two cents worth

by fp on March 25, 2010

in Bourgeoisie and me

This is a cautionary tale. At least I think there’s a lesson in here somewhere…

Sears Roebuck owes me two cents. In December, we elaborated our middle-class life style with a couple of purchases from Sears. Yes, we’re living the life: A flat screen TV to be delivered before Christmas and a BluRay player to go with it. Samsung. Latest and greatest.

The salesman said I could have ten percent off if I opened a Sears charge account and used plastic instead of cash. What the hell. I bit.

A few days later the Sears warehouse people called and apologized. The TV wouldn’t be back in stock until early January sometime. I was disappointed. “Cancel the order,” I said. Some waltzing around with the sales people ensued, a dance that included a return visit to the store mandated, they said, because my credit card hadn’t yet been issued so they had to use my original receipts to back out the transaction. This was totally bogus, of course–a bait-and-switch pas de deux–but Best Buy isn’t far from Sears and I figured they’d have the unit in stock, so I humbly returned, receipts in hand and allowed them to try to up-sell me for a while before I dashed over to Best Buy, picked up the TV I wanted and went home for an exciting time removing cardboard and styrofoam and assembling all this new equipment in the living room.

Soon the postman delivered the Sears bill. Much to my surprise the credit card statement did not include a reversal of the charge for the TV. I talked to customer service. They promised the reversal would show up on the next statement. I decided to wait and make a single payment on the card when they posted the credit for the cancelled order. I watched the Super Bowl. High def. Pretty big picture. Very cool. Thanks Best Buy!

The next month’s bill arrived. The credit for the TV had posted, but there was a $39 late fee because I hadn’t sent any cash. Silly me. I called customer service and followed a twisty path of voice mail prompts until I reached a real person. I explained that I would pay the balance owing right away, but I thought slapping me with a late fee had been a little cheesy so they could close the account right away. “No prob,” said the fellow on the phone, and just to show what a regular guy he was and how eager Sears was to provide legendary customer service, he would reverse the late fee. We closed the account then and there, debited my checking account for the balance owing and zip-zap, my Sears relationship was dissolved. I thought.

Imagine my surprise when the next statement from Sears showed a balance due of forty-one dollars. That would be the $39 late fee carried forward plus the vig. Usurious at best, this was a rate of over five percent per month. Can that be legal? No matter. I figured the guy had lied to me about reversing the late fee and the best way to zero out the account would be to pay the forty-one dollars by check and be done with the whole mess.

Alas. Today I received what I had hoped would be a closing statement. (I am never going back to Sears for as much as a flashlight battery). I opened the envelope. The good news was there was $38.98 credit balance! The $39 reversal had posted, and my $41 payment had posted. The bad news, the part that almost cut through the medication and pissed me off, was the $0.02 interest I was charged on an amount of $1.36 they claimed was a “balance subject to interest.” I lack the imagination to know where that $1.36 “subject to interest” came from.

I called the guy. He said I ought to see a check for $38.98 in the next week or so and that would zero out the account and buh-bye. I didn’t quibble, in fact I was very polite, as was he. Even so, that $2 charge on the $39 balance that I paid when I sent them my forty-one dollar check, and the two cents interest they deducted from my credit balance represent, I am quite sure, a sleazy bit of book juggling that keeps my account alive through the end of the quarter. The sales team gets it’s commish and the stockholders get a nano-flash of a rosier picture of the condition of the company. The more accounts they have, the healthier they feel financially. I don’t want my two dollars and two cents back. I am sure that the sum represents decimal dust drifting in the pencil tray at some junior accountant’s desk, and that he and his accomplice in the IT department can roll two cents out of each of ten million accounts annually, park them in some suspense account and pocket a couple of hundred big ones when the coast is clear, and I hope they get away with it. But what about the mother ship? Is the Sears Roebuck Company too big to succeed?

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