Sophie did what any good Consumerist struggling with credit card debt would do. She called up her lender, American Express, and asked if they would be able to help her with some kind of payment plan before she missed any payments. knows that some credit card companies are currently happy to negotiate when struggling customers call them up, since a customer making lower payments is better than a customer missing payments, or not making any payments at all. Right?
I recently had the great pleasure of dealing with American Express’ Payment Plan department. Let me admit first that I am terribly in debt. I have been living beyond my means. HOWEVER, I should say that I have NEVER missed a payment on ANY of my accounts whether credit, store, education loans or otherwise; my accounts have always been in good standing. However, like many people, my financial bubble burst as well, and it came to a point where I realized I was going to start missing payments if I did not negotiate some sort of payment plan with my lenders.
Being the novice that I am, I simply thought that you could call a creditor, tell them you were happy to cancel your account, and then they would help you set up a payment plan. In my mind, that would be better for everybody than missing payments or not paying your bills for over 60 days, right? WRONG. As I have come to learn, nobody wants to do a thing for you until you are not only in debt but royally screwed. But even better than this realization was the fantastic conversation I had with a customer service rep at Amex. In hindsight, a tape recorder would have been handy. I called, preemptively (as in, before I started missing my payments on purpose), and asked if they could help.
The initial response: “no”. Well, I said, I’m experiencing financial hardship because I’m not earning enough at my current job. Then we do a financial analysis: she asks me how much I make, what my bills are like, et cetera. Then she says that it looks like I am upside down at least $400 for the coming month. Curious, I point out, how that was around the same amount that I was attempting to negotiate down from paying on a monthly basis to Amex. Well, she continues to say, I can’t help you because you don’t have enough money to cover your bills. Strange, I say, because that’s why I was calling you (and my two other credit card companies).
We went around in circles like this for about 5 minutes. At that point, I started to become a little frustrated. Okay, she says, I can put you on $250 in payments, lower the interest to 0% for the first 6 months and 9.99% for 6 months after that. Wow, I say, that would be great, the only problem is $250 is what I pay NOW and I can’t afford it, could we make the payments perhaps a little lower. No, she says, that’s the minimum (I learned later that it’s not).
I started to get a little emotional. I told her that I didn’t understand why I had to become delinquent on my account for them to offer me a better payment plan but since I realized this is what I must do, so be it. She then flew into a rage stating:
-This is YOUR fault that you are in this situation
-How DARE you ask American Express to shoulder your responsibilities
-Maybe if you didn’t spend money you didn’t have you wouldn’t be in this situation to begin with
-This is AMERICAN EXPRESS’ MONEY YOU’RE ASKING FOR
*Ahem* Thanks mom. I told her it was unprofessional to speak to me in such a way, blah blah blah and hung up the phone. Flash forward to three months later of me NOT paying them, and lo and behold that “$250 minimum” doesn’t exist anymore.
I find it fascinating that somehow me asking a company I’ve been overpaying since 2005 for help is so daring and irresponsible. Furthermore, is it not true that anything they make on top of what I’m actually paying them back for borrowing is simply profit??!
Anyway, that’s my story. I am in the process of approaching Citibank and Bank of America for the same thing but, again, I’m either told “You’re in between billing cycles so I can’t help you” or “You’re current on all your payments, what’s the problem?”. The problem is I’m paying an unnecessary 29.99% interest rate on both those cards which means that even if I pay $50 over my minimum the balance doesn’t shift because of finance charges. So, at the beginning of every billing cycle I’m effectively back where I started. I know it’s my fault I’m in this mess but a little help in good faith would be nice considering I’ve always been a very good customer.
But I suppose that’s not what matters anymore.
No, foresight and planning ahead financially are not valued traits in credit card land.