Don't Maintain A Negative Balance With Sprint Or They Will Disconnect Your Service

Sprint disconnected Bill’s service for “exceeding his account spending limit,” even though his account had a -$50 balance and he was signed up for Sprint’s Simply Everything unlimited plan. Sprint quickly reactivated Bill’s phone after he pointed this out, but warned that his service “will probably shut back off in a couple of days.”

Bill writes:

I read the Consumerist daily and have learned about Sprint’s crappy customer service. However, I am a Sprint third-party vendor (i.e. I’m not on Sprint’s payroll…but I sell their stuff), and I was happy with their 99.99 “Simply Everything” plan, so I signed up.

Cut to a month later; I paid my two bills in time, in full, and added extra to my payments to keep a negative balance. You never know when you’ll need to miss a month for unexpected expenses, and in this day and age, better safe than sorry. To this date, I had a -$50 balance…at least, I was under the impression I was.

On my way to work this morning, my phone was shut off for “exceeding my account spending limit.” Hmmm…I’m being cut off because I pay ahead?!?! Ok, ok, in their defense, maybe it was a malfunction…

Nope. I called customer service and the CSR explained “well, you did have 3000 texts last month.” I explained I had the unlimited package, to which he said “ummm…well no you don’t…wait, you do…let me get my supervisor…” Fortunately, the CSR gave me the benefit of the doubt and reactivated my phone, but even then explained that “it will probably shut back off in a couple of days.” I actually give kudos to the CSR…he was professional and helpful…for once.

I bring up two points in my tip: Sprint CSRs are actually pretty decent (at least THAT one), but I still didn’t know paying ahead gets your service cut off.

Don’t run a negative balance; you essentially give companies an interest-free loan at your expense. Leave the money where it belongs: in your account, earning interest.

If Sprint keeps disconnecting your service after your balance is restored, call our super-special executive customer service hotline set up just for readers, at: (703) 433-4401.

(Photo: Getty)

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  1. Difdi says:

    I remember reading a story years ago, about an incident where a credit card bill was overpaid. The software handling billing hadn’t been designed to consider someone spending more than they owed, so it sent out another bill for the extra balance, as if it were owed by the customer to the company (rather than the other way around). The customer paid the bill, effectively doubling the overpaid balance. Which triggered another bill. The cycle continued for some time, until some magical number was reached. The account was suspended and the matter turned over to a collections agency. *grin*

  2. Don’t give companies your money till you actually must give them your money. If you do pre-pay, demand something in return, such as pre-paying your rent for one year and only paying for 10 months and getting 2 months free.

  3. johnva says:

    This is weird, I’ve got to admit, but I’ve come to accept that companies have problems with this. A while back, I had a new credit card that gave much better rewards than my old one, but came with an annoyingly small $1500 credit limit initially. I wanted to put a new laptop on the card, but I didn’t have the available credit on that card due to my normal monthly spending on there (I churn all my spending through credit cards to get lots of cashback). So I sent another online payment in mid month for my current outstanding balance. They applied the payment, but didn’t release the credit. When I called them they told me that making “overpayments” (which is apparently what they consider it if you pay off your card in mid-month) is a sign that you are a greater credit risk. So it’s possible that they have some sort of twisted logic like that in this case, too. But my guess is it’s just a stupid glitch.

  4. PølάrβǽЯ says:

    “When I called them they told me that making “overpayments” (which is apparently what they consider it if you pay off your card in mid-month) is a sign that you are a greater credit risk.”
    @johnva: Yeah, paying your bills makes you SUCH a bad person, and SUCH a credit risk!

    Yet another reason I deal in all cash and refuse to let three private, (essentially) unregulated companies to dictate my finances. No matter how “good” you try to be, they take all of your actions and use them against you.

    “I’m sorry Mr. X, we can’t give you a mortgage because you pay all of your bills on time, and sometimes you even overpay! You’re just too much of a risk.”

    Bullshit.

  5. krispykrink says:

    @johnva: Yep, paying your balance in full makes them no money.

    I’ve been dumped in the past for doing just that. I used the card maybe once a year and paid my balance in full. So, they closed my account.

  6. Kajj says:

    The gas company sent a collections agency after my parents once after they accidentally overpaid by something like ten dollars. Month after month the company sent letters threatening to do all sorts of terrible things unless my parents paid up the negative ten dollars they owed.

  7. Benny Gesserit says:

    @Difdi: On the other side of the coin, I worked at a bank for a number of years and we went through h*ll trying to get people to stop paying credit balance notices on their credit cards!

