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Dear USAA, Mastercard, and Bill Collector…

Or as I think of you at the moment, Larry, Moe, and Curly…

Yes, I will immediately send $641 to the collection agency to settle my “debt.” But in the meantime I will use my bully pulpit to vent about a year of being jerked around.

First of all, I have a great credit rating and plan to keep it that way, which is why that I am just paying up. I consider myself wronged, but I preen over my credit rating and will not let the Three Stooges sully it.

Second, this is to you, USAA: if you are going to have a credit card that offers insurance coverage for rental cars, then make sure it’s a real service. Because the day I rented that car from Avis, a year ago, I called and asked, and was assured, yes, I would be covered. I trusted you as I have trusted you since 1985,  when I was a second lieutenant with a used Pontiac Fiero (bad judgment on my part, but I digress).

In fact, I was dorked around for a year, and then last week received a collection-company notice (without having ever seen an actual bill), and then received a notice that my claim was denied (read on about that), and then received a second collection-agency notice, as if I were some scalawag and not someone who pays bills on time quite assiduously.

Third, Mastercard, thank you to the anonymous person who warned me back in September 2009, after I dinked my rental car and naively sent in the paperwork, thinking that hey, I’m covered, that the process would be much longer than I anticipated. Whoever you are, you spoke truth to justice. My only comment is that you prolonged hope where I should have had none.

Fourth, Mastercard, you win. I sent in the same paperwork over and over and over and over and OVER again for a year, and every time asked for a confirmation that it was received, only to hear deafening silence, and then would get another request for the same information. I spent way over $641 in personal time repeatedly sending you the same material. After a while I began to wonder if you expected to wear me down or if I would lose this information and give up. I never gave up, not until you sent a message — AFTER I had been contacted by a bill collector! — that my claim was denied.

Why was my claim denied? You pointed (last week! After I received the collection notice!) to an arcane rule that because I had used a coupon to rent the car, I wasn’t entitled to a credit, even though I had upgraded the car so in theory it wasn’t free… and I had used my Mastercard… but never mind. You had an entire freaking year to offer me your lame excuse.

I never got an opportunity to just pay Avis the $500. I never got that bill. My experience went from paperwork nightmare to Criminal Consumer.

Mastercard, you plastic Satan, I will take that credit card and violate all local environmental laws to burn it on our deck in full view of God and San Francisco.

USAA, I wrote and called to ask for your help. You are a terrific insurance company. You sell a lot of other financial services. Based on this experience, I plan to avoid anything you sell unrelated to insurance, and when it’s appropriate, I’ll divest myself of your credit cards (which for the record I clear off every month). The left hand clearly doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.

Collection agency, I don’t know who is doing your mail-merge, but mailing me twice in a week, the second time to threaten me, “We do not understand your lack of attention in this matter,” feels a little OCD. I realize your office is “prepared to proceed with further collection in this matter,” but at least let me get out my checkbook. Because at this point I will be thrilled to make all of this go away.

USAA, I also don’t understand why I am being billed for more than my deductible. It’s not that much more, so perhaps I should just pay it and keep blogging about how unhappy I am with your credit card services.  Since I can’t get a clear answer via email or telephone on any of this from any of the companies making my life miserable, if you have a response, please use the comment field below.

Hey, Avis, I don’t fault you one bit. I do ask that you understand that I wasn’t trying not to pay you. I was just taking advantage of a “card member benefit” that turned into a nightmare. I’ll know better next time and either pay extra for full coverage or not bother with a “benefit.” Or I won’t go for the $99 upgrade on a “free” car and that will mean I get the smaller car I don’t scrape when I pull into a very small garage on Lombard Street.

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24 Comments

  1. Dinah wrote:

    You. Go. Girl.

    Thursday, September 9, 2010 at 12:36 am | Permalink
  2. Clare wrote:

    I love a good rant. Particularly a well written & witty rant.

    Love your work.

    Thursday, September 9, 2010 at 1:14 am | Permalink
  3. Cathy wrote:

    So print this out and send it to the presidents of the relevant companies with a polite letter asking for the money back. Worked for me with our local phone company when they tried to hit me with a Loyalty fee for leaving.

    Thursday, September 9, 2010 at 6:48 am | Permalink
  4. Peter Murray wrote:

    I agree with Cathy. Print off this post — be sure that the URL is part of the header or footer — and send it to the presidents of the relevant companies.

    Thursday, September 9, 2010 at 10:26 am | Permalink
  5. jk wrote:

    As a USAA member/customer this piqued my interest. I count on them and if they did this to you, they could do it to me or one of the military families!

    Thursday, September 9, 2010 at 11:09 am | Permalink
  6. John Richmond wrote:

    Without knowing all details: Gee, you must’ve been burned. Reminds me of when Barb & I produced our one-and-only. Without any notice, received a warning from the hospital: You are being sent to collection for non-payment of XYZ bill. Except that we hadn’t received that bill. I’ll spare you the rest. I had to go beyond assertive. All due sympathies…and oh! what you might do with $641, in other circumstances….

    Thursday, September 9, 2010 at 11:11 am | Permalink
  7. I definitely plan to do that.

    Thursday, September 9, 2010 at 11:40 am | Permalink
  8. Scott Zimmer wrote:

    I recommend you send a link to this post to tips@consumerist.com. I think they’d love to pick up a story with the tagline, “Celebrity Librarian Tears Credit Industry a New One,” and I’m pretty sure each of the companies you’ve mentioned here monitors Consumerist to keep an eye on PR disasters like this one.

    Thursday, September 9, 2010 at 11:41 am | Permalink
  9. John wrote:

    As it happens, long ago I also had a dispute with a collection agency over an Avis rental (one where I had a tire blow out on one of their cars, for which they had no one picking up the phone at their emergency-service line, but did have a department that later billed me for never-documented damages.)

    Fortunately, I knew my rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and sent them a written notice of dispute within 30 days of hearing from them. And I never heard anything further about it. The statute of limitations has long since expired, though I still don’t rent from Avis as a rule.

    The notice by itself doesn’t get you out of the debt, but collectors must provide verification of the debt before they can continue collection activities. And they’re limited in what they can tell collection agencies (I think they can still report it if it’s been verified or you haven’t disputed, but they have to note that it’s s disputed debt if you’ve disputed it.)

    It sounds like your situation was somewhat different from mine, but I hope this information is useful for readers who find themselves in a similar situation.

    Thursday, September 9, 2010 at 12:23 pm | Permalink
  10. laura k wrote:

    It never cease to amaze me how many people (including myself) have had experiences like this. And people wonder why I’m such a strong supporter of effective government regulation of industry, especially the financial one. I feel grrrr-y for you.

    Thursday, September 9, 2010 at 12:26 pm | Permalink
  11. Hmmm, thanks, will do!

    Thursday, September 9, 2010 at 1:25 pm | Permalink
  12. Yes, it is useful! Though I wish I had been dealing with Avis instead of Mastercard. I see their wiliness and USAA’s poor stewardship of me (as a USAA credit card holder, and a USAA insurance customer) as the biggest problems… being slow-leaked and then treated like some bad consumer is what irks me the most.

    Thursday, September 9, 2010 at 1:26 pm | Permalink
  13. Rich Allen wrote:

    I agree with Scott that you should let Consumerist.com know about your problem. Also they recommend that you launch an Executive Email Carpet Bomb to all of the companies when everything else fails:

    http://tinyurl.com/yk3lemt

    Finally you might want to file complaints with the Federal Trade Commission and the California Attorney General Office.

    Thursday, September 9, 2010 at 2:14 pm | Permalink
  14. This is a literary masterpiece,crafted from the misery only the Great Plastic Satan can unfold against a noble soul.

    I thank you, for reminding me that while we are at their mercy, we can still slap them around on the internet. Until they own that too.

    Thursday, September 9, 2010 at 2:21 pm | Permalink
  15. Catherine Lemmer wrote:

    Perhaps we could start a Facebook page with a name along the lines of Scott Z’s suggestion; those of us with teenager’s could make it world wide in minutes…perhaps seconds….

    Thursday, September 9, 2010 at 11:53 pm | Permalink
  16. Comsumerist posted your story this morning: http://consumerist.com/2010/09/irate-librarian-rages-against-usaa-mastercard.html

    Friday, September 10, 2010 at 9:42 am | Permalink
  17. Elanor wrote:

    The USAA Mastercard specifically states that at least one day must be paid in full on the card to be eligible for the rental insurance. Since you only paid for the upgrade and not a full day, that is most likely why they are denying your claim.

    Unfortunate that they didn’t come out up front and made you wait for a year – that is bad customer service. But it’s not their fault that you weren’t eligible to begin with.

    Friday, September 10, 2010 at 10:11 am | Permalink
  18. Jennifer Stanton Chapman wrote:

    As a USAA member and MasterCard holder, I appreciate your honesty in sharing this incidence with all of us. I have been having a similar problem with Capital One and I had hoped to use my USAA card more in response. Now I beginning to really think all plastic is evil. Keep up the fight!

    Friday, September 10, 2010 at 10:35 am | Permalink
  19. Jim wrote:

    Just came here from the Consumerist, great read. Now to check out some of your other works.

    Friday, September 10, 2010 at 11:09 am | Permalink
  20. Elanor, that wasn’t explained when I called, and it’s sure not on the fine print on the back of the card.

    Friday, September 10, 2010 at 11:49 am | Permalink
  21. David wrote:

    My VISA card has various sorts of features about this, but I’ve never used them. My regular automobile insurance also includes a rider for covering rental cars, and that’s what I’ve always relied on. Fortunately, I’ve never had to use it; I do hope that if I do need it, that I won’t run into similar problems.

    Friday, September 10, 2010 at 12:04 pm | Permalink
  22. Don wrote:

    I wonder if it’s possible that a complaint to the California Department of Insurance might bear fruit. http://www.insurance.ca.gov/contact-us/0200-file-complaint/ There’s an “ask us a question” link on the right-hand sidebar.

    Friday, September 10, 2010 at 10:36 pm | Permalink
  23. Greg wrote:

    This sounds like the perfect complaint for http://www.consumerbell.com to handle for you.

    Saturday, September 18, 2010 at 1:40 pm | Permalink
  24. Lana Snider wrote:

    My VISA card has various sorts of features about this, but I’ve never used them. My regular automobile insurance also includes a rider for covering rental cars, and that’s what I’ve always relied on. Fortunately, I’ve never had to use it; I do hope that if I do need it, that I won’t run into similar problems.

    Friday, December 24, 2010 at 3:13 am | Permalink

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