Bamboozled: Banking on a solution, at last

When financial services companies merge, customers have to roll with it: new formats for bills, new account numbers, new mailBB branding and electronic payment addresses.

For most customers, these account changes are made without error.

Not so much for Carly Chuako, 23.

The Hopatcong woman had two loans with Wachovia. When Wells Fargo bought the bank, two of her loans — a student loan and a private loan — fell victim to some kind of electronic paperwork mix-up. Even though Chuako had proof of payment, the bank kept telling her she was delinquent.

“I have been trying unsuccessfully for seven months to straighten this out,’’ Chuako said. “This is affecting both my credit score along with my mother’s, who is a co-signer on the loans.’’

The merger of Wells Fargo and Wachovia was finalized at the end of 2008, but there were no immediate changes to how Chuako was instructed to make payments. She kept doing what she always did: make a combined monthly payment for the two loans, and the bank would apply $218.28 to the private loan and $114.66 to the student loan.

Somewhere along the line, Wells outsourced the collection of Chuako’s loan payments to Affiliated Computer Services (ACS).

(Readers, you’ve seen ACS in this space half a dozen times. It’s the firm that among other things, manages the EPPICard for New Jersey, and Bamboozled helped many customers whose fraud complaints went unresolved by ACS until we got involved.)

2711So ACS was handling the Wells Fargo loans, applying Chuako’s one monthly check to her two loans.

Chuako had no idea something was amiss until August, when a collections company called, saying she was delinquent on one of her loans. The July and August payments on the private loan were never made, she was told.

She had receipts for the payments, so she knew it must be a mistake. Chuako called ACS that day.

“They claimed they no longer had access to that account and I had to deal with Wells Fargo,’’ she said. “When I called Wells Fargo that same day, they informed me that since ACS had not transferred any of the loan information over to them yet they could not talk to me about it because they had nothing to look up in their system.’’

Wells Fargo had apparently retaken the collection of payments on the private loan, while ACS would continue to manage the student loan. No one notified Chuako of the change, or that her payments should be made differently, she said.

“Without telling me they stopped splitting my payments between both loans,’’ Chuako said.

Chuako said she called ACS again and spoke to a supervisor, who was able to access her account information. That’s when they discovered her entire payment had been applied to the student loan, rather than split between the student and private loans.

“They told me they would go back and adjust the payment for both my July and August payment to be split according to the different accounts,’’ Chuako said.

Problem solved. Or so Chuako thought.

Promises, but no fix 

ACS said it would wire the missing payments for the private loan to Wells Fargo, Chuako said. It didn’t work out that way.

The Aug. 20 wire transfer failed, and what followed was a series of calls among Chuako, ACS and Wells Fargo, including some conference calls. Time after time Chuako was told it would be taken care of. Not so.

Another transfer was made on Sept. 29. This one did go through and it was credited for the missing August payment.

July was still a mystery.

ACS tried another transfer on Oct. 15, but Wells again said it didn’t go through.

Chuako’s loan statements, meanwhile, continued to say she was delinquent.

“Every time I make what I consider to be my current month’s payment, Wells Fargo applies it to the previous month because they still have not received the July 2010 payment, which always makes me one month in arrears,’’ Chuako said.

The delinquency was reported to the credit bureaus. Chuako said in December, she went to Best Buy to purchase a new computer and she applied for a store credit card. She was turned down—something that’s never happened before, she said.

Through the fall and into the new year, Chuako said, she would call reps from either ACS or Wells Fargo or both several times a week, but no one seemed able, or willing, to track down the missing July payment.

Yet the collections calls got through just fine.

“The longer this goes on the more angry I have gotten at Wells Fargo,’’ she said. “Wells Fargo’s representatives on numerous occasions have heard ACS admit that I have made all my payments to them and that ACS applied the money incorrectly, which started this whole fiasco.’’

Finally fixed

After reviewing Chuako’s proof of payment, Bamboozled reached out to Wells Fargo and ACS in late January.

Neither was willing to discuss the case, but they said they’d look into it.

Within a couple of days, Chuako said she received a telephone call from Wells Fargo. For a change, it wasn’t the collections department.

“They told me I was no longer past due. They didn’t explain much, and when I asked if the July payment had been received, they would only say my account was now current,’’ Chuako said.

The rep also promised the negative stain would be removed from Chuako’s credit report, but it could take up to 30 days.

Chuako said she’s relieved that her account was made right and that her credit report will be corrected, but she’s still angry and frustrated.

“I’ve been trying to fix this for seven months. Stuff happens and mistakes are made, and I have no problem with that,’’ she said. “But obviously when a consumer says something it doesn’t mean much, not until you send someone after them.’’

Chuako said she’ll check her credit reports when the 30 days are over, and she’ll let us know if she’s finally in the clear.