    We tried the usual “This is a credit – please do NOT pay.” messages and finally resorted to printing credit balances on different colour paper. That worked for the most part but we still had people in branches calling customers to tell them to please stop.

  8. timmus says:

    I’ve overpaid some of my bills over the years with no problem. I’m venturing this sounds more like a case of Sprint billing being staffed by incompetent people who failed high school math.

  9. P41 says:

    “Leave the money where it belongs: in your account, earning interest.” ??? You mean those interest-bearing checking accounts, the ones with the minimum balance, that hit you through the nose if you go below the minimum even one day? No thanks, I think running a credit is a good proactive strategy against mail being late, etc. Like all those stories here that point out things shortened billing cycles tricks, and so forth.

    Every time I go out of town I worry, ok what bills are going to come in the mail and be due before I return. (I do have automatic debit for some things, but no way I’m doing that with most companies. I’m not stoopid. Maybe someday when I can select ‘ONLY auto debit the minimum amount if I don’t send in a payment’ and when companies act like electronic payments are a convenience to them and not a luxury I should thank them for) So if I paid the entire phone bill or credit card or whatever in advance, then no worries.

    Oh and for the luser know-it-alls who suggest forwarding mail, I have a 100% loss rate for mail at hotels.

    Most credit cards don’t mind a credit balance. Chase once mailed a check immediately for the $5 balance, without waiting to see if they’d be billing for anything. Luckily no damage was done, that would have sucked to take a credit rating hit for a $1 stick of gum that would have been covered with a refund check I hadn’t cashed yet.

  10. bohemian says:

    @aaron8301: Don’t laugh. We had issues when we applied for our current mortgage. Why? Because we had no consumer credit, only had our rent & utilities that we had been paying on time. So we essentially had no credit history for years according to our bank.

    The entire credit scoring system is a scam. The things people should be using & paying routinely (rent, utilities, health insurance & savings) are never reflected. Things you really don’t need (in most cases) like credit cards, lines of credit for furniture, car loans are what they use to score you. In order to prove your financially responsible your supposed to take potentially irresponsible actions (buying things on credit).

  11. mmstk101 says:

    It’s too bad that Sprint can’t just be like other companies, and simply drain his credit away with phony charges and the like, until he owes them money again.

    I am really surprised that they would cut off his service as a result of over-paying. . . . I’ve done that in the past with credit card bills (usually by $10 or so) and nothing ever happened . . . . I think . . .

    /rushes to check credit score

  12. VikingP77 says:

    SO you can get your account canceled if you have overpaid or if you’ve underpaid. Doesn’t make much sense!

  13. RChris173 says:

    If he had a -$50 balance that means Sprint owes him $50…

    Negative balances are credits! Jeez…unless were talking about a bank account or something then it would be correct to say that…

  14. RChris173 says:

    Hmm Ok I redact my last comment…I didn’t fully read the article…sorry…I was there was a delete button…

  15. Stanwell says:

    I work in mortgage collections, and every month the auto dialer calls out to a few people who have a negative balance because the computer doesn’t recognize the negative. I suspect that’s the case here: poorly designed and highly automated systems, rather than moronic billing clerks or some diabolical plot to rip off the consumer.

  16. donTHEd says:

    This is surprising. I had a negative balance for FIVE months. Between my low plan, various credits I was granted after severe mistakes on Sprints behalf, and receiving my security deposit back at the same time.

  17. Scuba Steve says:

    You could find all the helpful CSRs in the world, but if policy is to cut your phone off for overpaying, then either expect to call a lot, or get cut off a lot.

  18. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot says:

    I make a habit of overpaying my cell phone bill. Sure, I could keep it in my checking account (I don’t gain any interest on it,) but I’d be more than likely to spend it if I did. This way, every 6 months I have a “free” month’s payment saved up and it allows me to do something special instead. I’ve never had a problem with making an overpayment.

  19. Sherryness says:

    @aaron8301: As (what I thought was a good) habit, I pay both of my credit cards this way: I pay the minimum amount due every two weeks. One of those cards recently upped my credit limit, and the other one offered me an additional card. Is it different for credit cards than service providers? I find this curious.

  20. jblack says:

    I pay my bills each month, with my credit union’s automatic billpay, for about 110% of the average due amount each month. By doing this, I sleep comfortably each night without having to worry about whether or not each of the dozen entities that bill me got their own piece of silver.

