Credit card two-step leaves Costco customers sidelined

By | August 9th, 2016

Roseanne Skopp and Milissa Martinez have credit cards that they not only can no longer use, but with balances that they still have to pay – and that are still accruing interest.

The source of their agony? Costco’s recent breakup with American Express and its new partner, Citibank.

Both Skopp and Martinez requested help from our advocacy team in navigating the change and adjusting their accounts.

In February 2016, American Express announced that it was parting ways with Costco Wholesale. Costco American Express cardholders would have their cards invalidated and replaced by Citibank accounts.

Costco’s change in credit card partners means that the American Express Costco Co-Brand Card is not accepted at Costco, and that Costco does not accept any other American Express cards for payment of purchases.

Skopp claims that she did not authorize Costco to issue her a Citibank card, let alone issue charges to her on it, and is looking for legal assistance with her case, which we as consumer advocates can’t and don’t provide. Our advocates have advised her to contact an attorney to pursue legal action against Costco and Citibank. She’s hoping we can assist her anyway.

Martinez, on the other hand, would be only too happy to use a Citibank card issued by Costco. She was “very happy” with her Costco Amex card until the partnership ended. Amex invalidated Martinez’s card but will not transfer the $5,000 balance of her account to Citibank because of an issue with her address:

I am having an extreme problem with American Express. They deactivated my Amex/Costco card stating there was an issue with my address. I had spoken to them multiple times before about the same issue and was always told that there was no issue.

Our home burned down; I lost everything exactly one year ago this week.

I advised Amex of this. I said I’d give them a permanent address when I had one but for now [the address on the account] is the address. It is on my and my son’s California IDs and on file with the state. After a long, drawn-out week with Amex, I was told today:

  • not only will they not reactivate my card and account
  • I have to keep paying the card [balance] and [it will keep] accruing interest.
  • They will not transfer my balance to Citibank as promised and I have the cards for already.
  • They will not transfer my account to another Amex card.
  • I cannot use the Amex card anymore but still must pay it.

To summarize: Amex won’t transfer Martinez’s balance to Citibank or allow her to keep using its card, but it’s charging interest on the remaining balance on its now-useless card. And this is after a tragedy in which she lost everything.

Not only that, Amex sent her account to collections — even though she’s always paid it in full on time. She’s spoken many times to Amex personnel, including supervisors, who have been unhelpful at best.

We may not be able to do much for Skopp, but Martinez’s case cries out for help. She wants her Amex account taken out of collections, reactivated and transferred to Citibank — without the accrued interest. Our advocates have contacted American Express on her behalf.

As a takeaway, we advise all Costco members to be completely aware of the terms of Costco’s change from Amex to Citibank, including the deactivation of Costco American Express cards and transfers of balances, as well as interest charges, to Costco Citibank cards. Company contact information for Costco, American Express, and Citibank can be found on our website.

Also, credit card customers who need help and haven’t received it might file complaints with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Above all, don’t be taken by surprise.

Has the change in Costco credit card partners from American Express to Citibank been handled well?

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  • Lee

    I fully understand her frustration with not being able to use the Amex any longer, etc but what I don’t understand is why she believes she should not pay interest on unpaid balance on Amex even if the card is no longer useable.

    That debt doesn’t vanish because the card is invalid.

    Maybe I am misunderstanding something here because there is another statement in which it is said she always pays off her Amex balance in full, on time – which would lead me to believe, she never would even have a balance due now, let alone interest.

    I’m confused.

    And, no, the debacle of them switching cards with COSTCO was not handled well, but when do financial institutions ever handle this sort of thing well for consumers?

  • KennyG

    I guess I must be missing something here. Ms. Martinez would be happy to pay off her old AMEX balance, but only if they transfer the balance to the new Costco card [which she cannot presently get transferred because of a technical or legal issue]. Why cant she just pay it off with AMEX while she is waiting on the address issues with the new COSTCO card to be cleared away? I dont see where she is claiming she did not spend that money at COSTCO via AMEX, All I see is someone looking for any excuse to not have to take personal responsibility for her debts. I am sorry that she had a fire and such, but if she isnt paying off her balance with AMEX, why does she think she shouldn’t be paying interest?

