Many financial experts advise against closing a credit card account, noting the negative impact it can have on your credit report.
But if you decide you should close an account, make sure it's really closed. Let the cautionary tale from Jack, of Topeka, Kan., serve as a warning.
It started in January 2008, when Jack said he received a letter from Tribute Mastercard informing him that in May of that year, the company would begin charging a ten dollar monthly fee. They included an 800 number for customers who chose to opt out.
"I called this number and spoke to a company rep who barely spoke English and told him that I wanted to cancel my account," Jack told ConsumerAffairs.com. "He told me that the account was closed and that I should destroy the card. I cut the card up and threw it away."
But simply telling the customer service rep to close the account wasn't enough. In May 2008, Jack said he got a bill from Tribute Mastercard for ten dollars.
"I called the company and told them I had cancelled the card in January," Jack said. "The person I spoke to said there was no record of my cancellation, but that he would close the account."
The next month Jack said he received a bill from Tribute Mastercard for the ten dollar monthly maintenance fee plus a late fee for not paying the previous charge. He called the company again and was told to contact the dispute resolution rep.
"I sent a letter and received no response, so I called the company again," Jack said. "I told the customer service person that I was not responsible for the incompetence of their employees and that I wasn't going to pay the bill. He said they would take me to court. I told him I was going to file a complaint with the Attorney General."
From zero to $300
A few months ago, Jack got a letter from a collection agency. He said the letter demanded $300 to settle the account.
"I sent them a certified letter explaining the situation and that I would never pay Tribute Mastercard or them a dime," Jack said. "They trashed my credit rating."
Jack says the "delinquent account" was reported to credit agencies and his credit rating was lowered. His charge card at Home Depot was cancelled because of the report, even though he says he had never made a late payment on any of his other cards.
And all of this because Jack tried to cancel a credit card with a zero balance to avoid paying a monthly $10 fee.
What should Jack have done instead? It's not a case of "instead," but rather "in addition to." Starting with a phone call to the company's customer service rep was the right thing to do, but credit experts say it shouldn't have stopped there.
Jack should have told the rep to note in the file that the account is being closed at the customer's request. He should have asked for a name and address to mail a written notice of cancellation. He should have asked for the customer service rep's name and note the date and time of the cancellation call.
Because mistakes can happen, Jack should have next written a short cancellation letter to the card issuer, to the attention of the name provided. He should also have requested written confirmation of the account's closure.
This last step may be the most important. Until you have confirmation in writing that you account is closed, it might not be. If it isn't, service charges and late fees could be adding up every month.