We The People

Corporate Greed VS. The Little Guy (or Gal)

Commentary by
Eileen Workman

WE THE PEOPLE really need to become more activist around the ways private, capitalistic enterprises now control so many aspects of our lives without our informed consent. I’ve been talking for some time about the abusive tactics of social media companies, who drive us into states of manufactured outrage for the sake of inspiring greater internet engagement—only to sell our private data to other special interest groups behind our backs.

What’s rarely mentioned however are the three major private enterprise credit bureaus, whose ability to damage our financial future are rarely consentual. The system does not serve us; it only serves the private banking system in its quest to generate higher profits, courtesy of you and me.

An example: I was recently notified that my credit score declined by nearly 100 points. Shocked, I dug into the reason. As it turns out, a credit card issued by PayPal that was being managed by Synchrony Bank had been reported as being delinquent by more than 30 days. That puzzled me, because I have never knowingly used that card for anything. Nor had I received a bill from them requesting any payment, nor any other contact so far as I could tell.

I called the bank directly to inquire about this presumed “delinquency.” As it turned out, when I set up a Park Mobile app account in April to enable me to use the digital parking meters that abound here in downtown Santa Fe, I linked the app to my existing PayPal account, which was attached to my American Express card as the primary line of credit. However, when the request to link the app to PayPal went through, PayPal instead linked the parking app to my PayPal card, automatically. When I tested the app by parking at a public digital meter the following week,I incurred a whopping $4.20 charge that was billed to the PayPal card. Since then I’ve not had cause to use the app again.

Apparently, PayPal further decided not to send me a paper bill, but notified me by email sometime in May that this $4.20 charge was outstanding. Yet another decision that was made without my informed consent. And because I was injured and medicated heavily, and because my mind was rather less than sharp while I was in pain, all I can assume is that I must have deleted the message, thinking it was junk mail, without even bothering to open it. So…because I’d failed to promptly pay this paltry sum of $4.20, Synchrony chose to report it as a delinquency on my credit bureau records. That a misunderstanding over a bill under five bucks has the power to undermine my capacity to borrow money anywhere for the foreseeable future seems astonishing to me. And that none of the three major credit bureaus have algorithms that can protect us from such disproportional harms by excluding these low dollar, short term delinquencies also seems outrageous—at least to this mind.

After (finally!) securing a live person on the bank’s “customer service” line (who did not at ALL appreciate my plight, but who defended the bank’s position and chastised me for not being responsible enough to read all of my 200+ daily emails) I opted to make the payment in full, by phone. (It was now up to a whopping $12.40 due to the penalty charge and the interest they’d imposed.) I next chose to close out all three of my inactive lines of credit that Synchrony had extended to me via various retail businesses—which included cards issued by PayPal, Amazon, and Chevron.

Because I have no need at this time to borrow more money, it became an irritating and time-consuming inconvenience rather than a deeply problematic financial dunning. Thank heaven we’d already closed on our mortgage before this transaction occurred! However, these sorts of challenges DO have a powerful negative effect on people who are struggling and juggling and trying to navigate (in their “spare” time) the utter unreasonableness and cruel efficiency of these private lending and rating institutions. Not only have they shortened their billing cycles from one month to two weeks over the years, they have all but eliminated grace periods for the slower mail service issues we are now experiencing. If a bill arrives and is due in two weeks, and it doesn’t get paid right away because people are living paycheck to paycheck, they now impose stiff fines that make it even harder for those who are struggling to pay.

Why am I calling out Synchrony for special attention? Last year, I was still using an Amazon card issued by Synchrony as the default card attached to my Prime account. I paid the bill in full each month, using my online banking wire transfer system to settle the debt. Then, last November, I received a “late” notice from Synchrony on my Amazon account. I checked to make sure the wire transfer had left my bank—it had, and well on time. I then went online and checked my Synchrony account statement. It showed a credit in the amount of my bill had been posted appropriately and on time— it then, for some unfathomable and unexplained reason, that credit was reversed the following day. One would think such an obvious bank error would be simple to correct. It was NOT.

I phoned to patiently explain their error to them, but their default approach was to treat me like I was a criminal trying to scam them. They insisted they did not get paid (apparently their system is never wrong) and then demanded that I send “proof.” So I sent them a copy of my bank wiring instructions, and a copy of my statement showing that the exact amount of their bill had indeed left my account. That proof wasn’t good enough; I next had to go into my bank and have them research the transaction, verify the deduction, and copy for me a more detailed printout of their official records that proved I had paid.

Meanwhile, the errant disputed balance on my Amazon account was carrying over for several months—and boy, was their billing a mess during those months. They initially suspended the disputed balance when I first complained, but when they rejected my first attempt to prove they’d made an error they re-charged my account and added in back interest—not once, but twice. Finally, after they could no longer argue that my bank had indeed paid them on time some four months earlier, they credited me for the original amount due—but they never removed the recharge that they’d posted twice, in error.

Eventually the matter was resolved, and the outstanding errant card balance was zeroed out. I still have no idea how much excess interest I paid during those months on this nonexistent debt, because by then I had no more time to waste on correcting their errors. I did, however, unlink that card from my Amazon account and replace it with my Amex card instead. Let me add here that I did not even receive an apology for their initial or subsequent errors, nor did I receive any additional financial credit to compensate me for all the time, energy, and upset that their error caused ME.

So—if you’ve read this far, congrats! You now have some inkling about how this “one way street” of private enterprise financial predation works. If we sincerely err, or get confused, or (god forbid) become temporarily too ill to manage our bills efficiently for even a short time, we will be penalized severely for “being irresponsible.” Yet these corporations pay ZERO price for their own errors, shortcomings and “irresponsible” behaviors. It’s all on the consumer to fix our own mistakes—and theirs too. Late stage capitalism has clearly become an overly predatory beast in service to short-term profiteering. And it’s getting progressively worse out there—so unless we do something about it, we are in real and rising trouble as a people.

— Eileen Workman
Author of Raindrops of Love For a Thirsty World
and Sacred Economics (The Currency of Life)




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