  • Mel65

    While it sucks to not be able to use a card anymore, especially after a tragic event, unless charges were made that weren’t theirs, why would they be seeking legal advice or any other assistance with essentially being let off the hook for paying for things THEY BOUGHT? The interest part I’m confused about. Was the original card “Interest Free for X months” or something and with the invalidation of that card, that changed? Unless that’s the case, they owe the balance AND the interest. I’ve always found AmEx personnel to be very helpful, so I wonder if there’s “more to the story” here…

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Martinez’s issues are with the card company, not Costco. Whatever the address and transfer issues are they’re not Costco’s doing. And naturally she’s still being charged interest and needs to pay the balance off. She’d need to pay it if it was transferred over to another card, too.
    Skopp’s complaint I don’t fully understand. She says Costco never got permission to issue charges to the new card but what new charges were made after the transfer? Does Costco have some sort of program where she was paying auto-fees or something that got rolled over to the new card?

  • John Baker

    I thought the transition between the two cards went better than expected personally. Since there wasn’t any detail on Skopp’s issue (you could opt out of the new card if you wanted and you were told in writing that your member fees would be charged to it just like the AMEX), I really can’t comment there.

    I really don’t understand Martinez’s issue. She ran up a balance. It will accrue interest until its paid off regardless of the card its on. The balance just doesn’t go away. If she really wants to transfer the balance, I get 5 offers a week to do just. I don’t see an issue here.

  • Ben

    > not only will they not reactivate my card and account

    Amex’s agreement with Citi requires them to close all of the Costco accounts.

    > I have to keep paying the card [balance] and [it will keep] accruing interest.

    Yes, that’s generally how credit cards work. Once you pay off the balance it will stop accruing interest.

    > They will not transfer my balance to Citibank as promised and I have the cards for already.

    This is the consumer’s only valid point, but it seems to stem from some sort of technical issue that’s not well explained.

    > They will not transfer my account to another Amex card.

    Amex’s agreement with Citi prevents them from transferring Costco accounts to new Amex accounts.

    > I cannot use the Amex card anymore but still must pay it.

    Again, that’s how closed credit card accounts work.

  • Ben

    Regarding Skopp’s issue, I personally despise Citibank and was very happy to call up and cancel the account
    as soon as I received the card. The rep was very friendly and efficient,
    surprisingly the best interaction I’ve ever had with them.

    Plenty of consumers like myself were not happy to be issued Citi cards, but the solution was straightforward and no more than a minor hassle. I dealt with it and have moved on. She should, too.

  • Jeff W.

    I really like this explanation..

    I am going to assume the technical issue is that of the address. Assuming she is a new customer of Citibank, there might be some fraud prevention mechanisms in place. Citibank may want a permanent address on file.and one can advise Amex all you want, Citi sees things differently.

    There is also the slight possibility that she no longer qualifies for the credit card. I thought that Costco membership would be sufficient, but is it possible that she is too in debt to open a new account. I can only imagine what a house burning down does do savings.

  • Daddydo

    There was plenty of notice given by Costco about the change. They dumped AX and Sam’s Club picked them right up. 5-6 months notice allowed me to make any and all arrangements necessary. Even though they were AX cards, they were handled somewhat differently than AX Blue, Gold, Black, Etc cards. and to get the exact “legal” difference, your team would need to contact AX directly. They are club cards with many of the same privileges of the normal card, but far less credit for those getting them. My old Discover card from Sams was not handled by Discover, but by Synchrony Bank, so calling 1-800- DISCOVER was useless. I am assuming, maybe incorrectly, that this was the same case for Costco.
    I do not understand why a collection agency is involved. If a person is making regular payments, credit card companies love the extra money. Something is a bit amiss.
    My balance was seamlessly moved from AX to City bank.

  • Dutchess

    Wait…yes of course you have to pay off your credit card balance even if the account is closed. It sounds like this person doesn’t realize you can have two credit cards at the same time.

