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Rant: Bank Customer Service Hell

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This was not a good day for my nerves in maintaining my various financial accounts. Today I have had to waste nearly an hour on the phone to fix errors by my banks. Here’s a rundown of the stupidity:

Chase – I opened a new Chase personal credit card account in October and did a balance transfer to my Capital One account, where the promotional rate was about to expire. After a couple of weeks, the account was no longer available for viewing on my Chase Online page and over a month past the opening date I had yet to receive a statement. I called to find out that a fraud alert had been placed on my account (although no one from Chase ever called to tell me that) and I had to basically re-answer all of the questions from my application to verify that it is indeed a legitimate account. Thankfully everything is fixed now, but it is still a royal PITA. Time wasted: 22 minutes.

Capital One – Despite calling twice to verify that no finance charge would be assessed on my promotional balance if I paid it off before November 1, on my latest statement the clowns at Capital One proceeded to charge be a finance charge on the balance I paid off on October 23. I called up customer service and waited on hold for a while for the first line rep, who immediately declared he could do nothing for me and I would need to talk to an account manager. After waiting on hold for the account manager for a while longer, she comes on the line and I repeat my story and she looks at the account and agrees that an adjustment is needed almost immediately. Time wasted: 25 minutes.

HSBC – Reviewing all of my accounts in Yodlee, I noted that my HSBC Checking which I closed last month had been charged a service fee of $12 for falling below the minimum balance requirement. I call up HSBC and after navigating their Labyrinth of a phone tree menu I finally talk to a person and explain the situation twice. She reviews the account and noted the account had been requested closed last month and manually closed the account and submitted the credit to reverse the finance charge. Time wasted: 9 minutes.

In total I spent 54 minutes on the phone correcting errors made by my banks. This isn’t including the time I spent to pull up my notes on the accounts. I also didn’t even do anything with a bank by mail deposit that isn’t showing up on my Presidential Checking account, although at this point I can’t be sure if it is an error by the bank or the postal service lost the deposit in transit.

November 16, 2007 Posted by | banking, Credit Cards, Customer Service | , , , , | 2 Comments

Citi AMEX Platinum Deal: 3% min back on all purchases for 24 months + 15K bonus

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Here is a deal that I found in preparation for my recent App-O-Rama. Citi is currently running a promotion for new applications for the Citi AMEX Platinum Card. The card offers 5 Thank You Points per dollar on everyday purchases (gas, grocery, and drugstores), and 3 Thank You Points per dollar on everything else. You also receive 15,000 bonus Thank You points after spending $300 in the first three months.

You can apply for the card by clicking here.

Thank You points can be redeemed for gift cards, travel, and other items. On most gift cards, 10,000 points can be redeemed for a $100 card, which means that at minimum you will get a minimum of 3% back.

There are two catches on the offer that are pretty easy to work around:

  1. The annual fee is waived for the first year only. Afterwards the annual fee is $99.
  2. The promotional reward levels are only for the first 24 months. Afterwards you get a measly 1 Thank You point per dollar.

Of course the work around is to cancel the card before the one year anniversary. Just be sure to stop using the card about a month before you close the account so you don’t forfeit any points.

October 25, 2007 Posted by | Credit Cards | , , , , | 1 Comment

7 Unwritten Credit Card Secrets

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Our friends over at Blueprint for Financial Prosperity recently posted about ” 7 Unwritten & Often Forgotten Credit Card Secrets”. There is some great information in that post and I would encourage everyone to take a look. Here is a quick summary of the “secrets”:

1. Just ask: Lower interest, reduce or eliminate fees -It’s amazing what a card company is willing to do when they think they may lose you as a customer.

2. Roll credit limits of the same issuer onto fewer cards -I’ve done this one often. It is a lot easier to manage a single card with a $20,000 limit than 4 cards with $5,000 limits.

3. Request an increase to the credit limit without a credit pull – Do this through the card’s website. Remember a hard credit pull will decrease your credit score.

4. Capital One & Discover don’t have a foreign transaction fee charge – True, but has anyone ever found somewhere overseas that actually takes Discover?

