Out Damned Spot! Help A Reader Clean His Citibank Credit

Ben — a man with perfect credit — needs help. Not Ben Popken, editor of this Mickey Mouse pajama publication. Ben A. — one of our most prolific tipsters.

Ben’s problem essentially relates to the vagaries of American-Canadian ATM transactions. Ben is very careful about his credit. While I don’t pay my credit card bills for months, then fling thousands at it in one go, Ben meticulously and immediately pays off any small debt he may incur. Good for him.

Nevertheless, he somehow managed to get a blotch on his pristine credit record, thanks to the way in which Canadian ATMs interact with American cards. Essentially, on a month long trip to Canada, he withdrew money everytime from his savings account. But ‘savings’ is apparently Canadian for ‘checking’. And his checking overdraft facility was a line of credit through Citibank.

Citibank’s not budging, but Ben is perturbed. He’s wondering if there’s anything he can do to clean his record. Anyone got any ideas?

Ben’s email, after the jump:

I was hoping your readers could help me try to get this nagging blemish removed from my credit report, which has bothered me for years.

I have perfect credit besides this– I’m very careful about paying all my bills on time. The offense in question occurred in Summer of 2002. I had a checking and savings account with Citibank, which I opened at my school’s bank branch in 2000. As a special offer to new students, I was offered $500 of “overdraft protection” which I could technically borrow money out of any time, and was listed as a 3rd account in my ATM. As a young freshman, I never quite realized that this constituted a line of credit, which is probably a good thing, since I never used it like one. I never borrowed money out of it, I would only use it on the rare occasion when I did overdraft from my checking account. If this happened, I would IMMEDIATELY transfer money from my savings account to pay off my balance– I never paid interest rates.

OK, flash forward to summer of 2002. I went on a little vacation up to Montreal (beautiful city, by the way) for about a week. I was using my Citibank ATM card at these Canadian ATMs. In those days, I would keep almost all my money in my savings account to earn interest, and just a minimal balance in my checking for odd bill payments. I was up in Montreal for about a week, and made several withdrawals from my bank account– probably close to 500 dollars. I would always specify “SAVINGS” on the Canadian ATM’s.

Well, I go back home for summer vacation for another month or so after Canada (and of course, there are no Citibank ATM’s back home either). When I finally get back to school, I realize that even though I specified “savings” from those Canadian ATM’s, the money was withdrawn from my checking account. And since checking had barely any money in it, it got sucked out of good ol’ Overdraft Protection. I immediately transferred money from my savings account to pay off the balance in
full. But unfortunately the damage was already done: for over a month, I had not made any payment towards overdraft protection, so payment was marked as late and still shows up on my credit report to this day. (The credit report shows that my recent behavior is perfect, but it STILL says “was 60 days past due”).

Now I admit, if I had checked my online bank statement when I was back home that summer I would have seen this error (my paper statement was sent directly to school). But at the time I had NO REASON to ever expect something like this from happening. If there wasn’t this glaring error in American-Canadian ATM relations, I would have never had this problem.

Now I’ve called Citibank recently and have explained this in detail with them, and I’ve asked them to send a letter to the credit agencies to take this off my reports. They refuse to comply. They take no responsibility for this error and put all the blame firmly on me. They refuse to accept any responsibility for the error in how their banking system interacts with foreign ATM’s.

Is there anything else I can do, or am I stuck with this scarlet letter on my credit report till the end of time?


Edit Your Comment

  1. Cathoo says:

    I have a similar issue with my (Canadian) bank card. Canadian ATMs and debit machines always display “Chequings” and “Savings” as your account choices, even if you don’t have one, or have more than 2 accounts hooked to your machine. When at a real bank machine (not a no-name ATM) I have an option of “Other Account” to access my real savings account. I can’t get at my savings from the cashier at the store, or through the ATM at the bar, and that’s a very good thing.

    Best advice: either go into the bank just once to ask for advice, or check out your options on the real bank machines outside a bank.

  2. Cathoo says:

    Another thought: you probably don’t know what machines you used, do you? If they were from the banks, you could try contacting them and getting it fixed.

  3. billhelm says:

    If you close the account it drops off after 7 years or so… not sure the exact amount of time, but it will eventually go away.

  4. tz says:

    I think you can submit an explanation letter for any negative credit information which will appear on any credit report this “overdue” notice would appear on.

    Beyond that, the fair credit reporting act may give you more options, but you have to WRITE the correct place. Perhaps a quick call to a lawyer or a check of a book on repairing credit (or identity theft victim info) would be helpful

  5. Antediluvian says:

    Did the foreign ATM’s not let you check your balance while conducting your transactions? That would be a good way to determine if the money is coming from the right account.

