Why Did The Tennessean Send This Bill For $0.08?

The Tennessean sent reader MP a bill for eight cents three months after he canceled his promotional subscription. MP has no intention of wasting a relatively expensive stamp to pay this trifle of a bill, but he would like to know: what could possibly costs eight cents?

Here’s a bill I received from The Tennessean several months ago that I just remembered about and thought might enjoy seeing. The story is that about a year ago, my sweet wife signed us up for The Tennessean at a promotional rate for six months. For the subscription, she used our debit card and had them auto-withdraw the bill every month. I used the customer service section of their website to view my account and was able to anticipate what the monthly charges would be, when they would be applied to my account, and when my six month promo rate was up. As sincere as the intentions were to have a newspaper subscription (I am quite the current events whore and keep a sharp eye on Google Reader for new posts throughout the day) the paper just wasn’t being read, and really, I get all the same content on their website (yay, i’m “going green”).

After calling customer service on the sixth month to inform them that this will be the last month and I do not wish to continue my subscription, I got the follow up call from the retention dept. the next day wondering why I was leaving and how they could continue to send me the newspaper, take my money, and kill trees. I politely said no to every attempt and thought I would be free.

About three months later, I get this bill in the mail from The Tennessean for the amount of 0.08. There’s no itemized list explaining what the charge is for (leftover amount from the subscription, unpaid fees, etc.) On top of this, about 3-5 times a week, I get calls from the retention department to get me back as a subscriber (which I usually use to prank them, honestly I don’t really mind it). So I’m wondering why they didn’t just take the eight cents out of my account like they were doing so smoothly before because I am not going to be sending them an eight cent check with a 41 cent stamp on it. I’d thought about sending them eight envelopes with one cent checks or even pennies, but I’m going to hold on to my precious copper and keep this bill around for a good laugh.

Next time retentions calls, tell them that you won’t consider returning until they provide a satisfactory explanation for this absurd bill.

http://consumermediallc.files.wordpress.com/2008/03/tennesseanbill-thumb.jpg?w=494&h=618

Comments

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  1. BeFrugalNotCheap says:

    Pay the eight cents and quit being a dead-beat. J/K

  2. navstar says:

    YOU know and I know that 8¢ is silly. But it’s all computerized. So any positive balance will flush out a balance due bill to you.

  3. shepd says:

    Related: When my parents got a loan for their shiny new (at the time) 1996 Dodge Caravan, they opted to have the loan payments automatically deducted from their bank account.

    For several months, they received a bill for $0.02. For a while, they asked the dealership to fix the payments so either the $0.02 was discounted from the load, or taken from the account. Either way, it didn’t matter much. It never happened. They contacted Dodge. Nope, still got the bill.

    The bills stopped after my parents taped two pennies to the bill and sent it back in their postage-paid envelope. :-)

  4. mgy says:

    Try to pay by credit card in $0.01 increments. Surely the fees involved would make this worthy.

  5. STrRedWolf says:

    This seems to be in line with the Dell keeps calling story below, just to a lesser extreme. I’d ask retentions for an itemized bill, and to stop calling you.

    Oh, and if there’s another newspaper other than the Tennessean in the area, contact them and give ‘em a scoop. I bet the rival newspaper would love to hear your story and have the opportunity to razz on the Tennessean. ;)

  6. Phas3Sh1ft says:

    Once I got a credit card bill for $.02. I called my credit union and had a good laugh with the cs rep and they took it away.

    Also, I live in Japan now, and since moving here I’ve had a phone bill that cost 5 yen and an internet bill that cost me 7 yen. Japanese companies are more lenient about billing (if you can’t pay this one on time, it goes to the next, with no interest :)

    Perhaps the author should call the billing dept and ask them to reverse the charge, I’m sure someone at The Tennessean would have a laugh with you!

  7. nagumi says:

    The only that enters my mind is.. God bless America and the fourth estate!

  8. ilikemoney says:

    If you go through with the eight individual checks for one cent, it may set you back $3.36 in postage, plus the original 8 cents, but you’ll get back a load of satisfaction in knowing that it cost them a lot more in labor and logistics to cash each one of those checks individually than it was really worth to them.

