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December 16, 2008

Financial Customer Service Takes a Hit

I have been a member of American Express Blue for, well, a long time. At least 8 years. In all of that time, I have always either paid off the card in full, paid off a sum much more than the minimum amount, or paid the minimum. The few times there has been a dispute on the card, the company has admitted it was its fault and the extra charges or whatever were credited off.

In November, I looked online at my balance due, which was around $42. Now, granted, that was just the monthly payment amount as, with the expenses of everything involved in the lead up to, the moving, and certain expenses since moving, I'm carrying a much larger overall balance than usual. I reviewed my statement, then logged into my bank and sent AmEx $100. More than enough to cover the $42 I saw due and take another small bite out of the overall balance until I find work and can start making more serious payments. As a note, I keep the tab with the CC balance up for reference when I log into my bank account to make the payment, so I can decide how much and review both before clicking Send on anything.

On December 12 I again checked my AmEx statement online. I saw that the balance due was $183, that my payment had a due date of Dec. 28, logged onto my bank and sent the company $200, and thought that was it until my next check/payment cycle in mid-January.

Today, just a little bit ago, I received an email notice that my card was on hold until such time as they received the $183 in full. "What the hell?" I said out loud to no one in particular (M has gone to bed). I immediately logged on to my AmEx account and saw that it still showed $183 due and a due date of Dec. 28. Nothing else on it showed any reason to make me think that anything was wrong with the account.

I called support and finally got to Robert in Past Due Accounts. He told me that my payment of $100 in November was $42 short of the full amount. Which, on hindsight, makes sense with the balance I'm carrying right now. However, when it comes to money and these accounts in particular, I am very careful and I nearly always pay more than the minimum balance. Either my statement in November was incorrectly showing me something, or the company added a late fee, or something happened that caused what I saw online. Robert tried to be helpful but, with the credit crisis where it is, he (and AmEx) were no longer willing to be very helpful. I explained that I had paid the amount due and then some in November, and that I had already paid the full amount due for this month and then some. I wanted my card taken off hold. He expressly refused to do that, but apologized profusely for what he granted was some sort of error or miscommunication between me and his company.

What I am frustrated by is the fact that I told him to scan through my account and see how long I've been a member and if he could find any cases of me not paying at least the minimum every month. He agreed that he could not. He did find a whopping total of two instances where I was late in making a payment (but granted it was by a few days only, so the check was likely delayed in the mail or was too close to the payment due date when sent). He agreed that I was an outstanding customer and commented that he wished more customers had my history. Yet he still wouldn't budge on the issue. My history with the company, being in great standing in general, and his acknowledging that there must have been some sort of typographical or other error which caused me to pay less than the amount due last month made no difference in how I was treated.

I agreed with him that he is part of a business and that a business needs to make money. However, when he started saying, "If we did what you are asking for the millions of customers we have..." I cut him off. I said, "I don't want you to do this for millions of people; I want you to do it for me. Because of my great standing with your company, history of excellent payment, long time use of the card and membership." But he refused.

I understand that AmEx needs to clamp down in these times and that they have to make profits and keep their noses clean to weather the financial storm. However, what the company is choosing to do is lump a bunch of people with excellent credit histories in with the miscreants, thieves, and reprobates that may take advantage. I am now angry with my treatment, angry that the company no longer considers me a valuable resource, and is no longer willing to make me happy as a customer.

But, I think the anger primarily stems from having my good history, my good name, called into question by this company. As if my many years of excellence no longer matters and no longer counts for anything. That's what hurts the most. I have spent years accruing a good financial history in general, a credit score higher than 95% of Americans, and had that all questioned by Robert during our phone conversation. Yes, I know he didn't question it directly, but that was what he was (without his knowledge) attacking when he said there was nothing he could for me.

Then, I can't help but think, why should I bother keeping the good credit history? I already lived through SoCal and watching people who earned half what I did buying houses that were many times what I could afford. People changing cars more often than their hairstyles or underwear. I watched people run up huge credit card bills and then just walk away from them. I saw people use bankruptcy laws as just another part of their financial portfolio. All through it I kept myself clean and above-board and did my best to live within my means. And, today, because of the mess all those other people created (and the financial institutions that catered to them), my history and value as a member of American Express was called into question and I was lumped in with them.

Long story made not too much longer, my bank says they sent the check on Saturday. Which means AmEx should have it Tuesday or Wednesday at the latest, if all works out as it usually does. And my card will be freed immediately.

My faith in AmEx will not be so easily repaired.

Update 12/16/08
Today I received the email that AmEx received my payment for $200 and all is right with my account again. So, on the surface, it seems like much ado about nothing. However, my point is still valid; I am not to blame for the credit/financial crisis in America and I don't appreciate being treated like someone who is to blame. I have a great credit history with that company in particular and in general and should be treated accordingly.


  1. You had difficulty with them on our trip cross country to the point that you threatened to close your account. Perhaps that's the next step as the loss of business seems to be the only action that businesses understand.

  2. I truly hope that the USA learns some good lessons from this whole financial meltdown. To the consumers, stop buying stuff you can't afford! To the guys handing out the credit cards, the home loans, etc... stop giving these things to people who don't deserve them! Seriously!

    Those who are guilty of this stupidity are now sowing what they've reaped, and taking the rest of us along for the ride! (Gee, thanks)

    Sure, the credit industry may never be as lucrative, but hey, the jig is up. These markets never should have been this lucrative to begin with. Deal with it.

    Do I think we'll learn our lesson from this? Um... yeah, sure. That is, until it's stops hurting so much, and greed starts kicking in again. I like to hope, however, that we'll never let it get so out of hand again. Along with that is my expectation that the appropriate federal regulations will be put into place to ensure that it doesn't.

    In the mean time, we've got a long, bumpy ride ahead of us. Might as well buckle in and make the best of it.

  3. Jim Susky7:29 PM

    AMEX sucks.

    MY first clue about them had to do with my deceased Mom's "Ameriprise" accounts with them in 2002. The very smart broker who had inherited her accounts from her long-time broker was saddled with mundane clerical work - thus causing me to not hire him for my part of the inheritance.

    My next clue - same financial services bunch - was their mishandling of sending checks from my mom's accounts - requiring me to hold a conference call to manage what should have been a simple transaction. They followed up with an utterly insincere form letter about a testy statement I made on that call.

    Last month, they cancelled both my inactive and active credit cards.

    (I'm like you, good credit rating, prompt payer, etc.)

    I was beating them like a drum on their 3% teaser - bundled with my Costco account. I was accumulating 3% on AMEX CC purchases even as I paid zero interest. The dropped me after nearly a year. I'll reapply, and see if they're stupid as well.

    I'll say this, though. When I got notices about "reward points" on my formerly inactive account - I called the number and joked around with the guy who was chained to his terminal and headset.

    He asked if I had the "Platinum" account. I said I didn't know, but was nervous about cards named after expensive precious metals.

    He got me $200 of gift cards to Home Depot - very helpful and much much better than virtually all the other junk they offered over the years (which was why I didn't bother with that game and generally don't bother with other games.

    The Costco-bundled 3-per-cent-er? That will come with a check for nearly $400 next month.

    So, not all bad, just generally.

    I also found with them, that sometimes another phone call, asking for supervisor, will help to get concessions with AMEX.

    Some unsolicited advice: I'd try to get other credit - signature loan at local bank, other cards, pay AMEX, and never look back.