Welcome to another edition of Shop Talk where we discuss what’s going on in our personal points & miles space and highlight what we think is interesting in the broader space as well. This is the kind of “Shop Talk” many of you are engaged in on a daily basis, so feel free to discuss with us in the comments section.
Sam: We’re taking a break from our standard Shop Talk format again this week. Continuing an undercurrent of sorts on the blog lately–we’re taking today as an opportunity to talk a little more about the unseen side of the game we play. The ‘Mission Statement’ of this week’s Shop Talk comes from Robert who came up with this gem:
“Things where the awfulness (intentional or not) is just so bad that it almost nearly nullifies any upside in the deal.”
Read that sentence back again. What’s the first thing that pops into your head? That right there. What you’re thinking about right now. That’s the focus of today’s Shop Talk.
We’re fortunate to have a special guest, Chuck who writes over on the Doctor of Credit site. Chuck, thanks for joining us here today. Before we go on, can you give a little quick overview of yourself and how you became involved in this game and blogging about it?
Chuck: I started like everyone else by finding some small deal, and saying to myself, “why not”. One thing led to another and I got more involved in various credit card and gift card opportunities. Long story short, I began blogging over at DoC sporadically, and now regularly.
What got me first actually fits in nicely with today’s topic: it was a $50 Capital One checking account bonus. Today I’d probably pass on a $50 bonus to save the mental exertion, but at the time I figured there was no reason not to do it. I ended up getting dinged with a hard pull from that signup and learned from the experience. (Capital One is weird and hard pulls for checking account openings.) From there, I read up topics relating to consumer credit and became more knowledgeable on that as well.
Robert: Thanks for joining us here, Chuck.
Your Capital One experience is an example of why reference material like the “Things you should know about…” bank series you guys have put together is so useful.
Your Payments Workshop is terrific as well. I use that frequently while trying to remember which cards code as 3x/5x on various retail sites.
[Chuck: That Payments Workshop is something I’ve spent dozens of hours on. Still takes around an hour per month to keep up to date.]
This post on which airline travel credits are calendar year vs cardmember year is great too. I was just referring that this morning. Super-useful to have it all summarized in one convenient place.
The interaction that inspired this post for me was with Bank of America. Their Bill Pay scheme, and specifically managing automatic payment of the balance due on their credit cards from another bank is absolutely, without a doubt, the worst “thing” in the points and miles game. They could not devise a more convoluted system if they tried.
I recently signed up for a couple new BofA credit cards so I took careful notes on the process thinking maybe I’d write a post about it. If you’ve interacted with their system you know how wonky it is.
Whereas with other banks you pretty much just log into your account and set up autopay from a 3rd party bank and you’re done, it’s a multi-step process with BofA. You have to verify the bank you’re making payments from. You have to “Request eBills” for each credit card (even if you’re paying a BofA credit card from a BofA checking account). You wait until the first statement closes. Then go back in and setup Autopay for the statement balance. It’s a mess, but I get all that.
But when it malfunctions, it’s really painful and complicated to detangle. I thought for sure I set up my credit cards to be paid from the credit union where I do most of my banking. Yet, payments for a couple cards concurrently posted and drew from my BofA checking account. Since I don’t keep much money there it sent my checking account negative.
Interacting with their system online to decipher what was going on was maddening, and calling them wasn’t much better. I talked to someone about my checking account (thankfully they waived the 2 x $35 fees I incurred for going negative in my BofA checking account). I talked to someone from their Bill Pay department. They couldn’t figure out why one of my accounts wouldn’t allow me to request eBills so they sent me over to their “Direct Pay” department. Then over to the credit card department. Then over to the Preferred Rewards Platinum Honors desk.
Each time the conversation started off with a pleasing tone, talking to people seemingly intent on flattening my issues once and for all. But due to the network of silos they’ve set up within their business and the overly complicated sometimes overlapping systems they’ve set in place the conversation veered into inside baseball jargon and my problem wasn’t resolved. “Well sir, you must have set up Direct Pay or requested eBills from *some* other bank, though I can’t see or tell you what bank that is.”
Bottom line: I’ll get it squared away. But I thought I had a handle on it, so it’s discomforting to wake up one day and see your checking account overdrawn with fees piling up. Whenever you have to go “in branch” to resolve an issue you know things have gone extremely south. For these reasons I think BofA Autopay is the worst “thing” in the game.
Chuck: I have heard dreadful things about the Bank of America payment system, though I honestly can’t remember the details of how I got it set it up initially.
It’s interesting you mention auto-pay. I’ve NEVER paid any of my bills with auto-pay. First, most credit card bills get paid down before the statement closes. Second, I like controlling which account the money comes from. Sure, I have one main checking account, but I just don’t like bills getting paid automatically without manual decision. I should probably set up auto-pay on accounts that I’m not using, in case I miss a bill once.