  9. brettt says:

    Take that bill as a good sign. If anything, it suggests that they are respecting the fact that they no longer have the right to debit money straight out of your account. They are respecting the fact that you cancelled.

  10. BrokenNut says:

    I would actually be cautious about paying this bill. I thought I read on here somewhere that people would get a random bill from somewhere they used to be signed up with and they would pay so as to get it out of the way and doing so would somehow get them back into a new contract with the company. This could be a slimy attempt to do just that. By paying this you are “agreeing” to a new 6 month contract or some such nonsense. I would call them and make them explain it before paying such a stupid bill.

  11. Hawk07 says:

    Wow, based on some of the commenters, my 0.12 cent bill that cost the company 33 cents to mail seems large.

  12. SuffolkHouse says:

    @mgy:
    That is a great idea!

  13. jaydeflix says:

    Dangit, mgy, that’s what I came up here to comment myself… =)

    ‘Dear Tennessean,

    I received my bill for $0.08 and, unfortunately, I find myself on very hard times. I would like to pay this in a monthly plan, and, in interest, I would like to pay you $0.01 a month for the next year. I believe 50% interest is well more than enough to cover the fact that I am not able to remit the full amount immediately. I hope you find this agreement acceptable.’

  14. czetie says:

    @navstar: Uh,no. There are many computerized systems that are smart enough to (a) on an open account, roll over a trivial balance to the next bill and (b) on a closed account, discount the amount. As much as 10 years ago I got a letter from my phone company saying that I owed under 30c, with a corresponding credit and the description “Amount disregarded”.

    And on an annual basis I get an email from the UK Income Tax authorities telling me they owe me a refund of a couple of quid, but they aren’t going to send it to me until it accumulates to an amount worth dealing with.

  15. tcm22 says:

    @ilikemoney:
    Why would someone take satisfaction from wasting another person’s time and effort for something that is obviously just an automated billing oddity?

    Honestly, grow up and get with the real world.

  16. I am not a lawyer, but can’t you tell them to stop calling and then sue them in small claims court if they keep caling? That should get their attention.

  17. @tcm22: Because it’s funny.

  18. Smashville says:

    $.08 is really too much for the Tennessean…you got ripped off…

  19. Rando says:

    It’s called an automated system. It doesn’t care what you owe.

  20. egoebelbecker says:

    @navstar: Of course, having the billing software compare the amount due to the cost it would take to print and mail the bill might be a good idea.

  21. thesabre says:

    Send them $0.09 and make them issue you a $0.01 credit. Ask for the credit by check. See how they like sending a pointless check and paying for postage.

  22. maverickuw says:

    Do they have an 800 number? Call it, and ask them to remove it, if not, tell them you’d like to charge it to your card. Given that they are paying for the call, and it will probably cost them more for the card fee than the 8 cents, it will just be amusing for you. And don’t forget to ask for a final statement showing you’re all paid up, so that way they can’t send you to collections later ;)

  23. Tijil says:

    Back in 1958 I overpaid by a penny on some electronics I ordered from a supplier. For some unfathomable reason the company mailed me a cashier’s check for $0.01…

    For years that framed check was kept on the wall of my office. I don’t know why, but the utter absurdity of a cashier’s check for $0.01 kept amusing me. :o)

  24. nursetim says:

    Many years ago, we ended up owing $1 for our state taxes. I’m sure it cost the state more than $1 to process our return and cash our check.

  25. Megladon says:

    @Phas3Sh1ft:

    Dude your getting ripped off, i’m in china (right accross the water) and my phone bill was 26 fen. I gave them 1 yen (chinese) and she said “thank you” i said “thank you money back pls”. Apparently they cant give me change back on phone bills that are under 2 cents american, so i’m letting the bill build upto about 7 cents before i pay it.

  26. macfoo says:

    Keep a list of how many times and when they call. Every time they call, tell them the answer is still no and recite back the list of calls to them that you’ve tracked.

    It took the Delaware News Journal only about three months to catch on that I didn’t want their dang newspaper.

  27. vastrightwing says:

    How about this answer? Since we all know the newspaper industry is dying, the $0.08 bill is simply a way to keep you on the books as a “paid” subscriber. They don’t care if it costs them $0.50 each time they send a bill out, their ad revenue more than offsets that amount. I know several people who have canceled their paper and still get it for free. Why? Same reason: to keep their subscriber numbers up. My two cents.