  • Pat

    Years ago I got over my head in credit and went to credit counseling. They negotiated set monthly payment amounts, including for Amex. Amex is the only one that despite making the payments as agreed, wrote off my balance, sent it to collections, and put it on my credit reports. They also made a number of collection phone calls, dispute agreeing to payments, that today would be illegal (like threatening to have me arrested). All of the other creditors, reported as paid as agreed as long as I did not miss a payment. So the Amex doing what they did to Milissa Martinez does not surprise me.

  • MarkKelling

    Did the COSTCO Citi card have an interest free balance transfer window? This might be why she is upset about paying interest on the closed AmEx card because they will not transfer the balance. I don’t have any COSTCO accounts so I have not seen the new card offer from Citi, but I am willing to bet that it specifically states a transfer from AmEx COSTCO to the Citi card is exempt from the no interest period. So she would still have paid.

    It sounds like her house may have been lost in one of the wildfires in California and the state/county is not going to allow her to rebuild on that property meaning the address is no longer valid. Her mail is probably being delivered to a temporary address. I can’t imagine the confusion that would cause.

  • MarkKelling

    I had a similar issue with AmEx many many years ago where I had paid off my balance and closed my account after struggling to pay them for several months. While I was never sent to collections, they did report me to the credit bureaus repeatedly even after I paid them off. Nearly cost me my job. The issue eventually went away when I applied for and received a new AmEx card.

  • MarkKelling

    Annual membership fee for COSTCO is one that gets auto billed. But if you don’t pay it, you can’t shop there.

  • Rebecca

    I got calls for someone I didn’t know when I first got a new phone number a few years ago, who apparently ran up a lot of bills and never paid them. Most stopped calling relatively quickly, once or twice and they’d remove the number. The two that didn’t? Comcast and AmEx. The Comcast calls were automated and it took 20+ minutes to get a person because they just wanted you to pay. AmEx, on the other hand, literally screamed at me that I was lying and that my name was Nicole (it isn’t) and I’d better pay the balance. It was very bizarre, I didn’t think collection reps did that anymore. It took a good 2 or 3 months to get them to stop calling.

  • Rebecca

    I suspect this has to do with the fact that a “valid” mailing address must be on file, under the patriot act. I dealt with a customer with a similar issue. There’s nothing an advocate, or anyone short of a member of Congress can do. AmEx and Citi would be violating compliance laws if they allowed this OP to have an invalid address on her account. The workaround is extremely simple. The bank must only keep a valid address on file, it can be mailed anywhere (like for customers that have a UPS store box or a PO Box because their true address is a RR that doesn’t receive delivery).

    Someone realized that they were allowing the OP to have an address on file that violated federal compliance laws. It doesn’t matter the circumstances, it’s a BIG DEAL. Why someone didn’t explain this to her is beyond me, I would guess they have and she doesn’t like it. She has to have a valid residential and mailing address. If it isn’t valid, it violates the patriot act for the bank to have it on file.

  • Pat

    Clearly the leopard has not changed their spots in the 23 years since I had Amex issues.

  • Rebecca

    It’s not a fraud issue. It’s a compliance issue. It’s against federal law for an account to have an invalid address. It’s also against the law for the bank not to have the address of the customer. That’s the problem. There’s nothing an advocate can do. Compliance trumps everyone, it’s literally a matter of federal law with significant civil penalties.

  • Kerr

    Isn’t where she is receiving mail a valid address? Unless she is using a PO Box (and refusing to provide a physical location) or is going back to the burned residence to collect mail, what’s the issue?

  • Don Spilky

    “she always pays off her Amex balance in full, on time” – I think this is referring to the MINIMUM payment to keep the account out of collections, not the actual balance.

  • Rebecca

    Not necessarily. I remember this issue, back when I worked in compliance, would rear it’s head sometimes. The post office may simply be holding the mail (similar to if you go on vacation). Someone else made the point that the home may have been destroyed in a wildfire and she won’t be allowed to rebuild there. This seems the most likely scenario, but there are other odd scenarios that concern zoning and there’s no need to get into.

    The point is, all that matters is what the federal government says under the patriot act specifically, and any other regulations that may apply. Or, more correctly, how the feds have interpreted those rules. If a house can’t be built there, and it’s an individual, consumer account (it could be zoned for only business and a business account, that doesn’t apply here, if we’re getting into semantics), under interpretation of the patriot act, it’s illegal to use the address. It doesn’t matter if mail is addressed there, it frankly doesn’t matter if the county clerk or even the governor of CA personally signs and has notarized a letter stating she could use it as her address. Under federal law, the bank isn’t complying. Again, compliance trumps everyone. They will not allow it.

