Tuesday, May 20, 2008

My Two Cents vs. Their Three

Picking up the mail in January, I froze, and not just from the -10 degree wind chill whipping around for my winter pleasure. In my hands amidst the bills and late Christmas cards, flyers for pizza and leftover catalogs were an OVERDUE NOTICE.

I always pay all our bills at the beginning of each month. I keep the tabs and am scrupulous about knowing what checks I write and for whom. Maybe the Christmas rush had allowed me to miss one…I was upset as I sat at the table and began to open it up. Would my clerical error ruin our credit rating? The notice seemed to scold me with its very presence.

Opening the letter my fear gave way to rage. “This letter is to inform you that the bill on your 2004 Mini-van loan for the amount of $.03 is PAST DUE. Please remit the sum of $.03 to the Ameri-Bank account immediately to avoid procedures that could affect your CREDIT RATING.

I put down the letter. I got out my checkbook and past bill stubs. Sure enough, I had written the check for $379.76. The bill was $379.79. I called the 1-800 number to discuss the matter.

“May I help you Ms?” A disinterested voice came on after I had spent the better part of 15 minutes punching buttons on the phone tree to get to a human being.

“Yes! I’m calling about my account…”

She then proceeded to interrupt me to ask for all the information I had just spent 15 minutes punching into the phone tree. “How may I serve you today?” she said finally in a bored voice.

“Why am I getting an OVERDUE NOTICE?” I asked. “You have proof that I made my payment promptly.”

“Yes, it shows that you paid, but our computers indicate that you haven’t satisfied the terms of your contract for the loan.”

“Because of three cents?”

“Yes Ms.” She replied. “What if everyone started writing their checks for pennies less than the actual bill, the company would loose thousands of dollars.”

Momentarily stopped by the thought that a business could loose thousands because of a second of dyslexia, common sense reasserted itself in my brain. “This isn’t a vast conspiracy; I just switched a number by accident, from a nine to a six. I can’t just write three more cents on the next bill?”

“No Ms, our computer indicates that your account is not in compliance. Any additional money sent in next week would apply to the principle but not satisfy the outstanding balance left unpaid.” She droned.

“But it’s three cents. If I write a check for three cents it will cost .39 cents to mail it and more than that for you to process it. Why am I getting a threatening we will destroy your credit rating over three cents?”

“I understand Ms. But our computer reads the payment as insufficient funds and as such you have to send in a check immediately or it will forward your account to the appropriate collection agencies.” I could almost hear her filing her nails and chewing gum in indifference.

“What? For Three CENTS?”

“Yes Ms.” She said this with the evident self detachment culled from hours of telling countless people the same information for even smaller sums.

Trying not to seethe at the incomprehensibility of having my credit rating ruined over three copper coins easily found on the bottom of my car for which the payments were made, I mentally debated the satisfaction of mailing three pennies, of mailing the next full payment in nothing but pennies, and of simply blowing the whole thing off.

“What about an electronic transfer?” I asked, trying to avoid an unnecessary chore and make the best of a stupid situation.

“There is a twelve dollar fee for the transfer Ms.”

“So it would cost me twelve dollars and three cents to square my account?”


Not feeling particularly civil at that moment, I hung up in mid Ms.

As I wrote the check and began addressing the envelope, I wondered if the bank would fine me for having written a check for such a tiny amount. Phoning the bank, they explained that yes indeed, there would be a 5 dollar fee for writing a check for three cents. I could avoid the fee if the amount exceeded a dollar. I also figured that mailing three cents physically would cost $.45 cents in postage, and that probably sending three physical cents would warrant another letter from the bank.

Ripping up the check, I wrote a new one for a dollar with a note, “Since we both could use the change, I’m transferring my account.”

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