5. Change your card to a different type or rewards program – Card companies always change up programs, so if you aren’t satisfied with your current program try to change to something else.

6. Most cards double manufacturer’s warranty

7. Most cards offer auto rental liability insurance

However, probably the best nugget of wisdom was the following reminder about credit card companies:

  1. They exist to make as much money as possible,
  2. They have relatively well documented rules and operating procedures,
  3. They’re willing to break #2 in pursuit of #1.

Keep this in mind when calling up customer service.

October 11, 2007 Posted by | Credit Cards | 1 Comment

Can YOU handle that promotional credit card rate? Probably not…

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Here is an interesting tidbit on how consumers use those teaser balance transfer rates offered by credit card companies. As cited in a study from this Marketwatch article, those who take advantage of these balance transfer rates fall into three nearly equal groups:

  • About one-third transfered balances to the new card and paid the balance off during the promotional period without charging any other purchases to the card. As purchases are normally charged a much higher interest rate, charging anything to the card is usually a bad deal.
  • About one-third continued to make new purchases on the card each month at the much higher interest rate.
  • About one-third had a “eureka” moment between 1-6 months after the balance transfer when they figure out that purchases are charged at a much higher rate. Only then did those folks stop making new purchases on the card.

Always remember that although your balance transfer may be at 0% APR, your purchases probably aren’t. Additionally, your payments go towards the lower promotional balance first, meaning your higher rate purchases will continue to accumulate interest until the balance is paid off. So if you take advantage of a low rate balance transfer offer:

  • Keep careful notes of when that promotional rate expires and make sure to pay off the balance before that date
  • Don’t make any new purchases on the card. When you get the card, put it in the sock drawer and forget about it.
  • Make sure to make your payments on this card on time. If you pay this card late, the default interest rate of 20%+ will likely apply. Also make sure you pay your other cards on time as well, since many cards practice universal default where they can hike your interest rate for paying someone else late, too.

October 1, 2007 Posted by | Credit Cards | Leave a comment

Capital One: Let us know what you want, and we’ll totally ignore you!

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Here’s a candidate for most pointless credit card marketing piece. My wife has a Capital One Visa card that she hasn’t used in a long time. She got the card while she was in college, so the reward program sucks and the credit limit is a ridiculously low $1800. However, since it is one of her oldest accounts we don’t want to close it because of the hit her credit score would take.

Since she hasn’t used the card in a long time, Capital One sent her two mailings, including the one attached. The message was that life changes and so should your card, with an invitation to call Capital One to let them know what changes you’d like to make to the account to make you want to use it. Seems reasonable enough, and we figured it would be good to call them to make sure the card stays active and isn’t cancelled by the issuer

.Capital One Flyer

When calling, we hoped for a much higher limit along with a juicy 0% balance transfer offer. If we couldn’t get a balance transfer offer, we at least wanted to change the card to the No Hassle Cash Rewards program (the one with the 25% annual bonus) so it would be worth using. Imagine our surprise when the request to increase the credit limit was automatically denied! And then the request to change to the Cash Rewards program was also denied! The representative said that they couldn’t change the limit or reward program on that account, but she was welcome to apply for a new card with a higher limit and different program.

If they couldn’t change the limit or reward program, what the hell was the point of the mailing inviting her to call to make her card a better fit? They should have just sent her another pre-approved application if they were just going to invite her to apply for a new card anyway.

Needless to say, she didn’t apply for another card and we’ll continue using our other cards from Citi and Chase instead of a Capital One card. We’ll just make a small purchase on the old Capital One card once a year to keep the account active and preserve her credit score.

September 21, 2007 Posted by | Credit Cards | 4 Comments

Shift credit lines when you close a card

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I spent some time on the phone this morning with several of my credit card companies. Last fall I did what is often referred to as a “App-O-Rama”. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, an AOR is when you apply for a large number of credit cards (usually anywhere from 8-20) for the purpose of collecting promotional bonuses or taking advantage of promotional balance transfer rates which can be invested in a high-yield savings account at a higher rate.