    True, I’m not gaining interest on about $120 of income each month. As of July 5, my credit union offers 0.75% for my savings account. For all the money I have overpaid, I am losing about ten dollars in interest per year (I’m also a month ahead in my mortgage and home eq, my two only debts).

    For that ten dollars a year in lost interest, I know exactly how much I’m paying in bills each month. I also know that I won’t be paying a series of $40 late payments or bounced payments. Even better, when Christmas or a birthday comes along, I can safely scare up a few hundred bucks just by clicking a couple buttons on my bank’s web site.

    Carrying no debt other than my home helped me get a 806 credit score, despite a yearly income of $31k. Overpaying a little bit each month makes sure that I don’t lose it.

    The best thing of all? Bill time for me is opening bill after bill pleading with me “credit due. Please do not pay”.

  21. wesrubix says:

    why don’t you just set aside a month’s worth of cell phone service in a savings account or write it down that you can’t spend that money in your checking? then it’ll be there when you need to “skip” that month anyway.

    I strongly agree with the notion of not paying a company for something they have not delivered or rendered to you yet.

  22. wesrubix says:

    Sorry for the double comment, didn’t think of what follows until after I hit submit.

    Think of it this way: if you give a company extra money (beyond your actual balance), they have your money to work with. They can invest it in something else. A short term CD, loan, invest it somewhere, etc. You could do that too.

  23. legwork says:

    @Stanwell: That’s freaking Brazil. What, they’ve promoted Carl the Assistant Greenskeeper into a coding job? My brain is flailing for the words to describe such extreme incompetence. Nope, nothing yet…

  24. Crazytree says:

    I think it had less to do with the ($50.00) balance and more with the absurdly comical number of text messages.

  25. XianZhuXuande says:

    @aaron8301: Actually, the overpayment thing on credit cards really is a legitimate concern for them. Statistically speaking, customers who make numerous payments in a month (when they normally have credit limits high enough to support the balance) are more likely to default (I suppose it is a sign that a person doesn’t manage their money well). Credit card companies handle this in different ways, some doing nothing about it at all (rightly so). American Express will throw you into a financial review if you start doing this, but if it is generally your normal behavior and you are a good customer they’ll ignore it completely (generally speaking).

    HSBC actually called me on this behavior for my RewardZone Mastercard. They gave me a really crappy credit limit and at the time I was buying a lot from Best Buy, so to get around it (and collect the rewards) I would just pay it off once or twice a month. When I pointed out to them that they could end the behavior by converting it from a toy to a real card they stopped bothering me about it (though they didn’t convert the card from a toy until I called up six months later to cancel).

    This has nothing to do with Sprint, though. What they did to this customer is just plain strange. And credit card companies also don’t care if you have a negative balance (generally, they’ll just mail it out to you at some point). It seems to me almost as if he was probably disconnected due to some behind-the-scenes monitoring system for customers that use more resources than others or some kind of software bug, which is dumb all the same. I left Sprint for reasons similar to this after being a customer for more than a decade.

  26. eagon says:

    This is the primary reason that I stopped doing business with Sprint. Compared to other companies, their prices, service, and options are decent. However, whenever I had to call customer service, especially for one of their frequent billing errors, it would always result in an endless game of cat-and-mouse, with me attempting in vain to find someone who could do something. The main problem with Sprint is that they seem to have no method of sharing information across departments, meaning that calling into customer service with a specific problem often ends in a brick wall because they can’t access or change some arbitrary information in your account. Incredibly inefficient and annoying.

  27. @krispykrink: “I’ve been dumped in the past for doing just that. I used the card maybe once a year and paid my balance in full. So, they closed my account.”

    God, that sucks. and it’s so weird — I’ve got a card I haven’t used since I got married six years ago (six years! sheesh!) and they still send me new cards and keep upping my credit limit on it, I assume in an attempt to get me to use it. When we switched from MasterCard to AmEx for our primary card (our MBNA card got bought by BofA), BofA suddenly upped our credit limit a LOT and bumped us to a substantially better rewards plan and sent us pretty new cards with sparkles in them, which is apparently the next step up from whatever color we had before.

  28. AaronN322 says:

    I work for Sprint and this is not typical. I would say that around half of the people who pay in the store overpay. The reason he was cut off was probably due to a computer error, or more likely an error from who set up his plan. They probably left the code on his account that charges him for overages based on his previous plan. The particular code must be removed when the simply everything plan is added. The worker who changed the plan most likely overroad the error the computer gave him about the conflict between existing codes on the account.