  28. ohiomensch says:

    This reminds me of something that happened to me last year. As part of a class action settlement, a GM credit card that I had closed years ago credited my account with .04 cents.

    After getting 3 monthly statements showing this .04 cent credit on a card I no longer even had, I called the customer service number. I asked for the amount to be refunded to me.

    The CSR said, “but its for 4 cents.”

    I said “yeah, and apparently your company owes it to me so I want it.”

    I wonder tho, how many people didn’t bother, and if GM got to keep that money.

  29. What is the average charge to the merchant for a credit card payment? I say do it electronicly on their website in 4 payments of .02 If it’s on average 1.00 each charge, that’s 4.33 cents it cost them to collect .08 cents.

  30. linoth says:

    I can see the problem potentially being that the balance isn’t a full dollar. I worked at a company that frequently took credit and debit card payments by phone, and our processing company would automatically reject anything under a dollar. Not worth the transaction fees, I suppose.

    Additionally, I would recommend against the spiteful “tape pennies to the bill” method. Working for that same company, we had a few customers that got the same idea into their heads. The payment processing company charged an $8 cash handling fee, and the customer agreement flat out stated that we would pass on that fee to any customer that triggered it. For what it’s worth, the unwritten policy was that we waived it the first time and sent you a letter asking you not to do that again. That didn’t stop a few customers, though. And those arguements were always fun. “What do you mean I owe eight dollars because I paid my bill?!”

  31. ExtraCelestial says:

    i think Carey totally should’ve been given the day off. That’s my $ .08.

  32. legerdemain says:

    Been there. Back in 2004 I briefly had an AT&T Go Phone. I paid for the service using a credit card. I wasn’t too keen, and dropped them after only about six months. About two months later, they sent me a letter from their collections department demanding I pay something like -$0.58.

    That’s negative fifty-eight cents. I called the number on the bill, and asked how I could resolve this issue. The guy on the other end told me it’d be safe to ignore the notice. When pressed, he told me that AT&T would not be cutting me a check so I could count the bill as paid. I’ve been cleaning lately, and have been finding quite a few bills from back then. If I come across it, I’ll have to scan it and send it in to the Consumerist.

  33. shepd says:

    @linoth: Yes, taping pennies is best saved as a last line of defense. I think we probably would have just gone to small claims court if Dodge had charged us $8 for that after we had tried several other methods to fix the issue. Because after about 1 year of nothing but stupidity from everyone we dealt with, it’s best for someone who really is in charge to deal with it properly. ie: A judge. ;-)

  34. Greasy Thumb Guzik says:

    @tcm22:
    You do it because the idiots that run the company & the people they hired that programmed the system should have thought of not mailing bills for under a dollar as it costs more than that to collect it. And you get great personal satisfaction from fucking the giant company over, even if it’s just a few cents.
    For example: Illinois doesn’t collect income tax payments under a dollar, but it also doesn’t refund the same amount.

    I was once billed 31¢ for a long distance dial around call from AT&T [added to my regular monthly phone bill] which never went through.
    I called the 800 number & was told to mail a protest, when I said that was stupid, they gave me a 800 fax number to send the protest. I faxed them & a month later got a two page letter back stating I still owed the 31¢ & 35¢ postage to send it. So I protested again & the same thing happened, another two page letter with stating I still owed it & another 35¢ postage. I did it once more, but by then the postage rates went up & it cost them another 37¢ on the envelope.
    So I cost AT&T $1.07 in postage & they got 31¢ through Ameritech, undoubtedly had to pay a fee to Ameritech to collect it.

    Giant corporations are so stupid in their collection policies!

  35. Rachacha says:

    When I was a starving college student, I once received a paycheck for $0.05 (they took taxes out of a $0.08 check). It was an error, and thankfully my employer resolved the error quickly for me, but I never did cash that check, it was woth at least $0.10 in comedic value :-)

  36. FrugalFreak says:

    Once I kept a NetZero CSR on the line for 10 hours(surely she was paid at least $6.00 hr or more)so I could get refunded by Net Zero on principal. They refused the refund to account so I refunded myself. She realized what I was doing, and we had a very lengthy game of is there anything else I can do for you. the phone call made her well over $14.95 and paid me satisfaction.