Anyway, I did an AOR last year, opening several credit cards for the promotional bonuses. The catch on several was that after the first year, there is an annual fee. I don’t want to lose the credit line (unused lines help your credit score), but I don’t want to pay annual fees either. So what you do is call the card company and ask them to move the credit line to an existing no-fee card. Most companies will do it since there is no additional risk they are bearing (ultimately you have the same total credit line, just over fewer cards). Here the results from this morning:

Chase – Closed a United Airlines Signature Visa with a credit line of $10,000. Asked the rep to transfer the line to my Visa Cash Plus Rewards card. No credit report pulled or other issues. The transaction took all of five minutes.

Citi – Closed a American Airlines AAdvantage Mastercard with a credit line of $15,000 and transferred the line to my Citi Dividend card. Again, no credit report pulled and it took all of five minutes.

I also called to cancel my AMEX Business Gold Card. This one is a charge card, not a credit card, so there is no limit associated with the card that can be transferred. However, there is a steep annual fee on the card that I definitely wanted to avoid. I called and got the hard sell as to why I should keep it open after only being offered to have the account downgraded to a Green Card that would only be fee free for the first year. It took a little while of me shooting down each of his arguments, but within 10 minutes that card was closed as well. Unfortunately no bonus reward point retention offers this time around. =(

I still have a couple of more cards I need to do the same thing with, but I thought I would share the experience since most people probably don’t realize this is an option.

August 17, 2007 Posted by | Credit Cards | 1 Comment

Credit card usage promotions for existing cardholders

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I had a few interesting offers in the mail this past week from credit cards we already have. These are all offers (most likely targeted) for bonuses for using our card. We received these three within the last week:

1. Sony Card (Chase): Get a $25 statement credit for spending $100 or more with the card from July 6 through August 2.

2. Citi Mastercard: Make three purchases between July 1 and September 15, receive a voucher good for a free round of golf, a beauty treatment, and a 2-for-1 dining experience at selected locations.

3. AMEX Blue: Make three purchases between July 1 and July 31, earn 2500 bonus membership reward points (good for a $25 gift card).

Update: Received this in the mail today for the Citi Professional Card: Make $300 in purchases between July 1 and August 31, earn 3000 bonus Thank You points.

The common thread between these cards is that all of them have not been used in quite a long time. I guess it goes to show there are other benefits to keeping old cards open besides just the positive effect on your credit score.

July 10, 2007 Posted by | Credit Cards | Leave a comment

All Gas Stations NOT Created Equal

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Sorry for the last of posts over the last couple of weeks. We have just had a lot going on around our house to keep me off of the computer.

Anyway, yesterday as I was filling my gas tank at Sam’s Club, it occurred to me that perhaps not all stations are created equal. No, I’m not trying to feed you that line of bull that the gas sold by Sam’s, Costco, etc., is somehow inferior to that you purchase from one of the big name brands. I worked for one of those big names for three years and can assure you that all gasoline sold by anyone has to meet minimum standards and the only difference is any additive that is put in. Almost all gas has additives in it, and the difference between brands and non-brands is virtually nil.

No, I am talking about the way your credit card company treats the purchases you make at traditional gas stations versus warehouse club and grocery store gas pumps. Simply put, the credit card companies normally consider gas purchases at warehouse clubs to be in the same category as the purchases you would make inside the store. This doesn’t really matter unless you have a rewards credit card that pays a higher reward rate for gas purchases than other categories. For instance, my Chase Cash Rewards Plus card pays 5% for purchases at traditional gas stations, but only 1% for purchases at Sam’s Club (including gasoline).

Because of high gas prices right now, in many cases it is actually cheaper to buy gas at a traditional gas station with a rewards card than at a warehouse club. Take my fill-up yesterday. My choices were a Shell station at $2.859 or Sam’s Club at $2.789.

Shell @ $2.859/gal minus 5% credit card rewards on gas station purchases of $0.143/gal = $2.716 net price/gal

Sam’s Club @ $2.789/gal minus regular 1% credit card reward of $0.028/gal = $2.761 net price/gal

So in this instance although the posted price at Sam’s was lower, the price after credit card rewards was 4.5cents cheaper at Shell. For a 20 gallon fill-up that is 90cents difference. Filling up once a week at that rate the difference would add up to $46.80 over the course of a year. Obviously not a large sum of money, but if you saw it on the ground you would certainly pick it up.

