Finance Globe

U.S. financial and economic topics from several finance writers.
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Don't Be Afraid to Speak to Your Credit Card Issuers

Don't Be Afraid to Speak to Your Credit Card Issuers

Your credit card issuers gave you a Cardholder Agreement with their terms and conditions when you opened a new account, and it's your responsibility as the card holder to abide by them, or be hit with fees and interest charges. But we're all human and make the occasional mistake, or life happens beyond our control. While a creditor may seem like the last one to be understanding of personal excuses, it never hurts to speak to a customer service representative when you make one of those mistakes or come upon hard times.

I have three personal examples to share with you - two of them made me a loyal customer to those credit card issuers.

My most recent event happened just today with my US Bank REI MasterCard. I normally pay my balance in full every month and on time, and I made my last payment online on the 10th - which was the due date - late at night. So I was surprised when I saw the late fee and interest charges tacked on for this most recent statement. I called customer service and asked about the fees and why my payment wasn't posted in time, and the very nice customer service representative said that it looks like I just missed it by a couple of hours, because online payments are due by 7 p.m. CST. He offered to let it slide this time and reversed the fees. Speaking to a live person on the bank's end saved me approximately $58 in late fees and interest charges. 

I had another late payment incident with Lowe's credit two years ago when my daughter was born. She was only a week old when she had to be re-admitted to the hospital for observation, and I didn't catch the monthly bill on time. It was several weeks late by the time I opened all the piled up mail. I called customer service and explained our family's recent ordeal, and they also reversed the late fee and interest charges. It was so nice to be treated with empathy and respect, and given a break during a stressful time. (And in case you're wondering, my little girl was just fine.)

My other incident about five years ago didn't end well. I applied for a Best Buy store card with the intention of taking advantage of the 0% interest introductory period. Well, time ran out before I had it fully paid off so I paid a couple months' worth of interest. I called customer service one day ready to pay it off in full with an electronic debit from my checking account and asked for the full payoff amount. I paid the full amount (roughly $780), asked again to be sure there was nothing else I owed, and then asked to close my account. So over the next couple of months I missed these bills they were sending me - assuming that because my account was closed it would be junk mail asking me to come back. Yes, it was my fault for not opening it, I admit it. When I finally opened it I realized it was a bill for roughly $6.50 - for late fees and interest charges. So I called customer service and asked how I could be charged for interest if it was paid in full. Apparently, it took several days from when I made the payment and the day it posted, so interest was accruing in the meantime. I paid the amount promptly over the phone and later found that incident on my credit report marked as "30 days late." I called customer service about that, and they refused to remove the negative mark. I just paid off a big balance with the best intentions and they got me for a late payment on an amount equal to lunch money. And no sympathy from them.

Banks with good customer service are more likely to keep their customers - they know we credit card users generally have very little loyalty and will jump from one card to another depending on which card has the best deals. And they may forgive us for an occasional late payment because they know it will probably pay off in the long run by keeping us as around longer. If US Bank didn't reverse those charges, I may not have put up a fight since the payment was technically late - but I may have eventually started taking those offers from other credit card issuers a little more seriously. And if Lowe's credit wasn't so understanding, I may have started doing my home project shopping at Home Depot. And maybe Best Buy wrote me off and refused to help because I closed my account, but all I know is I haven't bought a single thing from them since that and never plan to.

In summary, make responsible credit decisions and send your payments on time. Make yourself valuable to your credit card issuer. And if you ever hope for understanding from your card issuer for an honest mistake, they might just give you a break. Or not - but it doesn't hurt to try.

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Wednesday, 22 May 2024

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