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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Take Your Fee and Stick It

I just paid our home phone bill to AT&T. For the first time ever, the process made me want to scream.

As you all know, bills have a small section showing how much more you'll owe if your payment is late. Usually, that late fee is something like 80 cents on a $50 phone bill. That's reasonable--you should pay your bills on time, and if you can't meet that commitment, you should pay a small charge. The late fee is a pretty decent deterrent to sending in your check a bit late. It's been at least 3-4 years since I've paid a late fee.

This month, the late fee on our $47.54 bill was close to eight dollars.

Is AT&T struggling that bad? Are they falling short of their own payments on last year's purchase of SBC? Can't they look under the executive sofas to pick up a few extra quarters? Instead, they've decided to let customers know that if the post office loses their mail, or they just can't, for some reason, get around to writing the check in time, they'll be shaken down for 17% of their bill.

Were I in a good mood, or even a forgiving mood, about this, I'd probably think, "Well, a higher late fee is an even better deterrent to late payments."

But I'm not in a forgiving mood about this right now. Raising late fees by approximately 500 percent is punitive and greedy.

When the phone company blows off your service call, do they pay you for the time you've lost hanging around waiting for them? No. When you lose service, do they credit your account for the time your phone line is down? Only if you call and raise holy hell about it.

But if you're late on your bill, you're billed a fifth of your monthly rate.

I haven't heard anyone raising a ruckus about this. Why not? Why aren't people beating down AT&T's damned doors? Why isn't somebody like John Kass screaming about this?

If AT&T's customers aren't paying their bills on time, perhaps instead of raising the late fee by 500 percent, perhaps AT&T shouldn't be selling phone service to people who can't afford it. Perhaps AT&T shouldn't be charging so much for its services. Perhaps AT&T shouldn't be buying up so many phone companies if they don't care about serving customers. Perhaps AT&T shouldn't be helping the government spy on ordinary citizens.

Perhaps AT&T is going to be short one customer next month.


Anonymous duck said...

Maybe you were just lucky. The late fee on our last bill (the one that we paid about a week ago) was exactly $1. Of course, AT&Sleaze just boosted our monthly fee by about $4 in the last couple of months, leading me to seriously think about Vonage.

7:02 AM, November 15, 2007

Blogger Anne said...

I've heard only good things about Vonage.

This kind of garbage with SBC and AT&T made me get rid of our land line completely.

9:54 AM, November 15, 2007

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I noticed the higher rate myself and was surprised. I don't think I've ever paid a late fee (cause I hate the thought of giving utitlities anymore than what I'm billed for) but I had the same reaction as you. These are predatory practices being committed by all sorts of companies out there. What it's doing, while making more money for the company, is taking down the economy since the middle class and lower middle class are the ones being effected by it. They're finding their paychecks going, not to maybe an occassional night out to a restaurant or a sporting event or a movie; not to purchasing an appliance or clothes; money usage that would help keep the economy flowing, but rather to paying off bills. Bills made even higher by these predatory practices. Credit card companies wait like sharks for you to have one problem with another card so that they can then raise your interest rate (even if you're in good standing with them). And it's all perfectly legal. Like you I have no problem with paying a fee if I'm late. But a fee of that nature is akin to loan sharking. It's all about the bottom line, for this second, and it's screwing up America.

7:36 AM, November 27, 2007

Blogger YourFriendFrank said...

Okay, so I called AT&T yesterday. Dealt with their billing department. Tonight, I get a call at about 9:30 p.m. I know it's too late for any legit business call, right?

It's an automated call from AT&T asking about their customer service from the billing department! I hang up.

They call back at around 10:20 p.m. I'm not usually in bed by then, but aren't a good number of people? I answer the questions this time, fearing they will keep calling all night.

I pretty much answer the questions all "outstanding", for two reasons. One, the person I dealt with was fairly good and I don't want them to get trashed because I hate the company. Two, if you don't answer "outstanding", then the computer just adds more questions to see how they can improve.

I'm sure they paid a lot of money to implement this system and actually think it helps.

How can they improve? Quit ripping everyone off!

9:00 PM, November 27, 2007

Anonymous Amy said...

I think it's a vast conspiracy on the part of a whole bunch of utility companies to get their customer base to use automatic EFT payments vs. paying bills the old fashioned way.

Processing bills the old fashioned way requires human intervention - typically someone who works at a bank's lockbox dept to take the checks and coupons and run them through a scanner which electronically process the paper documents that eventually turn into a credit to your account. It also takes an extra day or two for the money to go from your check to their grubby little fingers.

(bet you didn't even know that many large utility providers don't even process their own incoming payments, did you?)

When a customer sets up automatic EFT payments, the funds are electronically deducted from your checking account - no human has to be involved at all.
You know, humans, who earn a salary.

The money comes out of your account on the day the bill is due (actually it's put on hold the day before it's due)

Yeah, I'm cynical. I know way too much about the banking industry now, and how money (legally) moves from one place to another.

A lot of service providers charge crazy fees for late payments because I think they all want to move away from paper processing and encourage automatic deductions.

Heaven forbid a consumer should be able to hang onto their hard earned cash for a few extra days before having to send it all to the phone company, the electric company, or gas company.


12:28 PM, November 29, 2007

Anonymous A-hole AT&T said...

I can't believe these bureaucrats and how greedy they get. They always have to find reasons to overcharge when their business is failing, even if its crappy service. I just have my landline for emergencies so the bill is a low $28/month. $7+ fee on a $28 bill is over 25%!!! How is that remotely fair... no matter how you many ways you look at it! This gives me enough reason to just drop them and be solely on cellular. What greedy bitches!

3:56 PM, December 26, 2007


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