  • C Schwartz

    Citi was not offering any special interest rates on balance transfers — the interest rate was the same as for purchases– they were offering 0 percent interest on NEW purchases (ie done with their card) for the first 7 months.

  • C Schwartz

    This does not make sense — “even though she’s always paid it in full on time”. If it paid in full then there is no balance due to send to collections. And how can there be $5,000 balance if paid in full?

    As for the person who did not want the AmexCostco card transferred to Citibank — why not cancel the card before the transfer? There were mass mailings and info on the AmEx website.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Isn’t where she is receiving mail a valid address?
    It wouldn’t have to be. I don’t know what rules financial institutions need to follow but you can very easily get mail and have an address not fully verified or validated by the post office. We do a lot of direct mail and use postal verification and have seen lots of cases where customers who we successfully billed (because we take whatever address they give us for that) will fall out of DM campaigns where we do use verification coding.

  • Rebecca

    I wondered the same thing. If you pay it every month, the balance is going to be $0. So I assume she just didn’t pay the final month? But you’d have to not pay for a couple months to go to collections. Very confusing.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    I have a suspicion both these complaints come from the core issue of not paying attention to what was being communicated. This reminds me a lot of the case from a few days ago where the guy admitted to getting an email with flight change information included but he didn’t bother to read it until after he’d missed his flight. Some people could be told something 10 different times in 10 different ways yet would remain oblivious.

  • C Schwartz

    With a balance of 5000 that must have been an active month. I wonder if the payments were just the minimum payments to keep account current? But if one is paying them then a card would not go to collections.

    Amex cannot reactivate a Costco branded card as their own; I believe a person has to reapply for a normal ie non co branded card.

  • C Schwartz

    For the person that objected to being given a citi card– from consumerist web page

    “The Truth In Lending Act addresses the issue of credit card account transfers between two different credit issuers. Under the Act and Regulation Z, a card issuer is barred from issuing a card that a consumer has not applied for — except in very specific situations, including those times when a credit issuer has purchased accounts from another issuer.

    In this case, the new owner can issue an updated card as long as the
    use of the old card is cut off and the new cards can be issued in a
    one-for-one substitution.

    However, a rep for Costco tells Consumerist that current cardholders can
    contact American Express to opt-out of getting a new Citi Visa account.
    But this comes with the caveat that, even if you tell AmEx you’re
    opting out, Costco might still send you a new card”

  • Rebecca

    You’ve hit the nail on the head here. I just can’t believe no one has explained to the address lady it’s a compliance issue. It isn’t a secret. Nowhere I’ve ever worked has it been an issue to explain something like having an invalid address violates federal law. It’s not a security issue. I think she just doesn’t like it.

  • William Leeper

    My understanding is that when they switched over, AmEx transferred the balances to Citi to be applied to the new cards. Therefore she has the old balance on the new card. This would make sense say someone has a $1000 line on their AmEx and now Amex doesn’t serve Costco any longer, the account transfers to Citi also with $1000. Customers would effectively have a double credit line, so Citi pays off AmEx and applies the charges to the new accounts.

  • JewelEyed

    Which is not in full.

  • JewelEyed

    So if she got a PO box temporarily where she’s actually living, the whole issue would be solved as I understand it. Right?

  • Steve Rabin

    Personally, I like the Costco Visa. It pays more cash back on many purchases (including gas and travel) than the old Amex. Also, Visa cards are accepted nearly everywhere; Amex cards not so much–try using one overseas and you’ll find they mostly don’t accept them outside of big hotels and major airlines.

  • joycexyz

    Exactly! I fail to see the problem. Her old card and account are no longer valid for new purchases. Why does she think she’s not responsible for the debt? As far as the address goes, where do the bills go? Irrelevant anyway–she owes the money regardless of the address problem and the house fire.