On this topic, I’ll add a pet peeve of mine: credit cards who don’t put the ‘amount owed’ in the e-statement. Aarrgghh! Amex, Citi, Bank of America, and Barclay’s all put the amount owed, while Chase and U.S. Bank do not. I even tried putting in a request once with Chase, alas, to no avail.
The reason I care so much is not for cards I actually use. It’s for the cards I DON’T use. When I get an e-statement, I want positive confirmation that no balance is owed. This confirms for me that I didn’t use the card this month, that there’s no annual fee or other fee, no fraudulent charges, etc. But I don’t want to waste a precious two minutes logging in for every unused card (especially if Chase then decides to lob a “device not recognized” at me while logging in, something that happens occasionally). I just want to see “amount owed: $0” and move on with life.
I guess banks don’t expect us to have dozens of credit card bills ?
Sam: Chuck, you and I sound a lot alike. I don’t auto-pay either because I have a very complicated system of accounts, and I’m drawing payments from multiple sources and transferring funds a lot as well. For me I hate that Chase doesn’t show you a “statement balance remaining” like Citi and Amex do. That means when I’m pushing payments from GoBank, 3x Checking accounts and pulling from my Chase Bank account I have to manually add all that up and calculate the remaining balance.
And I can definitely relate to Robert’s Bank of America issues…Robert’s clearly more ‘invested’ in them than I am, but they do seem so odd to me as well. Like when I deposit into my own account, endorsing the check in front of their teller and they ask me “Do you do a lot of deposits into Mr. Simon’s account? Would you like to open an account here?”
Excuse me? Are you a robot?
Or just last month, I needed my wife to call and cancel a card because apparently chat operators and secure messaging make no sense in the BofA Universe. She called, [and after a long hold] explained she wanted to close her account, but she called from the house phone. So they needed to do some extra security verification. Fine, I get that. But she failed the first question, so they went with some off the wall way of verifying who she is. Which she passed. Great! “Ok now that I’ve verified your identity I regret to inform you that the department that handles cancellations is closed right now, they will reopen tomorrow morning.”
My wife upon hanging up:
But given that I keep an arm’s length away from BofA and don’t really use them much I’m going with another bank as my choice for the one that’s just the worst. I’ve probably been complaining about this bank for the better part of this year in one way or another. For me, by far the worst is Wells Fargo. Whenever there’s a new WF deal they’ve got me to the point where I consider… where are they going to blow this? Where can I expect the “Wells Fargo Curveball? Maybe they’ll lock my account and insist I need to go in branch and prove I am who I say I am. Maybe the website won’t work for an entire 24 hours. Maybe, on a Friday only 1 of 4 ATMs works!
The curveball cuts both ways however: Sometimes they’re so incompetent they’ll accidentally create a system so lucrative that an entire shadow economy springs up from it.
My biggest gripe with them is how SLOW they are at everything. No Other bank takes 90 days after you reach a spending requirement to pay out a bonus like WF does. That makes the “will my phony spending count” angst real with WF. On their Business Cash back card (still available! see Robert’s writeup on it here) they take that 90 day delay and add a second Wells Fargo Twist: They pay out quarterly.
So you’ll wait somewhere around 180-270 days after meeting the spending requirement to even see your cash back. Oh, and if you don’t have a business checking account (and Wells didn’t open a phantom one/ten for you) then you end up with a -$500 statement balance. And it isn’t clear if prior months’ cash back statement credits @1.5% count against your minimum spend requirement, so instead of spending $5,000 you should spend $5,075 ($5000 + 1.5%) just in case, since there’s no take-backs and I doubt they’d even understand the issue when you called and spoke to them. All of these little issues are related to just one card!
A few times a week my wife and I get a nice little reminder from WF just how bad they are, those pesky “If you want to file a claim aginst us” emails:
Anyone else with WF issues? Or am I alone on that one?
Robert: Good call, Sam. I’ve definitely had a love/hate relationship with Wells Fargo.
The “we’ll need you to go in-branch to verify your identity” is maddening. It’s particularly painful in a state like Massachusetts where they have no branches. If they want to do business with customers in a state, they really need to avoid situations where you need to go in-branch. Yet, I’ve found myself in this situation with them twice in recent memory.
First was when I wanted to convert my checking account from one that was incurring monthly fees to one that’s fee-free if you have your mortgage with Wells Fargo. You’d think that would be an easy switch but my goodness did they over-complicate the process.
The first guy tells me I’ll need to open a new account and close the old one. It really felt like a scam when he started asking me all these questions as if I was a total stranger to them. I got a distinct feeling the banker was trying to get credit for opening new accounts so I bailed on the process, called back and escalated, escalated, escalated until I got someone to just cut me a check and close the account.
