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.

11 thoughts on “American Express freaks out about unpaid $32 bill

  1. Store brand credit cards are particularly bad for this. It’s why I cancelled several of them, including my first credit card ever (Sears), and always pay a couple pennies -more- than the balance each month, to keep a rolling credit. For some cards, it really messes up their computers 🙂

    1. Some years ago (ok, decades) I got a kick from an account that threatened to send me to a collection agency for failure to pay a 5 cent credit balance!

      1. Unfortunately, some credit card companies, like banks, make their profit on fees. So I’m sure there was a $25 or worse penalty fee for not paying your $.05 balance.

  2. Something similar happened to me years ago but I still had an Amex. The $32 was on a card I lost, canceled and replaced the following day. One year letter my card didn’t work and Amex said it was bc my “other card” was months late. Apparently it allowed a fraudulent charge through, months later on the canceled card. It was a nightmare.

    Was the OP able to repair his relationship with the other card issuer?

  3. I wonder if his credit score was repaired and if so, how quickly after Amex withdrew the black mark.

    1. The credit reporting
      agencies have 30 days to investigate a consumer-reported error, and correct their records. If the creditor submits the updated information, I am guessing that would be fairly prompt. FICO scores are not calculated daily, however. That’s why lenders encourage consumers to check and correct their credit bureau reports well in advance of applying for a loan.

  4. It’s maddening when a debt goes straight to a collection agency before the creditor even bothers to call you.

    I had a small medical debt go to collections because the billing clerk mis-spelled my address and I never received the bill. (The marketing department for the same hospital had no problem finding me, however.) The collection agency found me without difficulty, and I am lucky that there was no interest, fees, or any extra costs whatsoever, and it didn’t hit my credit report. (Although when I sent in my check, it took the hospital over two months between cashing it and actually crediting my bill, so the collection agency called me a second time asking where my payment was.)

  5. We are in a computer automatic system. I am shocked that AX treated anybody that way, especially after the error was discovered. They have had my business and personal account since 1973.
    A word of advise, if you are going to cancel a card, pay the final bill, then put the card away until you have 2 statements showing a “$0.00” balance, There would be no pit falls. Also, if you purchased something that needs returned, the refund would have to be made to the form of payment.

  6. My son had a severe allergic reaction while we were traveling. We rushed into an ER and midway thru the paperwork as he was becoming increasingly swollen and wheezing, they said, “Let’s do this later” and hustled us back for treatment. 6 hours later, he was stabilized and released. A year later, went to buy a car and was declined due to an upaid medical bill. I was shocked; we were military and I have never paid a medical bill… turns out they tried to send us bills for “our portion” which was something like $112 but the paperwork had never been completed so all they had was part of a street address. I called the ER, they saw the records, said “I see what happened, let’s clear this whole thing since it was our fault” even though I offered to pay over the phone right then and there, and sent a correction to the credit burea. Within two weeks it was all clear and I had a new car.

  7. I have a case going on right now. Most of my bills I have payment set up automatically each month, save for Comcast, since they are constantly changing due dates.
    About a month ago, I fell ill with who knows what, but a day later was on a respirator after a heart attack and surgery. Thankfully, this time my recovery was uncomplicated.
    When I got home, looking at mail, doing bills, etc, was the last thing on my mind. But my 3rd day home, I received 5 emails in the space of a few hours about my Comcast bill being late and was due immediately. Not 30 minutes later, here comes a phone call. I said, “After 25 years with you, I’m 5 days late and I’m treated as if I was months late. I explained the situation and apologized by saying “next time I will demand the doctors remove the ventilator early if I have a heart attack near my due date so your company doesn’t go under”.
    And people wonder on here why consumers get so irate at times.

  8. Misleading title. American Express didn’t freak out at all. They do what any credit card company does when they are owed money and don’t get paid, regardless of the amount. It’s business. It was the client who seems to have freaked out. He also received 2 phone calls, we don’t know who they were from, but he said they “did not sound” legitimate. I guess if you think you don’t owe any money, you don’t do anything until the hammer is thrown down. I know it sounds like 2nd guessing, but if somebody calls me and says I owe money, I would listen, demand proof and not pay until I got it. If it’s a legit call, they have proof.

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