Citigroup and Me

by francine Hardaway on January 14, 2008

Charlie Gasparino, in his CNBC blog, writes that Citigroup could lay off as many as 24,000 people as it writes down $24 billion due to the subprime mess. Let me tell you what this means to me.

It means that yesterday, on a Sunday morning, I got a call on my cell phone from a woman from Citibank, whom I later found out was in Collections, saying that I was two days late on my December line of credit payment. Never mind that I was in a restaurant having brunch with a friend, or that it was Sunday.

Citibank FSB holds my home equity credit line.  This has been true since I bought my house in Half Moon Bay in 2005.  In California, where homes are expensive, many owners have both a mortgage and an equity line to finance their homes.The iine wasn’t wonderful to begin with (I got it during the boom), so I have been trying to pay it down, especially since I can’t see anything worth investing in lately. It’s about half paid back.

As a consequence, the original payment of $1668.56 per month, which covered the interest on the ful $153k line,is now about twice what I owe to keep the money out every month. But I set the payments up automatically from my bank account, so I keep sending $1668.56 anyway. As long as I can afford to do it, and can’t find anything better to do with the money, I like to pay down debt.

Well, after I assured the Citibank woman that I had paid, I went back and looked at my online banking.  Sure enough, their check cleared my bank on 12/26 — part of the end-of-year search for deductions process I go through annually.  Trust me, no payment of mine with anything deductible in it could EVER be late in December, of all months.  But I do all my banking automatically on line purposely so that if I need a good FICO score for some impulse buy like a house in Half Moon Bay, I will have one.

I called the woman back (well, another woman), and she again told me they hadn’t received the payment.  I pointed out that she probably had not POSTED the payment.  I also reminded her that I pay twice as much every month as I’m supposed to, so she could just take half of my November payment and apply it to December.

It doesn’t work that way.  She was wanting me to make another payment immediately.

I refused. Customer service, of course, is closed on Sunday, even though Collections isn’t.

This morning, I called Customer Service and was finally allowed to fax over my bank statement with my payment history. But I couldn’t fax it to the young man I was speaking to, because he’s not in the department that needs to see it.

I’ve been through three departments and five phone calls. It isn’t resolved, but I assume it will be in my favor.  I have all the documentation. Including a history of about 30 similar monthly payments.

Here are my conclusions:

Some of the people Citibank will have to lay off don’t do anything anyway. They have no authority to do anything after they pick up the phone and ask for my account number. Let’s combine the jobs of some of those Customer Service and Collections people.

Citibank was calling me to collect so it could report a smaller loss number today. I, a person who CAN pay, was a last resort.

Someone didn’t post my last payment. That’s not my fault. My bank sent it, and their bank cashed it. Now what?

If this is how banks conduct business, no wonder they are up s**t creek.  They don’t know good cusomers from bad ones, or how to take action on behalf of a good one. Shouldn’t we assign every customer a "buddy" at a bank? That way we would know who was drowning and who was not.  We did that at my summer camp.

Who wants to refinance my equity line? I’m open for offers.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Justin January 14, 2008 at 2:09 pm

There used to be a day when you knew your bank teller and they knew you. Better, your lender knew you and your property (and believe it or not, they actually HELD your loan). Everyone knew who to talk to when problems arose. I’m too young to remember this time, but I know it happened. Now we are all faced with this all too familiar situation. But instead of complaining, is there any way to get it BACK to the way it was?! Will there perhaps be a resurgence in credit unions or small independent banks?

francine hardaway January 14, 2008 at 5:15 pm

To your point, Justin, my father died in 1965, and yet I still remember the name of his banker: Joe Barbaro from Banker’s Trust Company, Delancy Street branch. He was a friend of ours.

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