Why So Difficult to Make a Credit-Card Payment?

Helping her elderly mother handle her finances, a woman runs into an annoying difficulty: Tight-lipped companies won't reveal her mother's credit-card balance.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Faced with her mother's illness, commentator Elissa Ely has had to take on additional responsibilities, including dealing with her mother's finances.

ELISSA ELY: My mother had been in the hospital for weeks with a phone that couldn't dial out. When I checked her home messages, there were five from Lord & Taylor. One was from Mary, one from Sue, Olivia had called, Anthony, and a mumbling fifth. They were all on a first-name basis with this 78-year-old woman they'd never met, and they all wanted her to call them back. I dialed their common number. Liz answered.

I'm calling for my mother, I said. She can't call herself. She has a balance, Liz said. Well how much is it? I'm not allowed to give that information, except to the cardholder. She can't come to the phone. Tell me so we can pay you. You can get the amount through our automated account system on this line, Liz said. In other words, a computer could give me the information a real person couldn't. But when I dialed the number, Liz answered again. I cannot tell you what the cardholder owes, she said, as if we had never met before. I asked for the manager.

There was a long pause while Liz briefed her. The manager came on without a name because we weren't friends. I'm the cardholder's power of attorney, I said. I have check-writing authority. Could you send us that document, the manager asked? This was the rabbit hole, and we were falling. We want to pay you, I said. Well, we sent the cardholder a written statement on the 27th. But she's not someplace where she can get her mail. Can't you send it to me? This violated company confidentiality rules. It seemed to run the risk that a stranger might pay someone else's bill.

Look, the nameless manager said finally, I'll give you the amount, but if Paula - that's my mother - now the two of them were on a first-name basis - if Paula complains, I will be held accountable. We understand, I said. The balance is $221.36. I'll mail a check today, I said.

On behalf of the cardholder, I felt outraged at a ridiculous struggle, but I also felt strangely patriotic. It's a grand economy I'm trying to save.

SIEGEL: Elissa Ely is a psychiatrist in Boston.

(Soundbite of music)

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is NPR, National Public Radio.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.