Dear Liz: Last year, I signed up to view my credit card account online. I did not realize that they would stop paper billing. My other credit card accounts didn’t stop paper bills when I signed up for their online access. I rotate my credit card use and sometimes don’t use one for long periods of time, so I didn’t realize I had some charges on this particular card that went unpaid (about $5 worth). The issuer contacted me about the delinquency for the first time four months later and I paid the balance, including late fees, over the phone. I found out later that issuer had already canceled my account and lowered my once-800-plus credit score by 80 points. The company has done nothing despite multiple contacts. It seems they would have an obligation to contact me about the delinquency prior to closing the account for nonpayment. The funny thing is they did not close another credit card I have with them.
Answer: Your credit card issuers don’t have an obligation to make sure you know that you aren’t paying your bills. And your issuer didn’t lower your credit score; those four months of late payments did the job.
The reality is that you are responsible for paying your bills, whether or not you get a paper statement. (When you signed up for online access, by the way, you also had the option of electing e-mail alerts that would let you know when a due date was approaching and a payment hadn’t been made. Those alerts are a good thing.)
Rather than vent your outrage, you might want to be a bit contrite when you contact the chief executive of your credit card company to ask for his or her help in fixing this mishap. Explain that you didn’t realize you were ending paper bills when you signed up for online access and point out your long history of on-time payments. Ask if the CEO would consider “rehabilitating” your account to remove the late payments, which were clearly an oversight. (The $5 initial balance should make it clear that it wasn’t a lack of funds that prevented you from paying your bill.)
In this case, asking for help may work better than demanding it. The card issuer played by the rules; you were the one who messed up.