You may recall that when Costco dropped American Express and switched all its customers over to Citibank’s Visa card, I demurred — having enjoyed Citibank’s customer disservice in the past and had a bellyful. Instead, I decided to opt the wondrous benefits that attach to the Costco Visa card (which, it must be allowed, are considerable) and stick with a Visa card issued through my credit union.
This has worked OK. The CU’s Visa card even offers a few kickbacks, though of course nothing as generous as the Costco card provides.
But there have been a few problems. The biggest one has been getting the bills paid on time.
Item: When you use the credit union’s online bill-pay service — which should be transferring the payment electronically — the CU in fact pays Visa with a freaking paper check sent by snail-mail!!
This means it takes some ten days to arrive in Visa’s precincts. And then it takes another day or two for the check(!) to clear Visa’s bank. So if, say, the due date is April 10 and the check arrives there on April 10, payment is considered late!
The envelopes in which the CU-branded bills arrive are so discreet as to be practically incognito. It’s not obvious at first glance that a Visa statement (or any financial document) is inside. So it’s possible to simply miss an incoming statement, if you’re not paying attention.
I have paper statements sent as signals that it’s time to pony up some cash. This I favor over electronic statements, because a) my incoming email is a freaking NONSTOP tsunami, and sooner or later an electronic blat will get lost; and b) things computer make me tear my hair out. I do not want to deal with any more than I’ve already got, thank you.
So, if a statement doesn’t get here, chances are I will miss a payment.
This happened last month. The May statement seems to have been lost in the mail, and I never noticed that it hadn’t come and so hadn’t been paid.
This week, in comes a snarling wallop upside the head from Visa, saying they not only are gouging me $25 as a late payment penalty, they also are reporting me to all three credit bureaus as delinquent.
This morning I call and ask to get this reversed, which you usually can do if you don’t try it very often. WonderAccountant says most credit-card vendors will forgive one lapse a year.
Not so this outfit. The guy I reached, who sounded like a sweet enough young fella, said there was not a thing he could do about it. He pretended to absent himself long enough to make it look like he was talking to a boss, then came back on the line and said there was nothing they could do to reverse or undo the black blot with the credit bureau.
So I had to get in the car, traipse across the city to the credit union, and talk with the manager in person.
Forthwith, she got the late charge reversed and arranged to pay the bill in full. I said I wanted to close the account. She suggested not doing that. And yeah, I do know you really shouldn’t close a credit card account, because just closing it — whether or not a dispute is involved — will ding your credit rating. She did say that the credit ding was not slated to go through until the 22nd, and since we’re a long way from that date, there should be no report to the damned credit bureaus.
Okay. Well, that’s fine: I still have an active card. But there’s no way they can make me use it. It’s now in a file folder, hidden in a drawer.
In passing, I considered opening a Citibank Costco card, which after all would provide some rich kickbacks. But that is going to be a major hassle, with all the freezes on the three credit bureaus. When I talked with Citibank over the phone yesterday, their rep said they could not know which of the three credit bureaus they would use — apparently their software rotates among them at random. So this would mean I would have to apply; then sit by the phone till I got a call from Citibank; then call the specified credit bureau; then demand a temporary lift of the freeze.
Well, to start with, I have only one phone number that reaches a human (or did, the last time I called), and that’s with Experian. Trying to get through to those people is a headache of migraine intensity; as for the others…don’t even ask.
So. That leaves me with a Visa debit card, which I decidedly do not want to use at Costco’s gas pumps (or anyone else’s) and would prefer not to use at all.
I spend way too much money at Costco, AKA “Impulse Buy Hell.” Matter of fact, over the past six months, I’ve averaged $332 a month in store purchases and $36 a month in gasoline.
Really, that’s not all that terrible when you realize I buy most of my clothing there, most of my food (I don’t eat out, so this is significantly less than $10/day), ingredients for the dog’s spectacularly expensive DIY food, all my personal products, and most of my household goods. And a fair amount of the S-corp’s office supplies.
Still. I suspect that if I weren’t packing a credit card every time I shop there, I could cut the spending. A lot.
Sure don’t want to write checks, and I sure don’t want to have that much cash around.
So. I think what I’m going to do is this:
Figure out what would be a reasonable monthly budget for all those necessaries, absent the impulse buys. Let’s say about $275, maybe $300 at the outside. Add on enough to cover gasoline — around $40 just now, but rising fast. Then go into the store at the start of the month and buy a Costco cash card in the amount of, say, $340.
Be more careful about purchases…knowing there’s a palpable upper limit will help a lot with that. Use it till it’s gone, and then stop buying there until the next month. Or if push comes to shove, pay for any serious necessaries with the debit card.
I refuse to put a debit card into a gas pump, nor will I use one at a restaurant — there just aren’t enough consumer protections against theft. But the occasional restaurants I visit always accept AMEX, and if the tank runs dry after I run out of dollars on the cash card, I’ll just pay a couple bucks more to buy at a gas station that takes AMEX.
It’s really not that much hassle. If memory serves, the last time I bought a cash card I was able to get it at the regular checkout register, rather than having to stand in a different line. But even if you do have to buy from the customer service desk, so what? It’s not that big a deal.