  37. macinjosh says:

    @ilikemoney:
    I think the postage on this 8¢ bill already accomplished that. They spent 40 cents in order to possibly get 8 cents.

  38. FrugalFreak says:

    Net Zero once owed me $14.95 for a free trial they immediately charged on my credit card and refused to refund it back to my account. I called the NetZero csr and had a ten hour game of tag called “Is there anything else I can do for you?”
    She caught on and she recieved an easy day’s pay and I got my charge refunded in the day’s wage they paid her to stay on the phone with no one but me and through satisfaction.

  39. forgottenpassword says:

    a bill for 8 cents is rediculous! Wonder if they will send it in to collections? LOL!

    I checked my state’s unclaimed property website & discovered they were holding a whopping 46 cents for me. Pointless for me to even attempt to claim it as the idiotic hoops you have to jump thru are a serious pain in the ass!

  40. redragon104 says:

    My family once got a hospital bill for 3 cents. On top of that it came with a offer for a 15% off if we start making payments now. So my father went ahead and wrote a note thanking them graciously for the 15% offer and proceeded to tape 2 1/2 pennies to the letter. (He cut one penny in half.) We never heard back from them.

  41. WraithSama says:

    I’m getting bills from a credit card company saying I owe them .01. Yes, *one* cent. I have no intention of paying, too. It would cost me well more than that to send a check, they charge $9 to make payments online, and they charge $12 for payments over the phone. If they want to take me to collections for a penny, they can be my guest.

  42. Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ゜-゜ノ) says:

    @nursetim: Taxes are different. You wound up owing $1 after accounting for all other payments previously made to the state and declaring what you should owe. Their processing costs come out of that $1 plus whatever it is they already had held onto.

    To the 8 cent bill… maybe it’s a prorated charge for an extra day of delivery? That leap year day’s a killer. :)

  43. JustAGuy2 says:

    @Michael Belisle:

    Very tough to sue, since there’s a prior business relationship, which generally gives them the right to call.

  44. overbysara says:

    it’s all automated. it does seem like companies should put a filter on those things though. maybe any bills with less than $.75 due get filtered out to have the balance cleared?

  45. Mike_ says:

    Send them a check for $0.16. After they cash it, call and ask them to send you a check for $0.08. I’ve done this to both AT&T and Nextel after they sent final bills for less than the cost of a stamp. Petty, but amusing.

  46. MoonCake says:

    so i got a check for $.02 and the accompanying 1098 form to file taxes on it. my dad gave it to me and we just LAUGHED and laughed.. oh man it was funny.. it was like a joke check.

  47. evslin says:

    Send them back 9 cents in the mail.

    Then it’ll cost them even more money just to send you your refund.

  48. davebg5 says:

    Simple solution. Contact the Tennessean and tell them that you’d like to pay your bill via a credit card. Instead of the customer wasting a pricey stamp on an asinine $0.08 bill, let the vendor take a financial hit by having to pay to process a credit card transaction for it. Maybe then they’ll realize just how idiotic this whole situation is.

  49. AaronZ says:

    Thanks for the reminder to cancel my paper that also doesn’t get read.

  50. enine says:

    @redragon104:

    I would have sent three pennies and then requested the change sent back to me and let them try and send 15% of three cents back.

  51. AvWuff says:

    FYI, just because newspapers are made of paper doesn’t mean they ‘kill trees’. We plant trees for the purposes of making paper. Just like eating potatoes or carrots or whatever isn’t ‘killing’ those plants — we just grow what we need.

  52. Parting says:

    @AvWuff: Only there is more trees cut, than trees planted. Do the math.

  53. Parting says:

    @WraithSama: Can’t you pay online, but with your bank? Usually, when you have an account, you can register and pay bills, without going on company’s website.
    Some banks it’s free, some charge x amount per month for x transactions. Check with your bank.

    It would be really STUPID to ruin your credit score over 1 cent debt.

