People have been asking me what I’ve been doing the past few months. I wish I could answer with a glamorous response. I’d love to be able to say, “I’ve been on my book tour,” or “I’ve been working with the folks at Axe to create a body spray that doesn’t smell like cat pee,” or “I’m working with scientists around the world who are studying the phenomenon which causes people and pets to barf in my presence.” (OK, maybe that last one isn’t so glamorous.)
The real story is that I’ve been busy surviving. Unfortunately, our livelihood, construction, is still on life support in this part of the country and is unlikely to recover any time soon. Our phone doesn’t ring these days unless it’s a bill collector or some other poor out-of-work soul hoping that we’re faring better than he is and, therefore, in a position to hire him.
To gain some cash flow, my husband has taken a part-time job in a different industry with the intention of still being able to work at our home remodeling business once the economy improves. This part-time job is at a reduced wage and offers no sick days, no vacation time, no paid holidays, and no health insurance, but at least we have a certain amount of money coming in each week on which we can rely. Welcome to America where you can work multiple jobs and still not quite make it. We are eking out our mortgage payment, thankfully, but paying our other bills remains a struggle.
Spending the past four years at the bottom of the food chain has had the unfortunate side effect of revealing to me the amount of disdain and intolerance that corporations have for people in our situation. I’ve learned that your cell phone can be turned off if your payment is less than thirty days late. I’ve discovered that creditors will begin calling for their money the day after your payment is due. I’ve found that fuel oil deliveries can be stopped in the middle of winter, even with children in your home, if your payment is two months behind.
The entire winter and spring have found me engaged in the juggling act of Which Bill to Pay This Week. Believe me, it’s not nearly as much fun as it sounds. While the mortgage is always top priority, things get dicier when I have to choose among utilities. Don’t think less of me, but sometimes I choose food or electric over paying my internet cable bill. I know; call me reckless.
I use my computer for work, so it’s important that I keep it functioning. Recently, I’d begun having problems with my work email account and had to call Comcast, my internet provider. As is the case with many companies, my phone call was immediately dumped into one of the many layers of Voice Mail Hell, where no matter how many numbers you push, or in which order you push them, you will never, ever, EVER reach a live person to help you.
The day that I called Comcast for help with my internet account, I was late on my payment by two weeks. I did not expect that Comcast’s voice mail system would refuse to direct me to the help I needed unless I made a payment, right then and there, over the telephone. I tried to get around it by pushing a different series of responses, but each time, it would only take me so far before informing me that my account was past due and that a representative would be happy to take my payment over the phone.
Since there was no way to reach a live person and I was desperate for assistance with my work email account, I paid the Comcast bill online with a credit card and tried again to reach someone to help me with my problem. No deal. Their computer system needed three days for my payment to register. I hung up in frustration.
I decided to ask for help via their online chat system. The first thing that the representative wanted to know was how he could help me make my payment. I resisted the urge to suggest that if he really wanted to be helpful, he could pay the bill for me. Instead, I stifled my scream of frustration and asked for his help in resolving my email issues. He agreed to help me only after I’d assured him I had submitted the payment online.
Of all of our creditors, though, none have been more poorly behaved than our mortgage company.
During the several years that we’ve had our mortgage with Chase, I’ve always scheduled the payments online, on their website. While the mortgage is not usually paid on the first of the month, I do make sure it’s always paid by the fifteenth. I’ve even confirmed with Chase that paying by the fifteenth is still considered an on-time payment and that it’s not necessary to pay by the first of the month.
Why, then, do I receive collection calls each month, sometimes ten times per day, from a woman named Katie with a thick Indian accent, urging me to pay my mortgage?
I explained to Katie that I always schedule my payment online, through Chase’s website, and that it’s already been paid for the month. Can’t she see it? She claims she cannot. Apparently they know only the names and phone numbers of people they are instructed to call and nothing else.
Katie called us one Sunday morning at 8:30am. This didn’t seem right to me, so I asked her why she was calling us so early on a Sunday. She ignored my question and instead proceeded with her usual demands for payment.
“Look, Katie, I don’t know what time it is where you are in India, but it’s 8:30 in the morning here.”
“I am not from India!”
“Where are you calling from then?”
“I am calling from Chase Bank.”
“I know that…but you’re in India, right?”
“I AM NOT FROM INDIA!”
Once again, Katie-Not-From-India told me the same thing she does every month: I haven’t paid my mortgage and Chase wants me to pay up. The rest of the call continued as it always does: I asked her why she calls me when it’s not the fifteenth of the month and my payment is not late; I asked her why she can’t access her own company’s website to see that my payment is already there; and I asked her why she has to call me every single month?
Katie doesn’t answer my questions and refuses to deviate from her script. In her mind, I am a deadbeat loser because my name is on her list and she will stop at nothing to collect this debt. Nothing I say convinces her to view me otherwise. I’ve complained to Chase’s customer service. I’ve spoken with the collection department. Still, the calls continue each month from the 2nd through the 15th. Apparently my problem is not worthy of any effort on their part to stop it.
As someone who regrettably receives legitimate collection calls, it’s especially disturbing to receive calls when we’re not even late. After all of the hard work and financial finagling that my husband and I go through each month to make that mortgage payment, being harassed month after month unnecessarily is like a giant slap in the face.
Also, with record unemployment in the United States, does Chase really need to outsource their collection calls? Aren’t there enough people in this country who could use the work?
I don’t know if I will ever be able to stop the harassing phone calls, but if Chase feels the need to have one of their employees pester me each month for a payment I’ve already made, the least they can do is give the job to someone in this country who needs it.