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“Get out,” “opt out,” “bail out,” “freak out”: Chase, you have options, too.

This post concerns more on opt outs, and the lack thereof in Chase’s recent change in terms notice.  This notice was distributed to me in my statement insert received on or about the first of December 2008, and in effect as of January 1, 2009 — wish I had 18 months to comply, kind of like the time period that Chase told the FED it wanted to implement new Regulation Z rules (Chase and other credit card companies seem to always get what they want from regulators). 

For those who are brand new to this issue (or site), the basics of the notice included raising minimum payments from 2% to 5%, imposing a new $10/month “finance charge” (whether or not a balance is carried, at all): and its most sinister feature, the notice was conspicuously (and shamelessly, on the part of Chase spokespersons) devoid of an “opt out.” 

If an account holder can pay off a large balance on short notice as a lump sum payment to any bank then he or she can “get out,” but that’s not the same as an “opt out.”  Many people I’ve read about or communicated with otherwise by email, phone, or comment posts — if they are able to do so — are taking this “get out” approach in dealing with Chase, typically declaring: “I hate Chase,” “I’ll never, ever, do business with Chase, again!,” “Chase can go to hell,” or the like, in the process (see my “Rant-roll”).

An “opt out,” as previously described by Chase and others in the industry allows a customer to reject newly imposed terms by exercising the option (hence, “opt”) to voluntarily close an account and continue to pay under the old terms (at the old rate, and so forth), until the balance is paid off.

I have already cited the specific statements reassuring lawmakers that Chase was “fair” in its treatment of customers delivered before Congress by Carter Franke, who provided testimony (U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, January 25, 2007) in his capacity as Chase’s Chief Marketing Officer.  In that testimony, he used opt outs as an example to illustrate the way that Chase supposedly worked with account holders and (supposedly) treated customers fairly.   

I have noticed and commented on the similarities that can be observed in various (professionally crafted) statements delivered by Chase executives and media spokespersons.  You can be assured that they know exactly what they are doing, well ahead of time.  I have also found a similar passage, reassuring lawmakers about fairness and opt outs, relative to what was delivered by Carter Franke, in the testimony that was provided by the former CEO of Chase Card Services, Richard Srednicki.  This latter statement by Mr. Srednicki was delivered before the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations on March 7, 2007.  Excerpted from that statement, I found the following passage:

“…we let them know they have options. They can discuss the matter with us and, if they wish, they can opt out and close an account and pay off the balance at the old interest rate over time.

We do want to help customers, and we treat them as individuals.”

I’m sorry, but as a said in my letter to the current CEO of Chase Card Services, Gordon Smith (and I continue to stand by that letter as it is substantiated by the facts and documents that I have in my possession): “Chase certainly lied to me: ‘3.99% fixed’ is not the same as 3.99% plus $10.00 per month (whether or not the consumer carries a balance).”

I certainly wish that I could easily and affordably simply “get out” as some others are able to do and are doing.  I also realize that some readers here (probably those who are insensitive to the plight of individuals who, like me, took on debts, but did so expecting that they would pay in good faith, and not be mistreated by banks that are clearly acting in bad faith), might think to themselves, “What’s the big deal over $10/month?”  I’ll answer: for me, $10 is not that big of a deal from a financial point of view; rather, it’s the very frightening precedent that matters. 

The lack of an “opt out” certainly should have every cardholder, regardless of brand, on high alert

If Chase is not stopped, then it truly will set a precedent before the eyes of other banks, demonstrating that from here on, credit card companies shall serve as lord and master, chief tormentor and overseer in all of our lives.  I’ll bet MBNA’s only regret (it has since been bought out by Bank of America), is that it did not come up with this new idea about how to manipulate and bully customers, first.

Equally frustrating, is the fact that banks are simultaneously enjoying a FED funds rate that is so low, money is almost free to them, and our bail out money (Chase got $25 billion); yet, Chase wants to eliminate opt outs (demonstrating its “true colors” in a time of national distress: fairness is being thrown out the window at the same time). 

I want Chase to know that it has options, too.  It can leave my account the way it promised, and it can issue a press release retracting the change in terms notice under discussion here in its entirety (I won’t ask for an apology — if it acts quickly — because that seems to make lawyers “freak out”).  Alternatively, Chase can provide an opt out for all customers on this present and any future change in terms notices it may issue (like its executives stated in testimony that it would do).  Either way, I do want to see it in a press release before the public at large (apparently it’s not a problem making misleading statements in Congressional hearings). 

When I see the press release (disseminated), I will quit writing posts, rising in page rank in search engines, and doing all that I can to demarket the Chase credit card brand (as its issuer is employing deceptive marketing practices).  This increasing visibility can be atributed to the support of site visitors (thank you!) — spread the word to credit card companies in general and Chase in particular: