I never did know when to leave well enough alone.
This past summer I had largely stopped getting credit card offers in the mail, having "opted out" earlier in the year. But Bank of America offers continued to get through. I'd held a platinum Visa card with BofA for more than 15 years, so I figured they had better inroads to pestering me about acquiring more credit.
Normally I rip up these offers at the door. I don't need any more credit, thank you. And those checks they send out are just identity-theft nightmares waiting to happen.
But when the California Automobile Association (AAA) sent me an offer for a credit card with 0% APR through April of 2010, I was intrigued. I reckoned I could switch my high-interest Discover card balance to this and pay it off quicker. And Triple-A is an organization that's saved my butt many a time. I called the number to see about opening a card with them. That's when the trouble began.
Come to find out that this Triple-A card was on offer under the auspices of, who else, Bank of America. Who knew? I've banked at BofA since the early '80s, opening my first account there as a college freshman. At the time, it was a local, San Francisco-based bank. I knew in the ensuing years it had grown to become one of the behemoths of banking, merging with other lenders and gobbling up local banks ruthlessly, and I'd heard horror stories from a lot of people. But since nothing untoward had ever happened to me, I chose to ignore my increasing unease. I felt almost lucky to be flying under the radar. As long as I kept money in the bank and made my credit card payments, I wouldn't get into trouble.
A credit counselor got on the phone. He was going to have a look at my credit profile to see if they could open a low-interest card for me. I wasn't worried. I'd kept my BofA card in good standing, never missed a payment, and had a credit score in the high 700s. And after all, BofA had sent this offer to me in the first place. It wanted me to open another credit line, right?
Unfortunately, he said, the balance on my BofA card was too high for my income, given how much rent I pay. "We're showing that you don't have a lot left over at the end of the month," he said. Huh.
And yet somehow I manage to pay more than the minimum every month, yes? No matter. Have you seen my credit score, I asked him? Higher than 98% of Americans, according to the credit reporting services (a service that comes with my Discover Card).
"Your credit score doesn't really matter," he said. Credit card denied.
I was stunned. In 2006 my cat could have gotten a credit card from Bank of America.
But wait, he wasn't done with me yet. My limit was "over aggressive" for my income, he told me. He would have to cut it by $10,000.
I told him I was nowhere near my credit limit, and had never in the history of my account remotely approached it. Further, I never asked for my credit limit to be raised, BofA just kept on raising it, due, I always assumed, to my conservative use and payment profile.
Didn't matter, he said. I didn't make enough to have all that credit. He was cutting $10,000 in credit, effective immediately.
I couldn't believe it. Was BofA decapitating my credit limit because I had the audacity to take them up on an offer and apply for more credit? Or were they planning on doing it anyway?
We were planning on doing it anyway, the rep, now sounding very smarmy indeed, assured me. "We're doing you a favor by giving you a $10,000 limit," he said. I replied that he was removing $10,000 in credit and was doing me no such favor, (but I said it in, ah, French.)
It was the principle of the action, along with its execution, that most infuriated me. I was never going to use that extra $10K anyway, although I suppose it was nice to know it was there in case.
I told him I would just pay off my platinum card and close it then. Did they want that? "That's your prerogative, ma'am," the rep said. "But you do have a big balance."
More choice words in French. Along with a dark vow made on the heads of my children to pay off that card within one calendar year.
My long-term relationship with BofA went downhill from there. Not long after this exchange I noticed that the bank had upped its fee schedule. We've written quite a bit at WalletPop about the usurious fees the big banks use, but BofA seemed to take it to the level of art. Suddenly it was charging me $9 a month to keep a savings account that didn't have a certain amount in it. Also $9 a month for the privilege of holding a checking account. And if I wanted to transfer money from savings into checking, to cover big-ticket expenses such as rent or credit card payment? Another fee if I transferred more than four times a month.
So in addition to being Bank of America's bitch, I was paying more than $100 a year in bank fees for the pleasure.
Just last month I made good on my vow to pay off my card in full and close the account. Personal finance dogma says you shouldn't close an account when you've paid it off, to preserve your credit rating, but then my high credit rating had won me no points with the Bank of America credit counselor. When the "customer service" rep asked me why I was closing my account, I told him simply, "Because BofA sucks."
I'm currently in the process of switching all my banking over to a nice, friendly local credit union, one where the fees are low ($2 instead of $9) if for some reason my balance falls before a certain (much lower) point. The clerks are friendly, know my name, and I can make all the transfers I want without penalty. The lady who signed me up seemed surprised that I even asked such a question.
After 25 years as a Bank of America customer, I am about to walk out for good. I know BofA doesn't care; after all, I'm not a high-net-worth individual. No sexy high-finance for me. Just direct deposits and bill paying. Given my regular credit card payments and high credit score, I always thought I was a good customer. But that amounts to less than zero these days, especially at the big banks. So I'll take my humble business elsewhere. It's the American way, after all.
Leaving the big banks behind? Tell us your horror stories below in the comments section.
I was Bank of America's bitch ... but no longer