Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Bank of America and credit cards

This blog has been pretty quiet lately so I thought I would write something to
a) complain about Bank of America
b) ask about alternative credit cards.

I am no fan of Bank of America and never have been (even before the bailouts). Last fall BoA took over LaSalle Bank, where my accounts were held at the time, so I closed my accounts and transferred them to a small county bank. ¾ of a year later BoA still sends me statements showing $0 balance, even though I’ve called numerous times to verify that the accounts are closed, not just inactive. Their disorganization and inefficiency is absurd.

BoA also acquired whatever company was previously in charge of my credit card. I rarely use a credit card and immediately pay any balance I do have, so at least BoA is not making money off me (except perhaps by selling my name). Unfortunately, my most recent statement contained two foreign transactions—one for $100.00 Mexican pesos and one for $500.00 Mexican pesos. This comes to less than $50 USD but it is still incorrect. Trying to sort this out is quite a frustrating process. First, the BoA credit card phone tree is worse than most phone trees. Having worked one summer in customer disservice I consider myself decent at manipulating the computers into letting me speak directly with a person. With BoA, I was directed through multiple layers of the phone tree, with the final branch asking the exact question as the first branch. Then I was on hold for 30 minutes, which was bad enough without a southern-accented female voice intoning how much BoA appreciated my business. The “account executive” (minimum wage cubicle worker) who finally answered was most unhelpful at explaining why there were so many long pauses after I answered his questions. Good CSR people are supposed to be quick, and if they are not, they are supposed to describe what they are doing. For example: “Now I am slowly typing your first name. Now I am taking a break to watch YouTube. Now I am slowly typing your last name and misspelling it, even though it already appears on my screen because you input all of your data in the phone tree.”

Anyway, during the course of filing the dispute, the CSR asked me several times if I was sure I hadn’t stayed at a hotel in Mexico. I realize that many people try to pull scams and that the company must therefore exercise caution in accepting fraud reports, but there is also an inconsistency: I personally know a person who plead guilty to a felony involving stealing a BoA credit card, committing identity theft, and making > $20,000 worth of fraudulent charges on the card. BoA is not pursuing the matter because it’s not worth their expenses to try to obtain payment from her. On the other hand, BoA treats a person who truly did not make < $50 of fraudulent charges like a scam artist. And anyway, the CSR said five minutes later, “Oh, it looks like a telecommunications company” (not a hotel).

The CSR also had flawed logic… or should I say the script from which he was reading was flawed. He indicated I should not be worried about identity theft because the charges only occurred on one day, and because a subsequent charge (something I had in fact purchased) was accurate. ?

Anyway, once this is resolved I’d like to cancel the card entirely. As part of homesteading and self-sufficiency it is becoming even more important to me to deal as locally as possible, and to avoid contributing to and participating in a monstrous “system” that is inefficient and unworkable. In the future I suspect there will be a point when I stop participating in this mess at all. For now, I would like to have a small, as-basic-as-possible credit card for the following purposes:
- I sell sheet music; the majority of people want to pay through PayPal; PayPal requires a credit card
- Credit cards serve as a source of identification and things like car rental companies require credit card reservations, even if your final method of payment is different
- They are a type of insurance in case one is traveling and needs to pay for car repairs or emergencies and is not carrying cash.

Therefore I am seeking a card that has a small limit ($500 would be fine), and is NOT OWNED BY A MAJOR BANK. “Perks” such as airline miles, points, and anything even as mildly complicated as cash advances and balance transfers are undesirable. Supposedly independent cards turn out to have payment centers operated by BoA, Chase, etc. If any of you know of or ideally have experience with small, independent credit card companies, please let me know. Thank you.


  1. Check w/ the local bank you recently opened an account with as well as credit unions. A google search might come up w/ something:

  2. Looks like the long urls didn't post so here there are again. Unfortunately I can't figure out how to get them to post as clickable links.