(MONEY Magazine) – "Visa Fumbled My Automatic Payments!"
Q Last year I moved out of the country for about five months. Before I left, I filled out a form to set up automatic payments for my Visa card. Turns out, the payments were never activated! By the time I got home, my card was canceled and my credit rating was damaged. What can I do? --Michael Rhoades, Englewood, Colo.
ANSWER Indeed, it appears that you filled out the paperwork correctly, no small feat in a world defined by fine print. And it should have worked: The form allowed you to choose the number of days after your closing date that you wanted your payment to be made. You circled "11," meaning the money should have been withdrawn from your bank account 11 days after your statement closed each month. Easier than packing a suitcase, right?
Apparently not. In a subsequent (and confusing) letter from U.S. Bank, the issuer of your WorldPerks Visa, you were told you must choose a day of the month after the 18th as your payment date. The letter suggested that, contrary to the language in the form, you'd elected to have your bill paid on the 11th of the month. Since you'd already put your mail on hold in preparation for your trip, you never saw this communication. As a result, no payments were made, and you became an unwitting deadbeat.
Frankly, you should have confirmed the arrangement before you left. And to be fair, U.S. Bank did leave several messages on your voice mail, which you checked while away. (Credit-card companies are bound by privacy laws preventing them from giving too much info on the phone, so you probably thought these were solicitations.)
That said, since your problem stemmed from inconsistencies in U.S. Bank's paperwork, we reissued your complaint with the company. Within 24 hours, it revived its investigation. Your card has been reinstated, and your credit history is being updated. The bank also credited you for $157.65 in late fees and finance charges and issued you 10,000 airline miles. Nice touch. Better yet, it clarified its automatic-payments form. Next time you flee the country, however, consider paying your bill online. At least you'll be able to check your account status and make sure you're not in arrears while abroad.
TIP Never assume that an automatic-payment agreement has gone through without a hitch. Plan to make regular payments until you receive confirmation that the process has been activated.
Having a financial nightmare? Need an advocate or some good advice? E-mail Ellen McGirt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
So far, Money Helps has saved readers $179,404.14
Reporting By Kate Ashford contributed to this article.