Today's lesson is: Don't get a store credit card. Ever.
See, this past spring I bought some clothes. I don't buy clothes often; I tend to go clothes shopping two or three times a year and get everything I need at once. So my clothing bills are infrequent but large. When I paid, the clerk told me that I could get 15% off if I opened a store credit card and used it that day. Why not, I thought. I'll use the card for this one purchase, pay it off and cancel the card.
Unfortunately but perhaps predictably, in all the hubbub I immediately forgot about this transaction. When the bill arrived a few weeks later, Georg assumed it was an ad (I am inundated with them) and tossed it aside. Some time in July we started getting odd phone calls. Someone was calling at the same time every night -- right around dinner time -- but never leaving a message. After a few nights of this I answered the phone and got a friendly fellow from the store, wanting to know if there was anything we could do to resolve the matter of this outstanding bill?
At this point I had no memory of opening a credit account with his store. I had had a card several years ago but I had closed it, and as far as I remembered that was the end of it. So my attitude with him was basically "what are you talking about? I don't even have a card with your store and you're saying I owe you money?" I got the phone number of customer service, who he said could tell me where the purchase was made. And I don't want to mess up my credit rating so I assured him that I would pay the bill immediately if it was a legitimate charge. He told me that nothing had been recorded against my credit rating and he would put a note on my account. He also said he'd have another copy of the bill sent to me.
As soon as I got off the phone I told Georg about it, full of righteous indignation. At this point I was concerned that I had been the victim of credit card fraud so I was pretty ticked off as you can imagine. Georg got a sheepish look, rummaged around in a pile of old mail and found the bill. Oops!
I sat down that minute and wrote them a check. I figured that would be the end of it, until I got another call five days later. Different person, but same cheerful tone, just calling about your outstanding bill, we still haven't received payment, wondering how we can resolve this?
I told her that someone had called me the week before and that I had sent a check already. She informed me that regardless of what the first guy had told me, he had not put a note on my account, there was no record of his having talked to me, they hadn't received my payment, they were about to turn my name into the credit bureau and there was no way to prevent it except my going down to the store immediately and making a payment in person.
This is the one part of this sorry chain of events where I screwed up. I really should have gone down to the store that day and made a payment. I had the money; I just didn't have the time. It was only a couple of days before Artscape, I was frantically working on my car (in fact I had been in the middle of that when she called), I simply didn't have time to drop everything and go to the mall. Besides, I had already sent them the full payment. I thought they'd probably get it the next day.
So I let it go. Which was, of course, a mistake. I had just been thinking that I ought to call them and make sure they had gotten that payment, when we started getting weird phone calls again. Odd times of day, like dinner time or nine o'clock Saturday morning, but no message. This morning I answered the phone but the stupid autodialer hung up on me. This afternoon Georg picked up and actually got someone.
She, like her predecessors, was all friendly concern and really wanted to know what could be done to resolve this outstanding bill. I told her that I had written a check a month ago, but they had never received it. She told me that nothing had been done to my credit rating yet, but that it was going to be reported in the next day or two so I needed to make a payment immediately. Then she offered to do an electronic payment over the phone.
??? Excuse me? If they can take my payment over the phone, why didn't the first guy do that on July 18th? Why did the second woman tell me to go in person to the stupid store, if she could have taken my stupid electronic check over the stupid phone?
I asked her this question (in a much nicer tone of voice of course). She didn't have an answer but at least she apologized. You know, an apology makes such a big difference. Even though I know it wasn't her fault personally, her willingness to apologize for the incompetence of her coworkers made things go so much easier.
In any case, the payment was finally made. I hope. I've got to remember to call them back tomorrow and make sure my account is settled. While I'm at it, I might also want to get a copy of my credit rating and see if they really did turn me in or not.
On top of everything else, I had to pay a late fee that just about equalled the 15% I had saved by using the darned card. Well, at least I didn't end up paying more.