Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Paid Off

This weekend, I realized with a tiny amount of terror that a bill was due on the 8th (Sunday) and I hadn't paid it. It was not a large bill, and it may not have carried any consequences (i.e. the world was certainly not going to end), but I am a real stickler about paying things on time, so it bugged me. It was one of the bills that arrives in the mail with a payment coupon. How 1960s is that? The payment coupons don’t arrive with much lead time, so when it hits the mailbox, it has to go back out pretty quickly. It never lands here on payday, however.

When I realized that bill had come in but not back gone out, and that the due date was basically, right that minute, I was shopping for options. I invested quality time reading my loan payment notice. This fine and modern company with franchise operations nationwide, has a Customer Service 800-number for telephone payments that operates Monday through Friday, 9 to 4 central time. Wow, that is the epitome of customer convenience. There was a web address on the bill, so I checked that out. It had links to their various companies for lawn care, furniture repair, cleaning, warranty services, and even home inspections.

I visited the area for the termite treatment franchise. Apparently, customers with service contracts for routine pest control can pay online, but I lacked a “customer number,” an “account number” and a “billing statement.” I had a "finance account payment notice" with a loan number for the financing of a one-time, expensive termite treatment and that, apparently, was not good enough for their system, which rejected all my advances. Hard to get.

Upon reading my "finance account payment notice" I realized was paying an interest rate of 11.75% on this account. Even the fine folks at my credit card company get me for only 7.74%. Cripes. Why do I always forget about my high-falutin' finance education?

So, four months into the payment schedule on a high rate termite service loan, I finally wised up and decided to pay it off with the lower rate credit card to reduce the interest rate on the balance and consolidate a payment. If I had been thinking, that’s how I would have paid for it to begin with and collected some bonus points on the credit card's "Thank You Network." Duh. Oh well.

Monday after lunch and a morning filled with an eternally long meeting, I called the 800-number to pay off the Termite loan. The phone rang and was answered by an automated system, where a soothing female voice told me my call was important and that, "due to unexpected call volume, all agents are busy." I was invited to hold or leave a message (in what is usually the black hole of automated message systems – who falls for that?). The lovely voice said calls are randomly monitored or recorded for quality purposes. Then some music began to play. Five minutes. Ten minutes. At 13.5 minutes, I hung up because my neck hurt from cradling the phone and I couldn’t stand the music anymore. A half hour later, after updating some website copy for a project, I tried again. Same routine of recordings and music, but after five minutes there was the sound of a phone ringing. My heart leapt with hope that a person would be on the line to assist me, a valued customer. No dice. It reverted to recorded messages and music and my realization of the cruelty of false hope. I lasted for 11 minutes in Round 2 before I hung up. It appeared the randomness was the actual answering of calls.

Another 30 minutes passed where I did some more work. I was after all, at my desk at work during all this. I dialed the number again, and this time, after a mere three minutes of soothing recorded messages and music, Patsy came on the line. Her voice was like that of an angel from heaven. Ok, it wasn’t really, but I was darned glad to have some live human help and she could have been an angel. And in three more minutes, we were done transacting my business. If they only had online payment capabilities they'd have gotten their money on Saturday. Whatever. They are paid off and I don't have to deal with them again.

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