A couple of weeks ago, I received the following letter from Cox Communications, my cable service provider:
(Click the image for a larger version.)
I believe it is best to automate your money so that you can avoid late fees, cancellation of service, and well, “work.” This letter from Cox tells me that they tried to charge my account, as they had done successfully for years, but it failed.
Fidelity switched credit card providers and moved from American Express to Visa. I called them out on this on Twitter:
@Fidelity switched credit card providers and is forcing me to re-opt-in to automatic payments. Not cool, Fidelity. Not cool.
— LazyManAndMoney (@LazyManAndMoney) June 14, 2016
Fidelity, to their credit, responded with:
@LazyManAndMoney If you have any questions or need any help w/ auto payments, pls call Elan Cardmember Services at 888-551-5144. Thx. (2/2)
— Fidelity Investments (@Fidelity) June 29, 2016
I respectfully showed that I didn’t have questions, but was simply offering them feedback on how to the fix the situation. Credit cards should be about convenience, not making customers do more work, right?
@Fidelity I don't have questions, I think you should preserve auto payment enrollments and not profit from late fee breakage in the change.
— LazyManAndMoney (@LazyManAndMoney) June 29, 2016
Fidelity seemed to appreciate this feedback and apologized for the inconvenience:
@LazyManAndMoney Apologies for the delay & thanks for your feedback on the transition. We regret any inconvenience this might cause. (1/2)
— Fidelity Investments (@Fidelity) June 29, 2016
Fidelity, meet Cox. Cox, meet Fidelity. I had hoped the two of you knew each other, but I guess you need blogger to bridge the communication gap. I think you two should have worked this out before consumers like me got $25 fees for doing nothing.
In fairness, I should have probably gone through all my Fidelity charges over the last couple of months and switch them all over. However, the worst thing that can happen with a declined credit card is a notice about potential cancellation of service and and request to try a new payment method, right? It seems that Cox doesn’t agree.
I called up Cox Communications… which was actually no small feat. I searched Google and it came up with regional number in Atlanta and local solution stores. Maybe the solution stores could have helped, but I figured they don’t make billing decisions for Cox. I settled on the default number that Google gave me, which brought me to Cox’s phone tree. After navigating it to try to solve my billing problem, they asked me to hang-up can call a new number which they provided. Fortunately, I had a pen and paper handy, but why didn’t Cox simply transfer my call to the appropriate number?
(Yes, using Google’s default information is on me, but I was on my cell phone, which makes it difficult to sign into my Cox account as I don’t have my username and password ready. However, maybe Cox could contact Google and have them fix the information? I can’t be the only person having this problem.)
Once I got through to Cox’s national department, I explained the issue of Fidelity’s credit card change to the first person. She wasn’t authorized to help me, so she kicked it up to the manager.
My explanation to the manager, Trudy, went something like this:
“If I walked into McDonalds and ordered a burger for a buck or two and swiped a card that was declined, would they say my burger is now $26 or $27? Of course they wouldn’t. I had received other declined notices for this same card, such as Netflix’s ‘Houston, we have a problem’ famous email. Not a single company added a credit card declined fee to bill, and certainly not something like $25.”
Fortunately, Trudy understood what I was talking about. After explaining that the modern world has these issues when we let computers do their things, she was happy to waive the fee.
I didn’t want to press my good luck. However, as a software engineer who has created a billing system in the past, I knew that a decline code does not incur a significant cost to the biller. In fact, if my memory serves, there is no cost. I don’t think it is a “modern world thing”, but a “Cox Communications thing.”
Hopefully, someone at Cox reads this and can provide a better answer to this fee. I wonder how many consumers simply just pay the fee and move on with their lives. (Cox, if you are reading this, I am sorry that don’t have the time to navigate your customer support system to attempt to reach the department head who I presume came up with this policy. However, you can leave a comment below with a way to get back to you directly and I’ll be happy to contact you that way. You can also email me here. And while I’m sending this out to your Twitter in promoting it via social media, this conversation is probably more than 140 characters long.)
