2009-10-15

Consumer blues: A click that cost $128

Ten days ago, I messed up when paying my credit card bill online. I selected a wrong checking account from which to draft the funds in the drop-down menu. This morning, I woke up to discover that this misclick has just cost me $128 in an assortment of bank fees.

  • First, my bank dinged me for $30 to try and draft funds from an account that had none (this checking account has been lying dormant for a while).
  • Then, American express has dinged me for $38 for a returned payment.
  • Then, American Express system has tried drafting the funds from the zero-balance account for a second (-$30) and third (-$30) time. Kaching!

What really perplexes me is that it was two computer systems talking, and the operational cost to either financial institution to deny the payment and to cancel it might not even amount to a $0.01 per transaction.

The fees imposed on me for one small mistake are clearly designed to maximize the financial institutions' profits, not offset the costs caused by my mistake.

So this morning I set about talking my way out of these fees. I started with Amex.

The customer support agent (CSA) picked up almost immediately and asked "who he had the pleasure speaking with." I introduced myself, and without further ado explained what the problem was. I was able to state the exact amount of the transaction in question, so David did not ask me for any additional identification. (The phone system before him did some additional authentication stuff, so this was reasonably secure.)

After looking at my account and seeing that in the many years I have had it, it was in good standing, with never as much as a late payment, David has removed the $38 penalty from my account. I thanked him profusely and considered this to be a good start.

Next was my bank. Coastal Federal Credit Union, which was a much less polished customer experience. The agent sounded sleepy and grumpy and did not make any attempts to make me feel like I was welcome. I did not catch the agent's name, mostly due to the sloppy way she spoke. After hearing me out, she placed me on hold to look up the transaction in question, something that took a surprising amount of time, to the tune of 3-4 minutes.

When the Coastal CSA came back, she said she would remove the last two $30 fees (a total of $60), but would not be able to do anything about the first $30. Considering that I have been with this credit union for more than five years and this was my first slip with them in all this time, and also taking into account that I have just paid off their car loan, I hoped to be cut some slack. Apparently not.