plank in my long, slow struggle toward rebuilding financial stability. (As a side note, all those stereotypes about women benefiting financially from divorce bear absolutely no resemblance to the events of my life.)

Because I was faithfully making payments on time, Chase could find no way to increase my interest rate without tricking me. What other possible reason could they have for changing a due date by perhaps 4 days? They e-mail me about any other darn thing they want at the drop of a hat, and this didn’t warrant separate notice? Any other change in terms requires a written notification sent in a separate envelope, so as to attract the attention of the account holder. Why not this? Because Chase executives are smart enough to know that their busy customers often look no further than the account summary they’re kind enough to provide; in fact, they’re counting on it.

I did get some small satisfaction from my call to customer service. Corrine, the supervisor of the initial representative who answered my call, begrudgingly refunded the late fee I’d been assessed, but she was unable to tell me whether I would retain the interest rate, which was of course far more important than the $39. And then she turned around and lied through her teeth.

While I had her on the phone, I took advantage of their kind offer to set the due date of my choice. I informed her of my intention to pay the late balance that very day, and asked whether my next due date would be August 20 or September 20. She replied that it would be September 22nd. All right, I guess they didn’t really mean any due date. They’d evidently rather it be a Saturday, thus giving them an opportunity to catch me making another late payment lest I mistakenly think that I can post the payment on the actual day it’s due.

Imagine my surprise when I logged on to my account to post my unwittingly late payment. Not only was my next due date August 20, it was for more than twice my normal minimum payment. Instead of a payment of $73, and another similar amount in September, I owe $163, due nine days before I’d have otherwise owed a second payment. I’d have been better off leaving the date alone. I’m sure Corinne couldn’t have known that was why I asked the question in the first place.

Thanks, Corrine. You’ve restored my faith in the status quo. When creditors make it this difficult for consumers to dig out of a hole they may have had considerable help digging, it’s no wonder so many of us just give up and default.

I know the credit card industry exists to make money. I don’t begrudge them their profit. But they needn’t resort to underhanded tricks in that pursuit. At least the mail thieves were honest enough to steal from me outright.