June 19, 2007 Posted by | Automotive, Credit Cards | Leave a comment

AMEX Blue and the disappearing promo APR

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I just got an unpleasant surprise on my AMEX Blue statement. I had applied for this card last November under an offer of 15 months at 0% APR on purchases. As the reward program on this card is pretty good and 0% is almost always as good as free money, I applied for the card and was instantly approved. I had effectively secure over $10k of 0% credit for the next 15 months, or so I thought.

I looked at my statement online yesterday (closed on the 24th and I hadn’t received it in the mail yet) and found an odd line item at the very end of the transactions for finance charge in the amount of $0.50. Examining the finance charge section I found that the finance charge was on an average daily balance of about $26 at a rate of nearly 20%.

Knowing I should be under promo terms I call AMEX customer service, who informs me that my terms were for only six months. Although the offer stated 15 months, that term was the maximum and shorter terms could be offered based on creditworthiness. Sure enough, when I check the letter I received with the card in small print it notes that my promo APR is only in effect through my billing period ending in April. However, nowhere does it state that the shorter term was based on my credit history, nor did I receive any other communication from AMEX that an adverse action had been taken based on my credit history which is a direct violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)

At this point I have sent a payment electronically to AMEX for the full balance due to limit the damage. My next steps will be to wait for the Membership Rewards points to post for all of my accounts (I have two personal accounts plus a business account) and cash them out. After I’ve made sure I haven’t left anything on the table I will then call up AMEX to cancel all of my cards explaining that their business practices are both deceptive and illegal and indicating that I will be filing formal complaints with the BBB and Texas Attorney General’s Office, and that I am also considering an action against them under FCRA. Hopefully that will be enough to have the finance charges incurred (finance charges will continue to be incurred on the balance until they post the payment, so we are talking more than $0.50) refunded and a little something-something given as “hush money”. Under FCRA I could get a lot more than that if I decide to take it to court, so hopefully they will decide to take the easy way out.

Lessons learned from this episode:

  1. Always remember that everyone is out to screw you.
  2. Be sure to verify the promotional terms in effect on your account after you get your card. Apparently what is stated in the offer they use to get you to apply doesn’t mean Jack Schmidt.
  3. If you are going to do these 0% balance transfer or purchase deals, always have the cash on hand to cover the balance in full. There is always the chance that either you will mess up and pay late canceling your promo APR, or you will be on the receiving end of a card company’s shenanigans. This situation sucks in that we will be out probably about $50 in interest charges from the time the statement closed and when our payment will be posted (represents about 12 days), but just imagine if we weren’t able to pay it off in full! At an APR of nearly 20%, the interest charges would add up very quickly.

May 1, 2007 Posted by | Credit Cards, Customer Service, Scams | 3 Comments

4000 EASY AMEX Reward Points (Retention)

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Late last year I applied for and received an AMEX Business Gold Rewards Card. The offer at the time was for 5,000 AMEX Membership Reward Points (redeemable for a $50 gift card), a $100 statement credit, and $150 TigerDirect gift card after your first purchase of $100 or more. A total of $300 in freebies for applying for a credit card. Not bad!

The only catch is that the card has a $125 annual fee, which is waived for the first year only. Not wanting to pay an annual fee on principle, I called AMEX customer service yesterday and was offered an additional 4,000 Membership Reward points to not close the account. As my annual fee renewal isn’t until October, I gladly accepted. I might have to call and try this again in a couple of months to see if I can get it again. =)

I along with several others had issues getting our TigerDirect gift cards off this promotion and when I complained to AMEX they gave me a $150 statement credit to make up for the gift card I hadn’t received. Lo and behold TigerDirect decided to actually honor their end of the deal a few weeks later, so I actually got even more off this offer.

Total loot from this card so far:

$100 statement credit (12/2006)

$50 in AMEX points (12/2006)

$150 statement credit (2/2007)

$150 TigerDirect gift card (3/3007)

$40 in AMEX points (4/2007)

$490 total in bonuses

April 4, 2007 Posted by | Credit Cards, Customer Service | 1 Comment