  • cscasi

    If Skopp did not authorize Citibank to issue her a new credit card, how did it happen? I don’t see that COSTCO can just tell Citibank to issue her a card. Someone had to order the card. How was COSTCO putting charges on the card she never asked for? Was she using it in the store for purchases? Something just does not smell right here.

  • KennyG

    The Patriot Act [and most likely the banks own internal compliance even if the Patriot Act didn’t] requires a physical address even though you may receive mail at a post office box. Even forgetting the Patriot Act, from the banks own perspective, how would they serve legal papers for example if they had no physical address for a borrower or credit card holder?

  • S363

    I thought the transition from Amex to Citi Visa went totally smoothly (except for a short-lived minor glitch when I couldn’t download a .pdf of my statement from Citi). I don’t miss Amex at all, and the rewards with Citi (4% back on gas, for example) are better than they were with Amex. In addition, I like being able to use another Visa card at Costco if I choose to.

  • John Grier

    pay your bills !!!!

  • just me

    I wonder what some people forced to take Citi card would say had they known who owns significant part of the Citi Bank and who is on its board of directors.
    Some people may not like sending money to Saudi Arabia like that.

  • JewelEyed

    Wherever she’s living has to be a valid physical address at least temporarily unless she’s sleeping on the street, right?

  • JewelEyed

    I don’t think so. My father’s house burned down after I had long since moved out. Since the physical address the house was at was still their property, the post office held the mail for them until they were living in a rental that had a mailbox.

  • KennyG

    Sounds good in theory, and if you are registering an out of state corporation or LLC to do business someplace, you have to do that, but unfortunately this will not satisfy the requirements of the Patriot Act, nor the requirements of most [if not all] financial institutions compliance and legal departments.

  • William Leeper

    I see your point; however, i also know that my home address is not a valid address. I have lived there for 4 years, and have had some issues when it comes to address validation; however, a letter from the post office usually corrects the issue. The main issue I have is that we do not have route delivery where I live, so the USPS offers what is called a class E PO Box. I have a physical address for 911 purposes; however anyone using address validation will get that address as invalid as the USPS does not deliver there. Instead, they offer me a free PO Box since I am not eligible for route delivery.

  • AAGK

    In the 1st case, she needs to call Citi and cancel the card. In the 2nd, I don’t see how it’s related to Costco at all. It sounds like Amex closed her account for whatever reason. You don’t have your account closed for a fire. However she says the issue has been ongoing but she is too vague about the problem. Amex sent her to collections so I guarantee it would love to have dumped her on Citi. Amex closes accounts for many reasons. They sometimes freeze them and provide an opportunity to submit info, sometimes they don’t. There is nothing stopping her from applying for the Citi Costco card. Just like you can’t force Amex to extend credit to someone against its will, you can’t force Citi, either. If she isn’t paying the bill, of course they are going to send her to collections. They don’t send you when they close the account so long as you continue to meet the obligation.

    Amex did her a favor. If she can’t manage the monthly payments as is, then the last thing she needs is more credit extended so that her debt is larger to pay each month. She should cut up all her cards and work out a plan to settle/payoff the existing debt. Leaning on Costo/Citi to extend credit to someone who is having difficulty managing makes the problem so much worse and could cause her further loss. The interest will be predatory and in 6 months her situation will be so much worse.

  • AAGK

    Because she didn’t. She stopped paying it or fell behind. Amex doesn’t close your account bc you have a fire and a temp change of address. But they may if you become homeless bc if you can’t pay such an essential thing then the last thing you need is more credit to buy huge boxes of stuff at Costco. I feel terrible for her but the solution she wants is just a bandaid. There is nothing Amex has done to prevent her from applying for the Costo citi card.

  • JewelEyed

    Yes, but it doesn’t seem like she has a PO box, otherwise she would have mentioned it. That’s all I’m saying.

  • Carchar

    I said, “No,” because of my experience. Costco did not send me my replacement card until a week and a half ago. That was after many phone calls telling them they forgot about me somehow. And I do pay off the entire balance on my cards every month. I’m actually happy the card was replaced. The only reason I used an AMEX card was because Costco required it. Some years ago, they made a mistake on my account. They added charges and harassed me about the balance until I proved it was their mistake. That was in the days of written checks for payment and long waits to get copies of payments.

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