04 June 2009

Successful Credit Card Squabbling

I am going to divert from the usual "politics, media, pop culture" mix and talk about credit cards today. I want to help arm you with the information you need if you get into a squabble with your credit card issuer.
The current recession in our economy and resulting problems within the money and finance industries are causing credit card companies to act a bit desperate. They will smack you with fees when they can, unless you know the law and call them on it. You have to protect yourself in this area.
I hope you examine your credit card bill every month. But if you sometimes skip a month and then sit down to review a month or two in arrears, you are probably still going to come out okay. It's not a case of "once it's paid, it's gone." This is a credit card company, not a fly-by-night roof repair guy going door to door after a hurricane. (Although let me think about that metaphor. Recession? Hurricane? Hmmm.) If you have been using credit wisely, these companies will want a long term relationship with you. If you've used credit wisely, you are the Prom Queen.
In my particular case, I was reviewing a credit card bill today when I saw a late fee charge. That's what happens when you move around a bit as I have lately; occasionally, a helpful/unhelpful relative who is getting your bills decides that you don't need one of them immediately, and you get notified one day before the check is due. Ugh.
Here's my tip to avoiding such a charge: if you had returns on that same credit card during that month and the credit adjustments on your account are greater than the minimum payment, you should not face a late fee.
In my case, Discover Card socked me with a $39 late fee. (Which, by the way was nearly 20% of that month's entire amount charged.) I spotted it today, more than two months after the bill was paid.
Then I examined the rest of the bill. The minimum payment that month was $18. But I was looking for something else: a credit adjustment. I spotted a credit adjustment of $27.32 (larger than that month's minimum payment) and picked up the phone to call Discover. They immediately agreed to refund the late $39 fee.
You only get fee refunds on your credit card bill if you are watching it closely yourself. The credit card company will never call to say "Oh, I think this fee that we've charged you is sorta superfluous. Maybe we'll just give it back to you." It's simply not in their nature.
At the same time, I also saw some smaller charges: (2) for $2.77 and (1) $2.64 from GTC Telecommunications. GTC is a long distance company that provides service at .05 cents per minute, which used to be a great price for long distance phone services, but now is sort of "so-so." Since I disconnected the "land line" phone at my Los Angeles apartment in December, it seems inappropriate that I still pay charges beyond January.
I also asked Discover to dispute those charges. They said they would be happy to send me the forms.
I've "disputed" items before. If you haven't, please consider doing it. Credit card companies are required to allow you to dispute the services for things such as low quality, broken, or otherwise returned merchandise, things not ordered or received, and services not rendered. You contact the credit card company, request the dispute, and they will ask you "did you try to work this out with the merchant/vendor?" Ultimately, they will send you the dispute forms and they ask you to fill them out, sign the affidavit and return it within about a two week period.
I did have one credit card company several years back try to tell me that they couldn't refund the money because the merchant had already been paid. I contacted some friends in the public affairs office at the FTC for clarification, and then called the credit card company back. The money was refunded. Fortunately, most credit card companies don't try that bluff with consumers anymore. But if they do, federal law states you have 60 days from receipt of the credit card statement to file a dispute.
Some days, you may need more protection than that. I recently ordered a product. On arrival, the items were so poorly made that I felt cheated. I looked in the box, but there was no return form. I checked the website. No return form. I called the company and got a simple answer: they don't accept returns. I said "Some of your product is broken, but even so, none of it is acceptable. I am returning it."
They said they would send more product to replace the broken items, but they "do not ever accept returns and that they would not ever.... " (They were still yelling when I hung up.)
The fact is that they do accept returns, whether they want to admit it or not. You have the right to return merchandise that is not as shown or as ordered. You just put it in the mail and return it. You are well-advised to get both insurance and require a signature on the delivery, but that's easy enough.
Here's where the whole thing took a twist: when I contacted the credit card company to dispute this charge, they said "Ms. Johnson, you may want to close this account and re-open another one. Otherwise, this company will just re-bill you for the full amount next month. And the month after that. And the month after that." (The customer service person said the merchant had a history with them.) Result: that credit card number is gone.
The rule is: change the credit card account number when necessary to avoid being taken advantage of by unscrupulous merchants. And try not to deal with unscrupulous merchants ever again.
Credit card companies have a reputation for being difficult to deal with. But if you know what the laws state and take the time to review your statements carefully, you can have successful dealings with them.
Because as someone once told me, "Nobody takes care of baby like Mama herself." Go ahead and baby your credit. It may pay off for you, too.

1 comment:

Jen said...

Love this post. Everyone needs these important skills.