Toyota credited my account by $4,000 but doesn’t want to give me a finder’s fee

Sally Holman-Hebert has an auto loan with Toyota Financial Services. But back in April, things started going haywire with her account.

Although she still owed $4,000 on her loan, Toyota zeroed out her account and sent a letter in the mail releasing the lien. Holman-Hebert knew that wasn’t right — so she immediately spoke up. The company told her the error was due to a transposed digit on her account number, and it would be fixed within a week.

Not surprisingly, it wasn’t. On top of Toyota’s error stating she owed nothing, her account was closed, so she couldn’t make the payments she actually owed.

This case raises some important questions about what you can expect when you’re the customer of a large company, and a mistake results from being, well, just a number.

Holman-Hebert tried repeatedly to get to the bottom of the situation, but her calls to customer service were met with automated messages to call back later. Soon, weeks turned into months, and her would-be payment due date came and went — once, twice, and finally a third time.

In June, a phone representative finally took her call and told her she could have taken that lien release letter to the DMV and gotten a clean title — leaving Toyota holding the bag for the $4,000 loss. “I chose to be honest,” she explained, “as I didn’t want this to affect my credit or come back to reflect negatively on me somehow.”

Toyota finally reopened the account, but when it did, instead of the $4,000 owed, the amount had doubled to $8,000. Holman-Hebert had to call again and the balance issue was fixed, leaving her with the total balance of $4,000, as expected.

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Holman-Hebert wants our help getting some kind of compensation for three months of phone calls to the company — in other words, some kind of reward for having been honest with Toyota and working to resolve the issue. Holman-Hebert says the Toyota phone representatives were largely polite and helpful, but they don’t want to reward her for her honesty.

“They acknowledge and appreciate verbally that I did them a favor by calling to resolve the issue,” she wrote, “but they are not compensating me for their mistake and my time and the inconvenience to try to resolve it the past three months.”

Well, if you found a wallet containing $4,000 on the street and turned it in, you might get a “finder’s fee” for returning it untouched to its rightful owner. But companies are less sentimental about their money. I’m convinced that before the ink has dried on an auto loan, the customer has become a number in the computer of accounts, programmed to do things automatically, like execute electronic transfers and charge interest. And while there are some nice customer service agents willing to help in a bind, they’re not giving out freebies or adding names to their Christmas card list.

After all, this is business.

Hebert-Holman did the right thing by calling Toyota and explaining the mixup. But she is still legally obligated to make payments on her loan.

When Hebert-Holman pushed for compensation, Toyota told her it is unable to change the contractual agreement of her loan, and will not waive car payments to compensate her. The company told her the best it could do is extend the loan by three months so that she could continue making equal payments for the duration of the loan — essentially suspending activity for those three months her account was in limbo.

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From my perspective, that seems fair. And while this error by Toyota was an annoyance and an inconvenience, we know all too well that companies are unwilling to compensate customers for lost time.

With the exception of her aggravation and lost time, Hebert-Holman hasn’t lost anything that she is owed. If we all sought compensation for similarly frustrating experiences — long lines at TSA, 12-hour delivery windows for furniture, or enduring an unwarranted IRS audit — we’d all be rich. On the bright side, Toyota didn’t charge her interest or fees for late payments.

It would be nice if Toyota did something to show its appreciation. She might have more luck at the dealership, where the most human side of the auto industry tends to emerge. If she is a regular customer in its service department, the company might be willing to offer her a free oil change or some other complimentary service for her trouble.

But her claim for compensation in the way of waived car payments, unfortunately, makes its way to our Case Dismissed file.

Jessica Monsell

A writer and natural advocate, Jessica joined our consumer advocacy effort following a decade of work on behalf of air crash victims at one of the nation's largest plaintiffs' law firms. She has lived in Europe and Asia, but now calls Charleston, S.C. home.

  • James

    Virtue is its own reward

  • MarkKelling

    Not sure what a “finder’s fee” has to do with this?

