Chase Sets Early Payment Trap, Customer Falls Into It

Daniel’s Providian/WaMu credit card was recently absorbed into Chase’s swollen belly, and they welcomed him to their family by catching him in a technicality that cost him $39. Here’s a good example of why you need to pay attention to statement cycles, even if your bank won’t tell you to.

Daniel had a payment due on September 6th, so he paid it on August 22nd. Then, the day after that payment was due—that is, on September 7th—he made another payment for the next cycle.

The problem is, that new cycle hadn’t started yet, so Chase applied it as a second payment to his past statement. Then when the new due date came and passed earlier this month, they reported him late and charged him a $39 late fee.

Daniel has repeatedly tried to reason with Chase, pointing out that he has a history of making all of his payments on time and early, but Chase would only repeat the same boilerplate rejection over and over. Below are some of the responses Daniel’s gotten from Chase CSRs this month:

I am unable to take further action regarding the late fee reflected on your statement. Your payment was due on 10/7/2009 and as of today 10/13/2009 we have yet to receive a payment for your account.

Please keep in mind that Chase offers the following tools to better assist you in managing your account:

-Alerts – Alerts can be personalized to fit your personal needs.
-AutoPay – Autopay can be set up to pay the minimum payment or statement balance in full on your statement due date.

Although, I wasn’t able to make the adjustment as requested, I am glad I was able to provide other payment options. If you have any further questions, please reply using the Secure Message Center.

Your account was previously reviewed and the response explained why we could not make the adjustment requested. I am unable to take further action regarding the late fee reflected on your November statement.

I apologize we could not credit your account as you wished but hope that you have a good week.

If you have any further questions, please reply using the Secure Message Center.

Thank you for taking the time to contact us again in regards to the payment made on your account ending XXXX.

A late fee was assessed because your payment of $64.38 was received before your 09/11/2009 statement cycled. Therefore, the payment was applied to the previous due date of 09/06/2009 so a payment for the 10/06/2009 due date has not been received.

Hence, a minimum payment is due and the account is in past due status.

Thank you for contacting Chase with regards to the issues currently affecting your account.

I am unable to remove the late payment fee and interest charges because a minimum payment was not received by the due date.

If you have any further questions, please reply using the Secure Message Center.

This is a common enough occurrence (at least judging by the tips we receive) that I suspect it’s a deliberate fee trap set up by credit card companies: they get you in the habit of thinking in terms of a payment due date, but what matters just as much is the statement cycle date, which they conveniently gloss over. Then people attempt to pay early because they’re trying to be more responsible, and the credit card company makes a little extra money.

The bank could easily avoid this by presenting an alert when a customer schedules a payment that says, “This payment will be applied to the statement cycle of [date range].” That Chase doesn’t do this makes it pretty clear that it’s yet another crack the bank hopes new customers like you fall into.

Don’t give up the fight yet, Daniel. So far all you’ve done is dealt with the lowest, least empowered foot soldiers on the Chase side of things—faceless CSRs who spend their days assembling responses from snippets of pre-written blather. Here are two other strategies to try:

1. Call Chase and explain your story. Make it clear you understand now what the “statement cycle” date means as far as paying your bill, but that this wasn’t made clear to you in any way as you scheduled that payment, and that’s why you were led to believe it would apply to your next payment. If you have proof that an identical action resulted in no late fee back when the card was owned by WaMu, point that out. Escalate the issue as high as you can if you keep running into bad Do Nothing employees.

2. If that fails, try sending an Executive Email Carpet Bomb (EECB) to Chase. Make your letter short but full of detail, and make it very clear what happened.

If Chase ignores you, complain to the following agencies. Remember, charging a late fee for a missed deadline isn’t illegal, and that’s really all that happened here. But what you should keep hammering over and over is the fact that Chase makes it possible for customers to accidentally pay “too early” without triggering any sort of warning, and then uses that trap to generate late fees.

1. Report Chase to the Comptroller of the Currency at 202-874-4700.

2. Report Chase to your state’s Office of the Attorney General.

3. Report Chase to your elected officials. You might want to make sure yours are on the side of consumers first—here’s how senators voted on the Credit CARD Act of 2009.

4. Report Chase to the FTC:

Division of Credit Practices
Bureau of Consumer Protection
Federal Trade Commission
Washington, D.C. 20580
Online FTC Complaint Assistant

(Photo: blmurch)