Dear Wachovia, My 78¢ Balance Is Not Your Take A Penny Tray

Two readers wrote in with similar complaints: each had left a small overpayment on his credit account, and instead of leaving the balance or issuing a check, the bank zeroed out the balance and pocketed the money. Apparently, banks are now treating small balances like tips.

The first email, from randombob:

When I was in the military at a young age, I had no credit. Best way to get it? Get a credit card and start proving you’re credit-worthy. Armed Forces Bank (AFB) was willing to get me started with a $500 limit. Cool. Well I’m good with money, and eventually my credit got good enough that credit companies trip over themselves to offer me cards with good rates/benefits, and that card rarely got used. However I kept it around because at least with the old FICO scores (not sure about the new ones), your “oldest” credit line played a part in the figures.

I say “kept” as past-tense on purpose. Today I cancelled with them. I track my finances, and pay off every month PLUS some, so that I typically have enough money sitting with them that I don’t accrue finance charges (billing days are 30, grace periods typically 25 days, so I leave a credit balance of enough to cover a weeks-worth of charges). No different with this card. Only this time, I paid off only a little over what was due, paid a round figure that put me a little into the black with them (81¢). According to the next statement, they agreed, and I didn’t use the card again for 6 months or so, ending last week. Well since we were in agreement as to my balance before my recent avoidance of the card, when the bills showed up I just made sure they didn’t say “balance due” and let them be.

Well some time in October, THEY “WROTE OFF” my 81¢ balance. I did not notice this until I went to balance my accounts from the recent transactions and noticed that we differed by – you guessed it, exactly 81¢. I had kept a “black” balance on a Discover card before, and they just wrote me a check for that amount and set me to zero. But I never got a check for 81¢ from AFB. They just stole it from me. I called to ask, and they said they couldn’t research it UNLESS I PAID $3 for each month’s statement further back than the previous 3 (March, Feb, Jan). So they took my money, and want me to pay them an additional $9 to find out where & why they stole my 81¢…

Does this seem right? I mean, do they have a legal right to take my money, and just say “oh well” about it? Even charge me to find out? Shouldn’t they be responsible for looking into it, not me? I didn’t steal the money, screw that.

81¢ is nothing. I don’t care about 81¢. But it’s the principle. What if it had been $50? The amount doesn’t matter, the act of stealing it does, however. I cancelled my account with them over the phone regarding the matter. Who else should I contact, though? I mean, on the one hand, it seems like a lot of hassle to go through to “stick it to them” for 81¢, finding a lawyer or something… But who else are they going to do this to, and what if it’s for more money next time? Shouldn’t they be called out?

The second email, from WillScarlett:

Hello, Consumerist:

Last month, I made a small withdrawal from my HELOC at Wachovia. I only needed the money for about two weeks, then I paid back that loan amount, plus $1.00 to cover the interest that had accrued for those few days. When I received my statement last month, I had a credit on the account of $0.78, since only $0.22 was the interest cost. At the bottom of the statement, there was a note saying that since I had a credit on the account, if I did nothing for 60 days a check would be mailed to me.

Today I got my statement for this month. There was one transaction, on the closing day of the month, for $0.78. The transaction was an “ACCOUNT ADJUSTMENT”. My balance was now $0.00, instead of -$0.78.

I called customer service to ask about this transaction. The agent first said that the note on the transaction stated it was an additional interest charge for 2007. That didn’t make sense, and I told her it looked to me like Wachovia just took my money away from me. After putting me on hold, she came back to tell me that I was right. “The account will automatically zero out if it is less than $1.00.”

I said, “Wait, so Wachovia will just take my money? What about that note on my statement last month?”

Then she put in an order for a check to be cut to me for $0.78. She could not just credit this to my checking account. She had to spend the postage and paper to mail me a physical check.

Granted, it’s only $0.78, but here are my three questions:

If I owed Wachovia $0.78, would they just zero that out?

Why do they specifically tell you that a refund check will be issued automatically if that is not true?

How many thousands of people does this happen to each month?

Those are important questions to get answered, but most people wouldn’t bother going through the trouble of an EECB or, as randombob said, hiring a lawyer over pocket change. Is that the kind of thinking that the banks are counting on? If this does happen to thousands of people, a class-action suit seems appropriate. Has anyone else noticed this behavior from their bank?
(Photo: Getty)

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