A couple of weeks ago, I got one of those balance transfer offers from my credit card company (0% interest! Fixed APR!), complete with handy-dandy pre-printed checks (Use them now! Buy that big screen! You know you want to!). As I always do, I shredded the checks and threw them out. A few minutes later, as I was paying the monthly bills, it occurred to me that I have a loan that I'm currently paying off at a significantly higher variable interest rate. I could actually use one of those handy-dandy checks, pay it off, then finish paying the loan at the lower, fixed rate. This seemed like a good idea. But alas, I had shredded the checks. No problem, I thought, I'll just call the credit card company and have them send me some more.
There's an unwritten rule of modern life: if you call customer service, and you get someone in India, things are not going to go well for you. Unfortunately, there is generally no alternative to slogging through what is bound to be a confusing, irritating, and lengthy "customer service" experience. My experience with my new BFF (we'll call him "Sam") was no exception.
Me: "Yes, I received some balance transfer checks in the mail and shredded them by mistake. Could you please send me some more?"
Sam: [insert unintelligible accent here] "No, ma'am, I am sorry, but we cannot send checks in response to a telephone request."
Me: "Um. Okay. How do I get some then?"
Sam: "I am sorry, ma'am, but we cannot reissue checks."
Me: "Um. All right. Are you going to be sending any more any time soon?"
Sam: "I am sorry, ma'am, but I cannot give you that information.
Me. "Oh. Okay. Ah. Is there some other way I can make a balance transfer?"
Sam: "Yes, ma'am. I can handle that for you over the phone."
Me: [Resisting the urge to point out the sheer idiocy of refusing to MAIL checks to my ACTUAL, REAL ADDRESS, but accepting authorization for the transfer of large amounts of money over the phone] "Oh. Okay. That will be lovely."
A lengthy and tedious conversation followed, which I will not repeat verbatim for fear of losing those of you who have stuck with me this far. Suffice it to say that bank account numbers were given, credit accounts were listed, names were named. Finally, Sam put me on hold for, oh, a day or two. When he came back, he said,
Sam: "Ma'am, is the balance you are transfering an account from ******** Bank?"
Me: "Why, yes. Yes it is."
Sam: "I am sorry, ma'am, but we cannot transfer an account balance from ******** Bank."
Me: "Why is that?"
Sam: "Because ******** Bank is owned by [our company]. We cannot transfer our own accounts."
Me: [Resisting the urge to point out he could have saved us both a lot of time by asking me this question 12 hours ago] "Uh."
Me: "Well. Um. Thanks for your help."
Sam: "But I can make a transfer into your checking account and you can use it to pay off the loan. The transfer fee is also only half that for a balance transfer."
Me: [Flatly dumbfounded, because, really, who WOULDN'T choose this option if it were actually presented to begin with?] "Really. Well. Right to my checking account, huh? And it'll only cost me half as much in transfer fees? Yeah. Okay. Let's DO THAT."
After another lengthy process, Sam assured me that everything was done and I should look for the money via wire transfer in "three to five business days."
I, foolishly, believed him.
That was two weeks ago, or, in banking terms, TEN business days. I have seen neither hide nor hair of the money, nor of any reference to a transfer. Today, I decided, I would brave the customer service line and try to figure out what had gone wrong.
The credit card company saved me the trouble. There was a letter from them in today's mail, informing me that they have tried to contact me about a balance transfer request, but since they have been unable to get ahold of me, they have cancelled the transfer. If I wanted to make a transfer, I should call [oh, yeah] customer service.
Unable to get ahold of me? I have three land lines. I have a cell phone. I have two email addresses. I have lived at the same address for more than ten years. The credit card company has all of this contact information. Unless they were trying to reach me by smoke signal, I can't imagine what trouble they could possibly have had getting ahold of me.
So I sucked it up and called customer service. I got an agent who sounded exactly like the first one I talked to. Maybe it was. So we'll call him Sam.
Me: "Yes, I set up a balance transfer by phone a couple of weeks ago, and today I got a letter saying you have been unable to reach me and have cancelled the transfer. I'd like to try again."
Sam: "Yes, ma'am, I can help you with that. I see here you had a balance transfer and it was cancelled. You want to transfer the money into your checking account?"
Me: "Yes, please."
Sam: "Can you give me the routing number and account number, please?"
Sam: "I must place you on hold while I check this."
Me: "No problem."
Quite a while later:
Sam: "I apologize for the lengthy hold. What is the name of the bank for this routing number?"
I tell him.
Sam: "I am sorry, but this is an incorrect routing number."
I repeat the routing number. Twice.
Sam: "I am sorry, but there is no record of this number."
[At this point I reminded myself rather forcefully that it is not a good idea to lose one's cool with Sam in India who has his fingers poised directly over one's credit rating, no matter how much one might like to make some sort of nasty comment.]
Me: "Well. I am looking at the check. That is the routing number printed on the check. That is also the routing number I use every month when I pay my bill on your website. I use that routing number every time I make a payment from that account, which is pretty much every day. And, actually, it's your bank. I'm not sure what to tell you."
Sam: "Oh. Okay."
And he continues to process the request. Or so I think. He could just be putting me on at this point, and I'd never know it.
Sam: "So you want to have $X transfered into your checking account?"
Me: "No. I want to have $Y transfered into my checking account."
Sam: "I'm sorry,ma'am, but I cannot transfer that amount."
Me: "Um. Why not?"
Sam: "Because I cannot make a transfer for the same amount within 25 days of a previous transfer."
Me: "But, um, there was no previous transfer."
Sam: "You got a letter approving a transfer."
Me: "No. I got a letter telling me the transfer I requested had been cancelled." This seemed like an important distinction to me.
Sam: "I'm sorry, ma'am, but I cannot make a transfer for the same amount."
Me: [After a moment's careful thought] "Can you make a transfer for a different amount?" [You've got to ask the right questions. I'm slowly getting the hang of this, I think, and I'm starting to get excited as I see the possibility of bringing this transaction to a close sometime before my head explodes.]
Sam: "Yes, ma'am. What amount would you like me to transfer?"
Me: "Just change the amount by $50."
Sam: "$50 more or less?"
Me: "I really couldn't...$50 less. Make it $50 less. Please."
Sam: "Yes, ma'am. That will be $Y-50 at X% interest fixed for the life of the loan with a transfer fee of $Z. Once I submit this, it cannot be changed. Do I have your approval to submit it?"
Me: "Yes. Yes, you do. Please submit it." [Submit it NOW! Before I totally lose it and start screaming at Sam in India who's probably not to blame but who is about to feel the full force of my annoyance and that would be a BAD thing, because as we've already established, he has his fingers waaaaay to freakin' close to my credit rating, and...]
Sam: "The transfer will be made by wire transfer in the next three to five business days. If there is any problem, someone will contact you by phone within the next three days. Is there anything else I can help you with?" [Yes, actually. You see, I've heard all this before, and it didn't work out quite that way. Could you possibly arrange for me to speak to someone who actually has some AUTHORITY, or better yet some ACCOUNTABILITY? Or maybe I could talk to that guy who decided to outsource customer service to India, along with all the jobs that used to be in the U.S. I'd really love to talk to him. I have a few questions for him. What's that? Monaco? He's living it up in Monaco because the unemployment rate in the U.S. was bumming him out? Yeah, I can see how that would get a person down. That and all those foreclosed houses. Oh, and the vacant commercial spaces are kind of a downer, too...]
Me: "No, thank you. That's all. Thank you so much for your help."
Any bets what happens next?