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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Chase-ing Your Own Tail

In the ongoing battle between debt and myself, the tide is ever turning. One day I’m the dog and the next day the fire hydrant. I have managed to control costs by eliminating a lot of personal debt leaving only a car payment, a mortgage, and two credit cards to finish before I can feel accomplished. While one card has a small amount that is usually paid off before the bill is due, the other is the sum of my life’s work. Its balance carries with it the various threads of idiocy over the years as I opened one card, transferred a previous balance and attempted to pay it off before the year of 0% interest could expire. Then, my wife tagged along, and soon we had three cards going at once, all carrying a balance that finally became aggregated into one card through Chase Card Services.

Of those three credit cards I’ve carried, I will say that the GM Master Card has been the kindest of creditors. My National City Visa is sitting there waiting for me to use it, and my wife’s Discover Cards are collecting cobwebs, which is how I like it. Quite frankly, I would have never even opened a credit card if I hadn’t decided to buy a house in 2004. I opened a Visa card, bought something and paid the balance when it was due. I started to establish credit with that single purchase and since then everything has gone downhill. We’ve moved from one card to another carrying a portion of a balance that started three cards prior. I slowly began to whittle down my debt.

First off was my GM card which I could use to get cash towards a car purchase. Once I finished off the major balance on that card from the Ghosts of Christmas Past, I decided to help my wife pay down the Chase card. It contained the remainder of our credit card debt attributed to her previous cards and I thought I’d be a good husband and help pay it down. What started out as progress turned into a dance with the devil, and I was leading.

Now, my wife and I are two different types of payers. She likes to physically mail a check each month to Card Services, while I like to use the online services to schedule payments directly from my checking account. I can set it and forget months at a time. Also my wife likes to pay things over time, disregarding the huge finance charges on our existing balance, whereas I like to take every extra cent I can allocate away from other things and throw it at the principal along with monthly payments. To tell the truth, I spent the last four months sending GM a payment of about $20 a week just to keep from having a bigger payment at one time. They (HSBC Card Services) might have hated seeing those transactions once a week, nibbling away at my balance, but I was able to free up my thoughts towards other issues and not take a huge hit in the wallet while doing it.

I know a lot of people who will side with my wife when it comes to seeing a physical bill, sending a physical check, and knowing that you took care of it instead of setting up complex payment schedules based on the tides and phases of the moon. Yet, I can take off my shoes and count up all the times she has come to me and said, “Oh, crap! I forgot to send the check. Can you pay it online tonight?” “Yes, dear.” I would say and two minutes later I had an email thanking me for my payment.

However, my lifestyle did not allow for one thing, a single digit, left off the end of my checking account. My wife paid a little more than the minimum payment each month and in the middle of the month, I would send in an additional payment online. I thought everything was fine until I noticed that the balance of the card was climbing and my checking account statements weren’t showing debits toward the card. I logged into Chase’s online service and saw that each month there was two line items from my account. One was asking for a payment. The other was returning the payment. Additionally, there was a $39 returned payment fee showing up alongside the reversals. After two months, I had accrued $117 in charges to the account.

For the most part, I regard mail as a privilege. When I open the mailbox and see a stack of envelopes I get a little excited. Once I get inside, however, I lose more and more of that excitement as I sift through garbage and junk mail. A lot comes from credit card companies looking to snag you into their web of deceit. Even some of the mail comes from your own credit card companies touting a low interest rate for transfer of balances or other services. These usually get shredded or thrown into the fireplace for kindling. So, it came to pass that I disregarded two small perforated card stock letters informing me that my account had returned a payment because there was a problem with the account. When I did notice them, I took it as an error on their part, not mine. After all, I’d been using that checking account for almost 20 years. I’ve never had problems with them before. In fact, last year, Comcast…another good honest friend of mine…*cough* rip off *cough* decided to not draft a payment from my checking account, one month, and then drafted $300 the next month. The reason they cited was that there was a problem with my checking account. Further investigation revealed the error on Comcast’s side of the board. I called my financial institution and they had no record of an attempt to draft off my account. Apparently, Comcast has technical glitches between the keyboard and the seat all the time and I had to suffer for it. I treated this issue with Chase as the same problem, they screwed up.

Another month went by and another letter came. It happened again. My wife decided to call Chase for some answers and after going round and round over the matter, she handed me the phone. When I spoke to the customer service agent he told me that the account in question could not be found. Now that was a different story than problem with the account. Problem with the account infers that the account is there. You can see it, touch it, taste it, smell it, but it has a weird flavor and looks to have gone bad, recently. The account not being found means that you’ve walked to the fridge, opened it up and asked “Where’s the Sunny D?” After hearing, “Did you check behind the milk?” and “Well, is it behind the soda?” you realize that you’re all out. It wasn’t until the agent had me read my checking account number to him that the problem became clear. They were looking in the fridge of my life for Sunny D and found Tang. In other words, when I entered in the account information to set up the payments, I dropped off the last digit on the end of the account number.

Playing on the sympathy of the economy I pleaded with the agent to forgive the charges as it was apparent that we were trying to pay the card, but the account number was too short. He said that due to a policy change he couldn’t forgive the charges but gave me the name and address of the VP of card services at Chase in Ohio. He told me to write a letter asking for the charges to be dropped and said that only he could do it.

So, we’re off to see the wizard and I’ve even brought along the witches broom in the form of statements showing the payments and reversals as well as the payment schedule proving a difference in account number from the payment account for the problem payments as well as the corrected account number at the top. We’ll just have to wait and see if the wizard is nothing more than a humbug.

To top things off, I just checked the account and a message had shown up in my inbox. Back at the beginning of the month, I sent them a message asking about the charges. They finally replied, deducting one of the charges from my account. Well, apparently, the guy manning the online stuff has a little more power than the guy on the phone. Yeah, and monkeys might fly out of my butt.

What a world. What a world.

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