    This in turn could cause a customer with a spending limit to have their service interupted due to overages on the unbilled minutes. I have seen this hapan a few times.

  29. Mr_Human says:

    I’m leaving the country for 5 weeks, and this is exactly the kind of thing I’ve been ruminating over. Do I add money to these various accounts — cell, electric, etc. — or try to remember what I need to pay and when to check my accounts and to pay them online in Europe? I was leaning toward prepay, but now I’m scared. Thanks, Consumerist! :)

  30. @Mr_Human: Why not call the utilities and find out from them the best way to do it?

  31. TheLemon says:

    @legwork: Cinderella story. Outta nowhere. A former greenskeeper, now, about to become the Masters champion.

    If he’s good enough for Bushwood, he’s good enough for Sprint.

  32. Ragman says:

    Yeah, it seems messed up to shutoff somebody for prepaying. I know of people who’ve done it regularly in the past to avoid missed bills and whatnot. It also doesn’t surprise me (having software dev experience) that the coders might not have considered negative balances showing up. Especially if a negative balance was not part of the test set.

    Even if you don’t use credit cards, it still is to your benefit to get a couple, use them for a sizable purchase, like appliances, that you have the cash for. That way, you establish credit and pay off the card balance when due. You’re not out any money on interest, and maybe get a little cashback. You also can sit on the cards while they raise your limit over time.

  33. Mr_Human says:

    @Eyebrows McGee: Actually, what I think I’m going to do is set up email reminders on my Yahoo calendar for each utility around the time I usually get a bill. When I get the reminder, I’ll log onto their respective sites to see what I owe, and then pay online.

  34. Leiterfluid says:

    Maybe it’s just me, but did anyone else read into this that the problem might have been his 3000 text messages that month, and not the negative balance this article, and everyone else assumes?

    This is the most telling Nope. I called customer service and the CSR explained “well, you did have 3000 texts last month.” I explained I had the unlimited package, to which he said “ummm…well no you don’t…wait, you do…let me get my supervisor…”

    Who the heck sends 100 text messages a day?

  35. Smashville says:

    @Leiterfluid: People with Blackberries.

  36. CaptZ says:

    I send and recieve roughly 2000 txt a month. Mind you, the text message number is both, sent AND received. Most messages of mine are between my daughter and I. I have yet to have any issues with Sprint’s customer service in more than 5 years of service with them.

  37. JustThatGuy3 says:

    @bohemian:

    Scam? How is it a scam? You were asking someone to loan you a huge amount of money, and hadn’t shown that you had been able to repay smaller amounts of money in the past. It’s sort of like saying “let me start 747 flight school without having shown I can fly a Cessna first.”

  38. dweebster says:

    qverreervrre

  39. dweebster says:

    qerew

  40. ColoradoShark says:

    I don’t like paying bills ahead either but here’s the math:
    You have a regular $100 a month bill with a company.
    You mail them a check and put a 43 cent stamp on it.
    Assume you get free checks (free).
    Assume the company included a return envelope (free).
    You have a great interest rate on your checking account (4%) which is 1/3%.

    You can leave the extra $100 in your account and get 33 cents interest or you can prepay a month and save a 43 cent stamp for a net savings of 10 cents. You also save your time. If you pay on line and don’t spend the stamp, you still save time.

  41. coren says:

    @P41: Nah, it’s a bad idea. Just sign up for accounts without a minimum balance, or don’t have a minimum that’s gonna get broken by paying normal bills. Or hell, put the money in a safe at your house if it’s that hard to keep up with what goes where.

    @Leiterfluid: Family using texts? Maybe Jamster really likes him!

    @JustThatGuy3: It’s a scam because utilities and rent show that you can pay what you owe over time (ditto cell phone bills and other similar things) without difficulty. What, suddenly when you borrow money people become totally irresponsible and stop paying bills whatsoever? Dobut it.

  42. coren says:

    @ColoradoShark: And lose the 33 cents.

    Most of my bills come w/prepaid return envelopes anyway

  43. JustThatGuy3 says:

    @coren:

    Hate to break it to you, but that’s what the models show. Credit scores correlate very well with likelihood of default. Fundamentally, the models work, but only if you give them enough data, and that means having and using credit.

    And fundamentally? It’s the creditor’s money. If you don’t want to do what they require to make them comfortable loaning you money, no worries, but you can’t then get all in a huff when they say that they can’t trust you, and won’t loan you the money.

