Perhaps you sent the wrong amount when you made a payment. Or maybe you returned merchandise and received a refund to your card, but you had already paid the balance in full.
However you ended up with the credit, Regulation Z ensures you will get the money back.
Part of the Truth In Lending Act, the regulation has rules for lenders to follow when a consumer has a credit balance.
For starters, it must credit the amount to a consumer’s account. If the consumer requests in writing the balance be returned, the lender must return the amount in seven days. Many lenders will return the money with a simple phone call. And finally, if the credit remains on the account for six months, the lender must “make a good-faith effort” to return the funds.
These refunds also apply to personal lines of credit and home equity lines, but public utilities are exempt.
Cell phone accounts, while not specifically mentioned in Regulation Z, may or may not be exempt depending on your contract, the services and the products you receive.
That became a problem for Stanley Porteur, an 86-year-old Maplewood man who tried to be proactive with his bills when he knew he’d be spending time in the hospital.
In the summer, he was admitted for a heart condition. After six days, he was discharged, but later had to return with the same problem.
“I didn’t know how long I would remain in the hospital and I did not want to ruin my good credit,” Porteur said.
Unsure of how long he’d be indisposed, Porteur started paying extra on his monthly bills, including his utilities and his AT&T cell phone. He figured if he was unable to manage his finances for a time, future monthly charges would be deducted from the credits he created by overpaying, and no services would be discontinued.
In June, doctors implanted a defibrillator to help with his heart, and he continued to overpay his bills.
There were more hospital stays and finally, at the end of November, Porteur was back home and not expecting any more hospitalizations.
He contacted PSE&G and asked the utility to return the large credit that accumulated on his account. He received the check in a week.
Next, Porteur called AT&T, where the credit balance on his cell phone bill was more than $1,500.
Porteur said he spoke to a rep named Joseph, who explained Porteur’s future monthly charges would come out of the credit until the credit was depleted.
But Porteur’s monthly bill was only $56.62. It would take 26 months for him to use up the whole credit.
“I must say I am one of their best paying customers to have this much credit,” he said. “I can use these funds to help pay my medical bills and co-pays for my medicine.”
Porteur understood the rep’s response to be a “no” answer for returning the credit balance to him.
So he decided to negotiate.
Part of Porteur’s cell phone plan included a monthly charge for a new cell phone he purchased before his medical problems started. He asked if the rep could deduct from the credit balance what he owed AT&T for the phone.
“They would not do it,” Porteur said.
The rep told Porteur he would ask about refunding the credit and call him back, but that never happened.
Weeks passed, and there was no return phone call.
Porteur had another hospital stay — so other things were on his mind — and he didn’t call again.
The payment for his next monthly bill was taken from the credit, just like the month before.
“The gas company refunded all my money within a week, so I don’t know what the problem is with AT&T,” he said.
WHEN A REFUND IS DUE
We gave AT&T a call, and it promised a review.
Over the course of several days and a bit of phone tag, the two parties talked.
Porteur said the AT&T the rep said he’d need Porteur to supply his PIN number before they could continue.
That seemed like security overkill as AT&T initiated the phone call, and if a credit refund was to be mailed, the company would surely send it to the address on Porteur’s account.
Porteur said he didn’t have a PIN, and he wasn’t sure if he ever did.
So the next day, Porteur visited his local AT&T store, and reps were able to help him with a PIN.
But it was the start of the long President’s Day weekend, so Porteur had to wait before he could again speak to the rep who asked for the PIN.
When the long weekend was over, Porteur spoke again to AT&T and this time gave his PIN.
He was then informed that the credit was being processed.
“It seems that something is beginning to happen,” Porteur said with hope.
We asked AT&T about its policies for credit refunds and for any comments on this case.
“If a customer has a credit balance due to overpayment, we will automatically apply the credit to the next bill unless the customer opts to have the overage refunded,” said AT&T spokeswoman Brandy Bell-Truskey.
She said in this case, the company was happy to send a check once the request was made.
“Our records indicate that we tried to reach the customer numerous times and were unable to in order to process the refund check,” she said.
We asked if that happened back when Porteur first called in November, or if that was during the recent phone tag after Bamboozled got involved.
She didn’t respond in time for publication.
Still, Porteur had good news to share.
He came home last week to three phone calls from the AT&T rep, who said the credit would be direct deposited to Porteur’s bank account. The rep also said Porteur should contact him directly if any problems arose.
Porteur was very satisfied.
Thanks to AT&T for helping this customer.
One final note: Porteur significantly overpaid his bills to be on the safe side. If you’re ever concerned you might have a period of time when you can’t pay your bills, consider using an auto-pay feature so regular payments come out each month. As long as you keep enough cash in your checking account to cover your bills, you’ll never have to worry about missing a payment.
Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller at Bamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KPMueller. Find Bamboozled on Facebook. Mueller is also the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com.Stay informed and sign up for NJMoneyHelp.com’s weekly e-newsletter.