In addition to running Parse.ly, I also run a small consulting business, Aleph Point, Inc. In the course of working on client jobs, I sometimes have to make business purchases, which I always pay in full at the end of every month. I have never carried a balance on my credit card and I never intend to.
When I signed up for a business checking account at Chase, the branch manager who I worked with (and who now no longer works there) encouraged me to sign up for a business credit card, as well. I thought, hey, why not — I’m just going to use it for small purchases like monthly hosting fees and the like.
Recently, I made a relatively large purchase at Best Buy for a client, which I was going to be reimbursed for. It was about $200. I already had a balance of $350 on my account, and a few days later my account was closing for the month.
When I looked over my account information a few days later, I found a strange charge. $39 OVERLIMIT FEE. What’s that, I thought?
Well, I went to my branch to find out. The branch manager explained that my credit card had a credit limit of $500. Wow. That’s a low credit limit. I explained that I sometimes make reimbursed purchases of more than $500, so this was quite strange value to pick. Further, I already had multiple other credit cards with much higher limits, so I don’t get why they would choose such a small limit for me. “Oh”, the branch manager said, “that’s because we’re picking $500 limits for all new business customers.” Hmph, fine… seems strange, but fine. (The engineer in me thinks, “Couldn’t they have done an analysis of my cash flow to figure out a more reasonable limit? Of course not — this is a bank, after all. That’s expecting them to be smart.”)
“OK,” I said. “So I have a $500 limit on the account. But why is there an OVERLIMIT FEE? Shouldn’t it just be declined? What is that about?” She says, “Oh, unfortunately, I can’t explain why that was charged. You’ll have to call the number on the back of the card.” I say, “Really? Why?” She says, “Unfortunately, we can’t discuss credit card fees at the branch.” This strikes me as a very strange policy, probably just put in place as a deterrent for people actually contesting their fees. Very sneaky little bastards, these Chase guys. But fine, for now I’ll follow the policy.
A couple days later, I call up the number on the back of the card. I ask about the fee. He says, “Yes, sir, that is a completely valid fee.” I reply, “Valid? Who cares if it is valid? Any fee you guys put on my account is ‘valid’. The question is, why was it put there? And is it justified?” He replied, “It was put there because you went over your $500 limit.” I asked, “Why did you let me go over the $500 limit? If I have a limit, shouldn’t I get TRANSACTION DECLINED when I go over? Isn’t that the whole point of a limit?”
The guy on the phone laughs. Literally, he laughed at me. “No, Chase provides overlimit protection as a convenience to our customers. So that if, for example, you’re taking a client out to dinner, you won’t be embarrassed by going over your limit.”
I didn’t respond for a couple of seconds, because I was parsing his sentence. “So, this isn’t so much a fee, as much as a convenient service Chase is providing me. You guys are saving my embarrassment for the mere cost of $39. I get it now.”
Apparently, the guy didn’t get my sarcasm. “Here’s what I think,” I continued. “I think you guys are just ripping me off. There is absolutely no reason not to decline the transaction, except that in allowing the transaction to go through, you now assess a fee. It doesn’t cost you anything for me to go $50 over limit, as I did. And I paid down the account in full through my automatic payment system just a few days later. So, I think you guys just figured — hey, here’s an easy way to make free money off our consumers. Here’s another fee we can invent because we are greedy bastards.”
He seemed a little taken aback, and then said, “No, sir. Chase does not rip off its customers. Chase is here to serve its customers.”
“OK,” I say. “I’ve been your customer for more than a decade. So since you’re in the business of serving customers, I suppose you’ll have no problem removing this fee, which is completely unjustified.”
“Unfortunately, sir,” he responds, “I cannot remove the fee.”
“What do you mean? Of course you can remove it,” I say, incredulous. “Just pull up my account and press delete on the line that says, OVERLIMIT FEE.”
“No, sir, I cannot. It is a valid fee. Valid fees cannot be removed.”
“There’s that word again. Here is another example of a valid fee: $500 for transferring money between my checking and savings account on a Wednesday. If you guys had that policy, that would be a valid fee.”
“We don’t have that policy.”
“Listen,” I’m revving now. “It would be one thing if you guys charged $1 for going over my credit limit. But you charge $39. You know how you guys came up with the number $39?”
“This fee is set by the executives of the banks.”
“Wow, I wish I had just recorded that to send to Congress! No, really –”, I interrupt. “I don’t care who came up with the number. But I’ll tell you how $39 was picked. It was picked because after rigorous market testing, they found that if the fee were $40, people would grab their kitchen knife, run out in the street, and kill every fucking Chase banker in sight.”
He was silent.
“So, the executives decided — better make it $39.”
He didn’t laugh this time. No sense of humor. “Listen, just let me speak to a supervisor to get this issue resolved.”
He insists, “Sir, no supervisor can remove this fee. The executives mandate that we cannot remove it.”
“Who can I contact to appeal the fee, AND the policy that does not allow it be removed, AND the appointment of the executive who instituted it?”
“You can write a letter to business services in Delaware,” the representative says.
Frustrated, I end with a rant. It was long-winded and I won’t produce the whole thing here. It talked about my prior blog post, which pointed out how Chase ran an insecure document exchange system. It talked about how there are currently 21 Chase customers who are “mad as hell and not gonna take it anymore”, ranting on my site about how crappy Chase is. And I discussed how even after contacting Chase about this issue, even after pointing them to a significant problem with numerous angry customers, they do nothing. Just like they are doing nothing now. A company that is like a black hole.
“And as a systems engineer,” I conclude, “the fact that you guys can’t remove this fee just makes me so god-damn depressed, I can’t even express it to you. We have managed to put a man on the moon, but JPMorgan Chase bank cannot hit delete on a fucking spreadsheet. How pathetic is that?”
I resignedly ask for the complaint address. I write it down. And I end the conversation with, “Listen, I know you’re just doing your job. But I want to make it clear to you that your company does not deserve a single god-damn dime of my money. Neither the money in my personal checking account, nor in my business checking account, nor any of the money my representatives awarded you in that $25 billion bailout that saved your company’s greedy ass. It’s not your fault — it’s your company’s fault. But for the love of everything good and just in this world, man, why the hell do you work for these clowns?”
That bit of humanity connected with him, just a little. I could hear it in his voice. “I hope things turnaround for you with Chase. I really do. But there’s nothing I can do for you at this time.”
I hope things turn around, too. In the meanwhile, I’ll sharpen my kitchen knife.