  44. dragonfire1481 says:

    @Leiterfluid: That’s exactly it, these charges tally during the billing cycle and do count towards the Spending Limit Sprint has on his account even though they do not reflect in his account balance which showed the $50 credit he had. That’s why his phone shut off even though he seemed to have a negative balance.

    It’s stupid, but that’s Sprint for you.

  45. balthisar says:

    I do overpay certain, annoying bills. For example, I’m on the “budget plans” for both my electricity and gas. Sometimes I’m overpaid, sometimes I’m underpaid, but in the end, the piddly interest I might earn is worth less than the convenience of setting my automatic bill pay (bank sends, utilities don’t take) and only worrying about adjustments once per year. Heck, I have a $700 credit to the gas company since I switched to geothermal right before the end of last year. My township doesn’t offer average billing for water unfortunately, so I just set orders for a fixed amount over. That covers my increased, summer use. If I have to make an adjustment, it’s usually only once or twice a year. I round up my mortgage payment to the next $10. It automatically goes to principal, so maybe I’ll knock a month off the end (I did the calculation once, but don’t really remember). My credit card, though, I pay the exact, total amount once or twice a month. That’s the one bill I make it a point to try to keep at zero, without over paying. I use it to pay for everything I can, like cable, satellite, groceries, gas, etc.

  46. milk says:

    My company’s got an automatic billing system that will send out notices for negative amounts simply because it’s not $0. It seems Sprint has the same flawed software.

  47. RandomZero says:

    Their math isn’t screwy, folks. They use a VERY widespread third-party software package, and I haven’t once seen a math error in it. (I know for a fact that the same software, with a bit of custom tweaking here and there, is used by at least four separate phone companies.)

    The problem is that Sprint spending limits are fucked.

    ASL tracking is one of the “custom tweaks” I mentioned above. Basically, everything that WILL appear on your next bill is counted toward your spending limit. Your monthly recurring charges aren’t supposed to count in that, but occasionally do. With low spending limits (sometimes ~$125) and high MRC ($99 + tax), this MIGHT be the underlying cause.

    More likely based on the info from the CSR (and I’ve had that same conversation myself, almost word-for-word): The text messaging package with that plan is an add-on, just like extending your nights and weekends, or buying a limited text plan. (It costs nothing, but it’s handled identically in-system.) It is possible (and in fact easy) to accidentally remove that from the account. At that point, ALL text messages are charged a la carte, which could easily top the ASL even with a negative balance.

  48. RandomZero says:

    Comment lag was getting ridiculous.

    My advice: Call Sprint back FROM ANOTHER PHONE. Ask them if you have the zero-charge unlimited text messaging add-on. (Yes, you should, but if they kneejerk it, ask them to humour you and double-check.) If, as I suspect, the answer is no, tell them this is an error and needs to be fixed. They may get confused here, as the system won’t let them just add it. THE ONLY WAY TO FIX THIS IS TO CHANGE RATE PLANS. Tell them they will need to put you on standby and then immediately return you to your original RP, and set your commitment back to its original date. If they hesitate on any point of that, especially the commitment change, get their sup and explain the same thing. This should not be an issue; I’ve seen lots of these before. Most CSRs don’t seem to know how to fix it, but the sups are generally sharp-eyed enough to see the issue and have the authority to OK those changes. (Hell, my sup told me to stop asking after a while.) Make sure you confirm your commitment date (should not have changed) before you end the call. You will probably also have a LOT of charged text messages that need to be waived, but you may want to save that for another call.

  49. wickedpixel says:

    Had the same thing happen to me a few years ago when I used sprint. I had paid my bill a month in advance because I was going away and then received a credit for a new phone purchase. I had a balance of about -$5 and hadn’t paid a bill for 2 months. Then they deactivated my account for not having made a payment in 2 months. Of course I didn’t make a payment in 2 months – I had a negative balance. They wouldn’t turn my phone back on until I made a payment, despite owing then nothing. So I made a payment of 1 cent, probably costing them around 35 cents in merchant fees.

  50. saskatchewangirl says:

    I used to be a manager at an AT&T/Cingular call center and some of our systems would auto disconnect people who hadn’t made a payment in a certain length of time..even if they had a credit balance on the account. Perhaps that is a factor in Sprint’s system as well.

  51. AustinTXProgrammer says:

    I finally setup my AT&T account to charge automatically. But I use a credit card (I have one designated for auto payment activity) and pay it off several times a month.

    After reading comments here, I might be causing myself trouble. I might need to reduce my frequency of paying my credit card. (Although my best rewards card has too low a limit, so I pay it mid cycle to improve my returns).