PIRATES OF THE CREDIT SEA – Part 2: What are my rights?
What are my rights in the situation that I summarized in my previous article: “PIRATES OF THE CREDIT SEA: My Treasure Is Taken!”? Well, the answer is very simple. I have a contractual right to get my treasure back. I also have a right to fair, honest, and ethical treatment under my credit card contract with Citibank. I have fulfilled the obligations of my agreement with Citibank to the best of my knowledge and ability. They should fulfill theirs. Already, however, it does not look like it is going to be a walk in the part to get my treasure back.
Why do I believe I have a right to get my treasure back? This is not a difficult intellectual or legal exercise. If you enter into a contract, and your fulfill your side of the agreement while the other party does not, then you should always have a right to restitution until the statue of limitations expires. My rights to my treasure have not expired, just because I missed a 60-day window. The statute of limitations related to meeting contractual commitments is never just 60 days.
When you deal with a credit card company, however, things just seem not to be that easy after 60 days. Unless, you watch every billing statement like a hawk and contest any problems in writing within 60 days, which we did not do, your road to recovery could be more difficult, if the credit card company wants to make it harder.
What is this 60-day window? I have missed the very short window on one of the very few consumer protections with any teeth that are available to credit card customers under law. I have missed the “60-day-complain-about-your-bill-in-writing” window of the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) of 1974 which was enacted as an amendment to the Truth in Lending Act (15 U.S.C. § 1601 et seq.).
It looks like my road ahead will be harder because I missed this 60-day window. What can you do to ensure that you do not get into my situation? How can you get your financial institution to fix things promptly and responsively?
1) CHECK EVERY BANK STATEMENT, CREDIT CARD STATEMENT, CREDIT UNION STATEMENT, AND EVERY OTHER FINANCIAL STATEMENT THAT YOU GET IN HARDCOPY OR ELECTRONICALLY FOR ACCURACY IMMEDIATELY AFTER YOU GET IT. LOOK AT EVERYTHING ON THE BILLING STATEMENT — NOT JUST THE FIRST PAGE THAT TELLS YOU WHAT THE FINANCIAL INSTITUTION ALLEGES THAT YOU OWE. IF ANYTHING SEEMS NOT TO BE CORRECT, IT IS RED-ALERT TIME. THE CLOCK IS TICKING.
With my personal situation, I now understand more clearly that any billing statement is only the other party’s perhaps erroneous interpretation of your financial obligations, and this billing statement “interpretation” of your contract is only good for easy correction for sixty days. After 60 days, your billing statement is likely to becomes a fossil in your relationship with your financial institution. If your statement is wrong, you may find, as I have, that your financial institution will erect operational and communications stone walls to make it very difficult to bring any over-60-day fossilized billing statement back to life and to make it subject to revision. I used to have more trust in company-customer goodwill, but that has vanished. Silly me.
2) REPORT ANY PROBLEMS IN WRITING AS SOON AS POSSIBLE, BUT DEFINITELY WITHIN 60 DAYS. YOU MUST INCLUDE ALL REQUIRED INFORMATION UNDER THE FAIR CREDIT BILLING ACT, AND YOU MUST MAIL IT TO THE APPROPRIATE COMPANY ADDRESS. YOU MUST WRITE TO PROTECT YOUR LEGAL RIGHTS UNDER THE FCBA.
You can use the telephone to try to fix things, but you will lose your rights under the FCBA, if your credit card company does not keep its verbal commitments about what they say they will do, and you did not write a letter. See the links below for the requirements for such letters. If the amount at issue is substantial to you, you may wish to mail your letter through the post office with return receipt requested or send it through some other shipper that will provide proof of delivery.
To protect your rights under the FCBA, you should investigate what these rights are and what you must do to preserve your rights. The Skilled Investor will not attempt to summarize the FCBA or interpret it for you. There many useful web resources on the FCBA. Try these links to start and use your favorite search engine if you need more information:
Federal Reserve Board — Consumer Handbook to Credit Protection Laws
The FCBA was enacted to give consumers limited rights in dealing with banks, credit card companies, and other financial institutions that deal with the public. I hate to imagine what things were like prior to the enactment of the FCBA in 1974. The FCBA has some legal teeth, and the credit card companies take it seriously. FCBA violations cost financial companies money, and they have structured their operations to hop to it, when they get an FCBA compliant letter.
However, a 60-day window is pretty darn short to preserve your corrective rights and to compel credit card companies to take action. Furthermore, once you miss the window, it seems that credit card companies feel that they can ignore you. In practice, they can ignore you, because they face no penalties that are easy for a consumer to trigger, when a dispute falls out from under the FCBA. At best, the credit card industry is “lightly” regulated, and many credit card companies have found that they can take advantage of customers without any significant financial consequences that would cause them to change their rapacious behaviors.
That is the situation that I am in now. However, I know that I am not S.O.L. I know that I still have contractual rights. However, it looks like it will be harder, more time consuming, and perhaps more expensive to enforce my rights. Nevertheless, this is still my treasure — not Citibank’s, and I want my treasure back!
In conclusion, you might also find the information at these other websites to be useful to you:
U.S. Department of the Treasury — Comptroller of the Currency — Administrator of National Banks — Consumer Complaints and Assistance
Consumers Union (CU) — publisher of Consumer Reports magazine