MoneyPet Peeves

Billing Blunders

Reading my mail today was like hearing from the Three Stooges.

The first was AT&T.  For months now, they’ve been continually screwing up my bill. In fact, things got so bad back in September that I canceled my landline service.  Yet month after month since then, they’ve still been charging me about $32 a month for long distance service.

On a line that isn’t even connected.

Month after month, they’ve had to go back and re-credit me the amount they’ve charged, and for many of those months, while I was enrolled in auto-pay, a feature that lets them withdraw money directly from my checking account, I would have to police that bill ahead of the draft date so they wouldn’t bleed my account of money I needed for something else.

Today I got a past-due notice that included another month of long distance service.  I called and got a nice guy named Ray.  He understood my problem, but couldn’t do anything about it.  Ray transferred me to Mrs. Kelly, thinking she could help.  She couldn’t either, because she worked in the wrong department.  (Transferring customers to the wrong department seems to be a common practice at AT&T.)  Mrs. Kelly transferred me to Tasha.  Tasha apparently wasn’t the right person, either, so she attempted transferring me to whomever she thought could straighten the mess out.  After several minutes on hold, the line just seemed to go dead.

The total length of that phone call, which accomplished nothing, was 27:56.

I called back and got Miss Colgan.  Miss Colgan stayed on the phone with me while I waited for the billing department.  After more than 17 minutes on hold, she came back and said, “You’re not going to believe this.”  You know it’s bad when someone who works there says this.  She explained that while we were waiting in the queue, the billing department closed.  Rather than dealing with the people who were in line before they closed, they just packed up and went home.

I believed it.  This wasn’t the first time that happened.

I then asked for the department that handles account termination.  I got transferred to Miss Browning, to whom I explained the ongoing problems in detail, and said that I was having a really difficult time justifying continuing as an AT&T customer.  She promised to credit me the difference and make sure I don’t get billed again.

I don’t believe that.  Because I’ve heard this story before.  We’ll see.

The second stooge was Comcast.  A few months back, my apartment complex switched their billing policy about cable television. They added it as an amenity, adding a portion of what would have been the full price for digital cable service to the rent.  For those of us who only had the basic digital service, we save about $17 a month.  Except for the fact that it took Comcast nearly three months to get the billing straightened out:  they continued to bill us full price even though we were paying for cable with rent.

Finally, they were able to give me a definitive figure that they were sure I owed.  From that point forward, they said, my rent payment would cover everything I owed.

Today, I received a statement from Comcast indicating that I had a credit balance of 53¢.  Why?  Because I payed, to the penny, the amount they said I owed them so that they could switch me, once and for all, to the rent-billing arrangement.

And you can bet that I’m going to get that 53¢.  I think it’d be fun to make them mail it to me.  Spending 42¢ to send 53¢ is just what they deserve.

The third stooge of the day is South Carolina itself.  I received a tax bill in the mail indicating that an adjustment needed to be made on my tax return from 2006.  It turns out that something went wrong when I filed my taxes that year.  It was the year I moved back to South Carolina from Virginia.

When I did my taxes with Turbo Tax, something odd happened.  Whereas Virginia’s state return allowed me to specify the amount of time I lived there, South Carolina’s only gave me the option of filing as a full or part-time resident.  The form didn’t seem to care how long I was there.

If I selected “full time resident,” which I wasn’t, it would want to bill me taxes for income I made when I lived in Virginia.  Sorry, South Carolina, you don’t deserve a penny of income that had nothing to do with you.  If I selected “part time resident,” which I was, it seemed to want to credit me for taxes it computed that I had overpaid when I didn’t live there.

Confused?  So was I.

So before I filed, I took one extra precaution:  I telephoned the state’s Department of Revenue in Columbia.  I explained the problem and told them that I was concerned that the refund it looked like I was due from South Carolina seemed too high.  The operator assured me that I had done nothing wrong, and because of the way the state’s tax code was written, I could file as a “part time resident” and benefit from a tax break only that one year that I move back.  After that, of course, I’d be a “full timer” and subject to twelve months’ worth of taxes SC-style.

“Doesn’t that mean the state is sort of cheating iteslf out of taxes?” I asked.  Yes, I really, really pressed this issue, because it just didn’t make sense to me.  And the last thing I wanted was to not pay what I owed.

She again confirmed my assumption was correct and told me not to worry.

Today’s piece of mail suggests I should have worried after all:  they now have concluded that I owe them about three hundred bucks.  Lovely.

But wait: it gets better!

They’re also billing me a little more than forty bucks in interest.

That is where I cry foul!  I made every attempt back then, before taxes were due, to make sure mine were correct.  I was assured that all was well.  I filed.  Actually, I eFiled, so they had all my data in their little computer system that could have been automatically checked without a human ever having to “get around to it.”  But they Direct Deposited the amount of the refund Turbo Tax said they owed me without batting an eye.

Now, two years later, they finally decide to look things over and find a problem.  And I have to pay interest because it took them that long to find a problem they said didn’t even exist?

I called the number on the tax form and spoke with someone who warned me that the state almost never waives interest.  My hopes are not up.  But I’m still trying.

I have absolutely no problem paying the taxes they now say I owe; those were the taxes I told them I should owe back then.  But I went far above and beyond the call of normal taxpayer duty to get them to double check things.  The fact that they were apparently as misinformed as I was shouldn’t make me the villian here.

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  1. I like that idea, Paul. I’ll let you know how they react, although I doubt they’d see the humor in it.

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  2. The next time you have a conversation with AT&T just leave a message telling them you’ll pay them every penny you owe, all they need to do is call you, and tell you exactly how much that is…on your land line.

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  3. You know, these posts would make a great comedy routine…if they weren’t actual occurrences.

    Sigh. I’m never. Ever. Going to use AT&T.

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  4. This happened to my parents, the IRS said that they over paid by $500. I contacted them telling them that they make the mistake and we didn’t over pay. They insisted that we did, so we assumed they were right and cashed the check.

    Two years latter we get a letter from the IRS saying we under paid by $500 and that we owed interest plus penalties plus tmy parents had to file quarterly. We showed them all the paperwork from two years earlier and they “Sorry we made a mistake”, but you still owe the $500 plus interest plus penalties and had to file quarterly.

    They finally settled for the $500

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  5. Nightmare times three.

    I’d almost rather do anything than deal with companies like you are talking about here. We have Embarq. They evidently have people who often surf the net for people complaining about their service, because twice I couldn’t get anything done on the phone with them, then complained on my blog, and “Embarq Joey” left comments telling me to email him. He gave me his phone number, I called and explained it all to him, and Embarq fixed the problem, both times… so fast it almost made my head spin. It’s a shame these companies you mention don’t have somebody like Joey to find Internet complaints about them and help fix the problems.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 29 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.