Best Buy, HSBC credit card troubles

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Q. How can HSBC – my Best Buy credit card account -- keep my $35 check without crediting it to my account? When I called the 800 number, I was told this check was received May 12, 2010, but never credited to the account. I've made daily calls and finally, after a couple of weeks, on May 25, 2010 a representative told me that my check was returned by the bank on the 17th of May. My bank has no record of this transaction. I immediately sent another check in the amount of $75 to cover the first check and to make my next month's payment, and this time, I hand wrote my checking account number. I have repeatedly asked for a return of my check, or for them to credit the first check to my account, but they haven't done so.
Joyce Jackson


A. I put in a call to HSBC, and explained the situation, because I was a bit stumped myself. They spent a day or two looking into it, and then, because of privacy restrictions, contacted you directly to sort this matter out. So you know what happened here: When you signed your name on your check, a portion of your signature covered up your account number, which caused it to be read incorrectly. Because of that, the bank rejected the transaction – essentially, they were unable to trace the check back to your checking account, so they couldn't process your payment. Your check was then electronically destroyed, which is why it never made its way back to you.

Joyce, you did two things right here: You stayed on top of your payment to make sure it posted, and when it didn't, you let HSBC know that there was a problem. If you'd just assumed that the payment had gone through, you may have opened your next bill to see a late fee. You also sent in your check well before the payment was due, which is always a good idea for exactly this reason. You never want to cut it close when it comes to paying your bills.

But this is one of the reasons why I'm a huge fan of online banking: When you submit a payment electronically, there is much less room for human error. You can pay bills like this directly from your bank's website, so you and your bank know exactly when the payment was submitted. Then, you can track the payment on the website of your credit card, so you immediately know when it's posted. You don't have to worry about accidentally putting the wrong zip code on the envelope, or signing your name over your account number, or writing your credit card account number down incorrectly. It's all done for you. Plus, you save the cost of postage, which, if you're mailing in bills all the time, is no small expense.

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