    I always like to see my balance when using an ATM, and even more so after being a victim of debit fraud. (The fraud was only caught because we’re diligent about checking balances online and noticed a 3 huge withdrawals.)

  6. AcilletaM says:

    Address this with the credit bureaus that are reporting as a negative. Each has a mechanism to challenge negative credit items. Even if that fails, you can still enter a letter stating your side. This is a good place to start.

  7. Jupiter Jones says:

    I have used my Canadian ATM card all over Europe and the United States, and at no time did checking mean savings or vice versa.

    I also worked for Citibank in Toronto for a short time during a co-op term. They paid us in Citibank accounts, which caused me to use the Citibank ATM in the Citibank building, which I imagine is the only Citibank ATM in Canada. I never had this problem. Chequing meant Chequing.

    These ATM transactions work according to published standards that all the banks have access to. Frankly, it looks like Citibank is at fault here. All the Canadian banks / ATMs would know is that you’re selecting “savings”, and they would pass that information on to the Citibank systems. Citibank then deals with it. I don’t see how it could NOT be Citibank’s fault. It sounds to me like they just screwed up their imlementation of these money transfer software standards. Of course, the only people who could verify that are egghead programmers deep within the bowels of the Corporate Headquarters, which basically means that you’re screwed as far as I can see.

    I hope you can get it worked out! Good luck.

  8. Jupiter Jones says:

    Oh, and another possibility to consider is that these standardized networks / systems that conduct these money transfers generally have their logo on the ATM cards. At least, all the ATM cards I’ve had have had logos from these networks / systems. My CIBC card has Interac (Canada’s ubiquitous debit card pin based system) and PLUS, which is run through VISA as far as I can tell. Their website is at http://www.visadps.com/prod-plusatm.html as far as I can tell. Check out if their logo is on your card, and maybe you can take it up with them.

  9. LeopardSeal says:

    As a former bank employee, perhaps I can shed some light. Cathoo was on the mark, in that at ATM’s from other banks will always give you the option of selecting from Chequing or Savings, even if you only have one account. The names are irrelevent, as they basicly just denote Account slot #1 and Account Slot #2, which can be any combination of Chequing Account, Savings, Line of Credit etc. Because of this, it’s always better to call your bank (or their telephone banking centre) proir to using your card while traveling, especially outside of the country.

    In this case, that lack of knowledge, combined with the unusual/stupid way your bank set up your accounts (small line of credit as the #2 account?) led to your downfall. In Canada at least, overdraft on a chequing account is part of the account, simply allowing the balance to go below zero dollars, reather than being a seperate account, which can lead to errors like this.

    As for what you can do to correct this on your credit bureau, the short answer is not alot. Jupiter Jones suggested contacting the international ATM network (Plus / Novus) but that will only get you referred back to you bank. The best thing you can do it to sit down with an Account Manager and explain the situation, citing how great a customer you have been to them and see if they’ll give you hand in sorting it out. Other than that, you’ll have to wait the seven years for it fall off the report.

    Sorry I can’t give you better news.

  10. gotbock says:

    Do you know how this has actually affected your credit score? I can’t really imagine a 60 late payment will cause it to drop by much. If that’s the case I wouldn’t worry about it. There are certainly more important things to obsess over than a perfect credit score.

  11. Omni Consumer Products says:

    It’s Ben, the creator of this post. Thank you for all your suggestions. I think I will send a letter to the credit report people and have them launch an investigation. I’m also going to cancel my Citibank account– I don’t use it anyway since moving away from New York. Maybe while I’m at my local Citibank branch, I’ll explain them my problem and hang it over their head as the reason I’m canceling— see if that prompts them to help me. I’ll cancel it nonetheless even if the error gets corrected.


  12. ArmitageShanks says:

    Citibank NA is regulated by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. I would file a written complaint with its Houston office, and cc the CEO of Citibank. I would also cc your state’s attorney general.

    OCC web site: http://www.occ.treas.gov/customer.htm

  13. Citibank – not my cup of tea. After I made 2M miles and spending 30k a month on my card, I up and switched. It’s been my experience that they don’t care about their customers, but I suppose, to each their own.


  14. windskisong says:

    CitiBank customer no-service is an embarrassment to the industry. It is not worth trying to argue or discuss anything with them. Take the hit on your credit (tiny hit by now), argue with the credit reporting agencies, SWITCH AWAY FROM CITIBANK. Do not, under any circumstances, use them. Your mistakes will never fade, their mistakes are your mistakes.
    However, it is easier to get mistakes cleared (if they will do it all) in person and while you still have an account. Once this account is gone, they absolutely will not fix it.