More recently they froze my wife’s GoFar Rewards account because I was transferring rewards from my account to hers. Somewhere along the line my wife’s maiden name didn’t match up with their records. They latched onto that ferociously and said we’d need to go in-branch to unlock several thousands of dollars worth of rewards.
So while we were on vacation in Florida we stopped in at a Wells Fargo branch – just what everyone wants to do on their vacation, right? The banker realizes what a charade the whole process is but does indeed “verify” us. Yet when we talk to the same person who told us to go in-branch she informs us she can’t release the rewards…because the maiden name doesn’t match their records. Gah!
They eventually relented, but I agree: It is so frustrating dealing with – like you suggest – customer service reps that behave like robots.
Another thing you mentioned resonates with me, Sam. And that’s the habitual non-payment of signup bonuses. This happens across a number of banks, some more than others for sure, and is a real issue in this game.
Like you suggest it’s particularly infuriating when a bank takes a long time to post a signup bonus, they can’t provide clarity on whether you’ve met the requirements, and even the reps are confused on whether the signup bonus is attached to your account. Then you wait it out, the bonus doesn’t post, you file an inquiry and they keep kicking the can down the road. I’ve personally experienced this with Citi and Santander.
This is an area where Chase really shines. In my experience, they reliably post signup bonuses (and refer-a-friend bonuses) on the first statement close after you’ve met the requirement.
Lest this devolve into further whining, I do like the tip of secure messaging to confirm a signup bonus is attached to your account in writing (if the bank is so sophisticated as to have a secure message function).
I’ve found screen shots to be useless in terms of negotiating a signup bonus that doesn’t post. I had that happen once with AmEx and they weren’t interested in receiving a screen shot in any way. Maybe that would fly in small claims court or something but I don’t waste much time with screen shots other than for personal records.
Fundamentally what drives me bonkers about non-payment of signup bonuses is when banks, at best, finally pay the bonus as advertised they never “make you whole”. They never compensate you for the time and hassle associated with their screw up. This is really poor form and has the effect of making a signup bonus – a reward that’s supposed to entice you to a long and profitable relationship with the bank – completely ineffective. Because if a bank can’t do something as simple as pay a signup bonus, I don’t want to do business with them.
I’ve experienced how difficult it is to cancel a card with Bank of America as well. “Thank you for being a Bank of America Platinum Honors client. The next representative will be with you in an hour.” Seriously? There’s no way to cancel the account online, they have no chat or secure message function, and there’s an hour wait for their “best” customers to even speak to a representative? That’s unacceptable.
What do you think, Chuck?
Chuck: I’ve had very little to do with Wells Fargo in my life, my only run-in with them being recently opening a business checking account with them. I needed a new business checking and they were offering a $300 bonus so I went in branch to open account.
I ended up using a different bank for the business, though I kept the Wells checking open as a back-up. Ten $.50 Amazon reloads per month keeps the account fee-free.
My weird experience with Wells was when going in-branch to open the business checking with the plan of opening the Business Cash Back card for as added $500 bonus. You can only apply for that card after having an account with Wells for 12 months, but in the branch the offer is immediately available.
I was thinking to do the $300 bank bonus at the same time as the $500 new card bonus. I really hate doing anything in branch, and the plan was for these bonuses to make it worthwhile.
The banker did pitch me the Business Cash Back card along with some other products. Then, when mentioning nonchalantly to the banker that I’d be interested in signing up now for the Business Cash Back card, the banker repeatedly discouraged me from doing so, saying it was better that I come back another time for that.
I’m really not sure what went on there, my only guess is that since the major Wells scandal, perhaps there’s now a push that bankers should NOT upsell additional products so as to lose that pushy image.
Regardless, Sam’s experiences make me feel less FOMO about missing that card!
Robert: The upshot of all this, other than a good old fashioned chance to vent and commiserate, is to take these patterns of bad behavior into account when considering the NPV of a deal. I mentally group it into the P(Malfunction) when dealing with certain banks.
Say for example, I know there’s a local bank that’s got a $300 signup bonus. But I know from past experience they’ve been a pain to deal with. It’s unlikely I’ll go for it again, and I’m absolutely not going to do real business with them. There are too many other banks out there.
Additionally, some banks are delightfully incompetent rather than sinisterly. In cases like these you’re likely to get caught up in some IT shenanigans along the way, but they tend to work in our favor more than against so I’m fine dealing with bumps in the road.
– Written by Sam Simon. All ideas are my own, but I encourage you to see my point of view and I promise I’ll try to do the same. Connect with me on Twitter @Milenomics.