  54. Spoondizzle says:

    My mother-in-law gave my wife and me Starbucks gift certificates. So, I went to use one at my local Starbucks and came up four cents shy. The girl at the counter, without a smile or any note of the irony, took my debit card and ran a $.04 charge on it, then handed me back the receipt. A couple weeks later I was talking to the husband of the owner of my local bike shop and he informed me that CC charges are (If I remember correctly) $.35 per transaction for Visa. Way ta go, Starbucks. I kept that receipt with me to show people until last week when my wallet accidentally got washed.

  55. Parting says:

    @redragon104: The person who opened the envelope, got a great laugh. You are probably an urban legend in this hospital :)

  56. Parting says:

    @Spoondizzle: If the girl would’t charge you, she’ll have to pay the difference HERSELF from her own salary. So don’t get all huffy. She gets a lot of customers like you.

    (And since you had t pay by debit card, I suspect you left no tip, so stop acting, like someone owns you 4 cents).

    And Starbucks, with all millions of transaction per day, has a good plan, which probably costs a lot less than 35 cents.

  57. rabiddachshund says:

    @FrugalFreak: Considering people usually work 8-hour shifts, you kept her past her shift for at least 2 hours (and that’s only if you’re her first of the day. If you caught her on her way out, you just made her work a 16 hour shift with no break). You try sitting on the phone for 8 hours a day every day then be forced to stay over your shift because of some asshat that wants to bitch about $15. It sucks.
    Ass.

  58. Kwik80 says:

    Since I had a cell phone, email, and only used my dorm room phone to order the occasional late-night take out, my phone bill when I was in school was usually in the 5 to 10 cent a month range. So, after one year of this, when the first bill of the next year came I just sent a check for $5, and that covered all of my dorm-room calls for the rest of the time at school, with $2 and change left when I graduated. I’m fairly certain that they paid more out in sending bills to me than I paid them for actually making phone calls for 4 years. You would think, in cases like that, it might be more cost-effectve in the long run to send out a a letter saying “Your bill for this period is so small that it is easier for all involved to wait until you’ve accruded $x in charges, at which point a bill will be sent. Got to be easier in the long run to send out one bill every 3 months for $5, as opposed to a bill every month for $.08

  59. Spoondizzle says:

    @chouchou: How about you stop the bitter, probably worked a service job that you hated train for a second. She might have a bunch of customers like me. Guys who come in maybe once a week, asks how everyone’s doing, bothers to learn the names of the people I deal with regularly, leaves ridiculous tips when I have cash. Thinks it’s funny that Starbucks would lose money on a $.04 transaction.

    Don’t get all offended that I think that charging someone $.04 (and losing money on it) is funny. Charging someone $.04 (and losing money on it) IS funny.

  60. Spoondizzle says:

    @Spoondizzle: I’d also like to point out that the girl was new and that any of the three usual people I deal with at that Starbucks would have laughed at the situation, even if they ran the card (and there’s no guarantee they wouldn’t just say “ah, forget it.”).

  61. LionelEHutz says:

    Wait’ll that gets sent to the collection agency and your credit score drops like a Rock.

  62. Brad2723 says:

    I can’t wait until they send your account to collections :)

  63. Yoooder says:

    @BrokenNut: I also read that doing something somewhere at sometime could cause something somewhere else to sometimes be other than the first something but not nothing where eveything is always elsethings and underthings are overundersidethings.

    jk

  64. rjhiggins says:

    @vastrightwing: Sorry, but you don’t know what you’re talking about. Newspapers can’t count a subscription as paid circulation unless it is in fact paid. Papers that are given away don’t count.

    Also, he’s not really looking for a “solution.” (To the poster who suggested small claims court? Are you kidding?) He just thought it was worth a laugh.

  65. rjhiggins says:

    @BrokenNut: Thanks for the very informed comment.

  66. clevershark says:

    8 cents? Must be the bill-printing fee…

  67. synergy says:

    @thesabre: Good idea! Actually, he should sent them a check for 55 cents. Then they have to issue him a check for 47 cents which would repay him the cost of his stamp and the gas to get to the post office!

  68. RandomHookup says:

    @synergy: There goes that new math stuff again.

  69. sean77 says:

    I’d cut them a check for 7 cents. Just so they would be forced to bill me for a penny.