American Express freaks out about unpaid $32 bill

Mike Boyar discovers an unpaid $32 bill on his American Express card more than a year after he cancels his account. By then, a collection agency is involved and creates chaos. Is there a way to undo the damage?

Question: I have been a corporate American Express member since 1984. Our company used the corporate card almost daily, spending many many thousands over the years. We had a pretty near perfect payment record.

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In 2015 we closed our business, and at the same time I moved my residence. As far as I knew, all of our bills were paid up. Apparently not; on the Amex account there was a $32 charge I was not aware of.  

I never received any notices or calls.  [About a year] later, I received a call regarding my past due American Express account.  The caller did not sound legitimate, so I hung up. A week went by and I received a second call and it sounded like the same person, and I hung up again.

I decided to call American Express directly and it was confirmed my account went to collections. I tried asking the American Express representative questions about the situation, but the rep would not answer any since the account was in collections. I called back the next day and tried reaching a supervisor and was not able to get anywhere so I gave up.

I called back the collection agency and came to terms and sent in a check. I thought my record was cleared. Guess again.

Several months later one of my long-time credit cards I rarely use sent me a letter they would not renew my card. It’s the first time in my life that happened.

I then checked my credit report and I have consistently been close to 800. I noticed I was in the low 700s. That was alarming. This has been going on for more than a year, and I’ve already paid the collection agency about $300 in an attempt to get this resolved. Can you help? — Mike Boyar, Miami Beach, Fla.

Answer: What a mess. And if you’ve made it this far in the story, you’re probably asking: “All this because of $32?”

Oh yes, and I speak from experience. Years ago, I canceled my card and a late charge for a few cents somehow got onto the bill. The credit card issuer couldn’t find me to pay off the debt and referred the matter to a collection agency. I had credit problems similar to yours. What a nightmare.

My solution? I immediately contacted the credit card company and paid off the bill. And that seems to be the fix you wanted, too. Except American Express didn’t want to deal directly with you, despite your years of faithful patronage. It wanted you to talk to the collection agency.

This kind of bureaucracy is maddening, not to mention consumer-unfriendly. American Express should be as helpful to you when you’re trying to pay off an outstanding debt as you are when you want to open a new account — as in, answer on the first ring. Instead, it gave you a big, corporate shrug and sent you chasing your collection agency.

A brief, polite email to one of American Express’ customer service managers might have done the trick. I list their names, email addresses and phone numbers on my consumer advocacy site.

And, in fact, it did. You sent them an email late in the week, and by the following Monday, you received a call from the corporate office notifying you that American Express had sent a letter to all three credit reporting agencies, notifying them that your debt is paid. The company also refunded the $300 you’d paid the collection agency in fees.

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