So I didn’t get scammed by this fee, but only because I used 30 minutes of my time to get it waived. I presume that Cox Communications has at least a million customers, and I feel like some significant percentage have had their credit card declined at some point. I don’t think these fees are trivial. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a class action lawsuit in the future over this.
That OTHER thing in the letter
You may have noticed that the letter says my bill will be $238.11 after the $25 credit card decline fee. Now that I have had that fee waived, my bill is $213.11.
That’s a lot more money than I expected… a lot more. Shame on me for not looking at my cable bill each month. It’s not a great defense, but I generally expect my cable TV/Internet bill to be the same every month. My other utility bills don’t vary greatly, except for when I use more resources (which is to be expected).
So I looked at my bill… and I was floored with more surprises.
Let’s flash back to last year when I wrote about Cox’s pricing being “banana pants”. Back then I wrote:
When I signed on with Cox two years ago after a move, it was explained that I’d actually save money by taking their telephone service. The price of the bundle deal with the telephone was cheaper than to buy their two most popular products, television and internet, together.
The telephone component has sat in the box in my basement for two years. I have Ooma’s “free” service (just pay about $3 in taxes) which I love.
In reviewing my bill, I noticed something new. Getting the phone triggers $19 in taxes.
I countered by explaining that it makes no sense for them make me take a product (the telephone service) that I don’t want and pay extra money in taxes – money that doesn’t go to Cox – just to get better pricing on the two services that I do want.
So in looking at my bill, the telephone service (that I never, ever wanted) is costing me $25 a month. My bundle deal expired, so getting the phone no longer saves me money. It feels like a Trojan Horse designed to sneak money out of my wallet. Now, I understand why they made me take phone service to get the temporary cheaper price.
It’s shocking to me to read my article from last year where I say my bill was $126… and then see it at $213 this year. That’s an increase of more than a thousand dollars a year!
So yesterday, I called up Cox to see what I can do about this. (And again I did the aforementioned dance to actually find their real number.) After explaining to the first person that I’m paying for phone service that I never wanted, I got passed to the second person. I explained it all again. I got put on hold… and then they came back with a new price of $145 with some new bundle deal. It took around 30 minutes, which isn’t bad to save $70 a month. She was able to backdate it a month and give me a $98 credit, which takes care of the $25 I was spending on the phone service without realizing it.
*Break* – While writing this article, I actually got an automated call from Cox Communications telling me that I should sign into my account or call an agent back at some other number. The message wasn’t clear about what I should do. I wonder if they’ve failed to re-run the new credit card that I entered the other day and believe my account to overdue. It’s strange, because they could have given me that information a few hours ago, when I called them to get my bill lowered. Also, it is strange to have a robot call you only to tell you to call another number. It’s almost like they are trying to be as inefficient as possible.
The only catch with the new pricing is that it again is a bundle rate that will expire in a year. She told me that I should mark my calendar for next year, which is sound advice. I did that right away.
I’ve been on the fence about cancelling cable service for some time. I rarely watch any cable channels except for the Red Sox, which I can get through MLB.tv for a low yearly rate. Even with the new bundle price, it’s a lot of money to DVR network shows. There are other services like TabloTV that I can, and probably should look into.
I’d explore going with another company, but I mentioned in that article last year, there’s no other broadband option in my market. I can’t call up Comcast or Verizon FIOS and switch.
So, I ask the readers… are these billing practices fair or misleading/deceptive? I’m leaning towards the later, which is also why I included the FTC’s Twitter handle on this. I’d love to get their opinion on the matter, because I think these things are costing consumers millions and millions of dollars.
Note: The use of the word “scam” in this article is a question and not a statement of fact. This article is my opinion. You may have a different opinion. In fact, I don’t believe my reader-base can agree what is a scam anyway. As always, do your own research and come to your own conclusions.