Ask The Consumerists: Help! Cingular’s Auto Bill Pay Sucks!

    “Dear Consumerist,

    Every month, I am harassed by Cingular wireless regarding my bill. I signed up for automatic payment, to pay my bill in full every month. Like clockwork, I am hit with late fees and annoying computer-generated phone calls every month. I dutifully call and pay my bill immediately, and remind the customer service agent that yes, I am signed up for automatic bill-pay, and yet again, it did not work. Every time, they assure me that I AM in fact signed up for automatic bill pay.

    This time, I called them up, and they didn’t even have my current credit card—they were trying to charge a card that I changed in October. I grow weary of this gross ineptitude. Any ideas for recourse?

    Thanks,

    Miriam”

Our reply, inside…

Miriam,

If you’re convinced that you want to use Cingular’s service, call Cingular’s customer service number when your payment is not late, ask for a supervisor and explain the problem. Say that you’ve been hit with late charges and you want to confirm your credit card with them for the upcoming billing cycle. One of two things will happen. 1) They still have no idea what the hell you’re talking about. 2) They’ll confirm your billing info.

No matter what they say, ask them to “note the account.” Tell the CSR that you’d like a note placed on your account saying you’ve repeatedly signed up for automatic bill pay. Tell them to do this. Make them do this. Then, when the automatic bill pay doesn’t work, and you call in, there will be a note on the account and the CSR will take you seriously. Also, ask if there is a way to confirm that you are signed up for automatic bill pay via Cingular’s website. If so, that’s one more way to make sure the service is working.

We suggest rather than using Cingular’s bill pay service, which is obviously crap, try setting up an automatic payment with your bank. There are two reasons this is a good idea: 1) You can stop the payments any time without dealing with Cingular. 2) Banks are better than cell phone companies at transferring money, being that they are banks.

Good luck.—MEGHANN MARCO

Comments

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  1. humphrmi says:

    I agree with Meghann… vendors love autopay systems because they control them and they’re subject to their terms. But your bank’s automatic payment systems are subject to the bank’s terms, which in general are fairly agnostic toward both the vendor and the consumer. If you must use a credit card to pay your bill (which is a really bad idea unless you’re paying it off every month and collecting cc rebates), maybe think about setting yourself a reminder to go to their website every month and enter it manually. I know that’s a pain, so if you’re looking for easy then stop paying by CC and use your bank and let them do the work you pay them to do.

  2. Gena says:

    I’ve been having problems with Cingular’s paper bill system…the bill shows up after it’s due! In the past, I’ve called Cingular to ask what my balance is so I could pay it without getting late fees, but lately, I’ve called to bitch about not getting the bill. I tell the agent if they can’t get me a bill in time, they’ll just have to wait until the first of the month when bills are paid…three weeks after the original bill is due.

  3. jorywoah says:

    Great advice. Making them note the account especially. All cell phone providers (and other customer service situations as well) have a way to note your account. This is true both over the phone as well as when you visit them in a retail setting. They are trained to note important things like promises made, or exact dollar amounts quoted – but it never hurts to be insistant that they note important information.

  4. Hoss says:

    With Cingular’s AutoPay, the monthly bill will say “Do Not Pay” on the stub where it indicates a total due. If it doesn’t say that — there’s a clog in the system somewhere.

    If it does say “Do Not Pay” and they still call for a payment — I’d borrow a slag dictionary for new words to express my anger.

  5. missdona says:

    And… if Cingular charges you incorrectly (in their favor, of course), it’s a big long process to get your money back. You should control who gets paid and when, not Cingular.

  6. aeproberts says:

    I have had problems with Cingular’s accounting department in general. I have had numerous issues with them billing me late, paying my bill on the phone and then getting late fees even though I paid on the phone in time. I even had automatic billing which didn’t fix the problem.

    Using Bank of America’s bill pay seems to have helped fix the problem, but it has only been a month or two.

  7. Myron says:

    “I grow weary of this gross ineptitude. Any ideas for recourse?”

    Don’t use the auto bill pay?

  8. Keter says:

    I had AT&T which was bought out by Cingular. AT&T’s automated payment system was flawless. Cingular’s immediately fouled up the way Miriam describes. Every month, I would have to call to get the problem fixed, and every month they would reverse the late charges and tell me the problem would not recur. But it did. And did.

    The last CS rep I spoke with said that this problem was common for the old AT&T customers they inherited, so it’s got to be due to some defect in the way they migrated/merged the AT&T databases. BTW, Cingular’s CS reps have almost always been really professional, and one, based out of Canada, went above and beyond the call of duty. Alas…even she and four levels of escalation couldn’t fix the problem (another sign of a deeply entrenched computer system error).

    After a year of this hassle, I got sick of spending half a hour on the phone every month straightening out the bill and told them to put me on plain old regular billing. It it is faster and more convenient to manually pay online each month than to deal with customer service!

    Use an automated reminder system like Outlook calendar to remind you to pay on time. That also solves the problem of bills that fail to arrive or arrive late. Set the calendar to remind you four or five days before the usual due date to prevent late payments due to weekends and holidays.

    Bad as they’ve been, Cingular still beats Verizon, who lost my business as soon as my contract expired because their autopay system inexplicably started double billing me every month…and I couldn’t get it turned off…thankfully they actually refunded the almost $400 of overpayments.

  9. Beckie says:

    Take it from a former cingular subscriber, ditch them as soon as you can. Cingular sucks.
    Beckie

  10. hardcle says:

    I too, was a former AT&T customer. I never had any problem with the auto pay before and after the merger.

  11. LeRainDrop says:

    Oh my God, this letter could have been written by me — except that I changed my credit card with them back in August and even after confirming my new card with them by phone, they charged my old card in October. I told the most recent rep about the October rep’s mistake, and he was like, “How are we supposed to know that they charged the wrong card?” As if the October rep would have noted on my account, “I decided to charge the wrong credit card.”

  12. xd0llsteak says:

    Credit counseling can help individuals who have been harmed by auto-pay fees.

  13. xd0llsteak says:

    Credit counseling can help individuals who have been harmed by auto-pay fees.