    And the advice from the Toyota person is incorrect. You need to have the original title from the lien holder in order to get a clear title. Unless the signed original title was sent along with the letter, the lien was not legally released .

    Yeah, they could throw in free oil changes for the rest of the loan period or something like that. Wouldn’t cost them much in real money but might mean they would have a repeat customer.

  • taxed2themax

    From a first read basis, this really does sound like a case of “I did the ‘right’ thing, so why don’t I get something for doing the right thing”? The other part that strikes me is in the beginning… It says ““I chose to be honest,” she explained, “as I didn’t want this to affect
    my credit or come back to reflect negatively on me somehow.”

    As I read this, it kind of sounds like she wasn’t doing it with wholly altruistic motives, but rather from a self-preservation/benefit basis.. Granted, yes, she did the right thing.. but again, as I read it, the “right” thing had a direct benefit to her.. The articles example of a found wallet is different as that $4,000 was never the finders to begin with – so there’s no downside to doing or not doing the right thing.. In this case, it *sounds* like she did have ‘skin in the game’ in that by not doing the right thing now, she might have suffered some kind of negative later on..
    Yes, I think the could have done more, but I don’t think that should be, or needs to be economic.

  • AAGK

    What did she she find? Re: payments, she’s still obligated. She sent a check and they refused to cash it?
    If she didn’t alert them, then when they discovered it in 3 months she would still have to pay and be in default and owe late fees too. Why is she upset?

  • John Baker

    So was this about doing the right thing or capitalizing on their mistake? If it’s doing the right thing, it’s its own reward.

  • Steven Reed Sr.

    I applaud her honesty, but seriously after 2nd or third time of trying to do the right thing , I would have stopped and taken the release letter to my local DMV office and got my title, if they pursued a claim later down the road then let Toyota explain to a court why they sent a release letter by mistake and refused her payments and closed the account how many mistakes need to be made before the corporation forfeits its right to collect the payments?

  • RichardII

    And, if Her bank called to say she had over-paid her home loan and wanted to refund her the over-payments, would she have told them to keep a payment for their honesty? A classic case of chutzpah.

  • RichardII

    By the way, this blog often extols businesses to “for the right thing.” That applies to consumers as well.

  • Rebecca

    The last time I financed a car, which was several years ago, they sent me the original title with the payoff letter. I remember because I threw it in the file safe and completely forgot about it until I sold the car a couple years ago. And I didn’t think I had the title, but it was the original title.

  • Rebecca

    Right now, I’m looking at my kids and hoping I’m not doing anything to have them grow up acting entitled. I’ve been doing a lot of that lately.

  • Joe Blasi

    under the fine print you singed away your right to court now pay out mandatory arbitration fees.

  • Kathi C

    Unbelievable! They owed the money and knew a mistake was made (and would be figured out at some point) Demanding a reward??? Get a life

  • cscasi

    Sometimes these things happen. I purchased a Fiat in Jacksonville, FL while I was in the Navy. I used my credit union for the loan. It sent me a draft for the full amount of the vehicle and I was having my monthly payments for the 48 month loan taken out of my credit union checking account.
    Well, the first month went by and no money was taken out of my account. Then the second month came and went. I contacted the credit union by letter and received a letter stating my loan was paid off. I called and asked if they were sure my loan was paid off and they said yes. I then sent in a letter and again asked if my loan was paid off and if so to please send me the title to my car. A few days latter the title with the lien released came in the mail.
    I thought about just letting things go as they were, for about ten minutes and then I knew that was grossly dishonest so I called up the credit union and got someone to really review my auto loan account and she just about had a stroke. I asked that my account be corrected so that my monthly payments would be drafted out of my account. The credit union took the three monthly payments out right away and each month after that the payments were taken out until the loan was paid off. The it again sent me the title with the lien released.
    I always wondered what would have happened had I not done what I did. Somehow, I know it would have eventually been discovered (through an audit or a review). But, I wonder if it could have forced me to pay for the vehicle? I’ll never know, but I feel good about my decision.

  • joycexyz

    Very true. Unfortunately, a forgotten sentiment in a “gimme” world.

  • Michael__K

    They rejected her payments for 3 months because her account was closed, and she spent an inordinate amount of time on the phone trying to solve this problem — which the company should have been motivated to solve on its own without her pestering them. And she has no reason to be upset?

  • William Leeper

    Not true in all states. In Arkansas, I receive the title in the mail when I register the vehicle. Vehicles are titled to me with a lien holder listed on the title itself. I currently have a vehicle that I financed in 2014, I have the title to it, but it lists the lien holder on the title so I can’t sell or transfer the title without the finance company’s permission.

  • William Leeper

    Not usually they can’t. The lien release is a legal document. Had they decided to sue for the money, presenting the release is proof of payoff, and if the calls and letters were documented, it would be even harder for them to claim an error.

    Had something similar happen, I had receipts to prove I paid off what I owed (on a rental agreement.) the landlord sold the account to a collections agency, but when she did, she also sent me a “notice of satisfaction” of the debt. When collections did sue me, I entered the notice onto the record, and the judge promptly told them they couldn’t sue me as I didn’t owe anything.

  • Michael__K

    The first phone call was ‘doing the right thing’ and should have been enough.

    Having to continue to make phone calls, week after week, for 3 months, she has reason to be very annoyed and I don’t blame her if she wants some acknowledgement for all the time she wasted solving a problem that the company should have been very motivated to solve all on its own.

  • AAGK

    Who said she had no reason to be upset? I would be very annoyed. I would be thrilled if wasted time on the phone entitled us to money. If it did, I wouldn’t have to work.

  • AAGK

    At worst she got an interest free loan for a few months. A company error doesn’t relieve someone of their obligation to pay anyway.

  • MarkKelling

    Yes, when you buy a car, you get “A” title to it for tax and licensing purposes. But it is not “THE” title, it is only a second copy not the original and cannot be used to take to the licensing division of your state’s DMV to get a clear title or used when you want to sell the vehicle. When you pay off the vehicle, the lien holder signs the original title to release the lien and sends it to you. You can then either keep that until you sell the vehicle or take it to the DMV and for a small fee get a clear title with no liens listed. If you trade the vehicle in before it is paid off, you never see this copy.

    That copy of the title, if sent to the OP in this case, would have given her a legal leg to stand on if she chose not to “do the right thing.” It does not sound like the original title was signed and sent to her.

  • Michael__K

    The company got many hours of free labor from a non-employee.

  • Michael__K

    Who said she had no reason to be upset?

    You wrote: “Why is she upset?

  • AAGK

    Sorry, you are right. I don’t know if she should be upset. I would be annoyed but I guess I don’t get why she is upset in the needing advocacy way, which I view as extra upset. She owes the money, she has to pay it. There is no windfall here.

  • AAGK

    I like how you put that. Whenever I get off the phone with Amex or At&T, delta, whoever…, I always make the comment that I don’t have time to run that company on top of my regular job. I agree with you but such is the business of life, I guess.


    Jessica grossly, incorrectly labeled it a “Finder’s Fee”. It is REALLY remuneration for inconvenience, time, and aggravation for fixing their problem (twice).

    I believe this SHOULD NOT be dismissed. However, a credit toward a future Toyota purchase or future Toyota service should be offered. (And, let’s face it…the face value of that credit is not the cost to the company…the cost is a fraction of the face value.)

  • taxed2themax

    I agree that it should be handled at the first, or maybe second call at worst.. I agree with that.. BUT.. failing that, I don’t then think this equates to a case where the customer should be, or is ‘entitled to’ any economic compensation.. Yes, I think she and her continued efforts to fix this error (which again, she does have a vested economic interest in) should be “acknowledged” as you write — but for me, this is not a case where a cash or cash-equivalent remedy would be something I’d see clear to do.

  • Michael__K

    She didn’t have an economic interest in fixing the error. She was afraid the company might later compound their original error and incorrectly blame it on her and punish her for it — but that would have been a second error, especially once she proactively alerted them to the first error herself.

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