I've got my eye on you, WaMu

By Sarah Winfrey. Last updated 10 June 2007. 15 comments

Going Crazy

What happens when you try to transfer funds to or from any account having to do with WaMu? Nothing good, apparently (thanks to Consumerist for that link). For all their talk about customer service, WaMu hasn't done too well for my husband and I over the last month.

There's a long back-story, but I'll try to keep it short. Before we were married, he had a checking account with WaMu and a credit card elsewhere. Said credit card had muy high interest rates, so we were going to pay it off last summer. Then, he found out that he could transfer a balance to a WaMu credit card with 0% interest for 1 year. That sounded like a good deal, so he did it, mostly because it allowed us to put our liquid assets toward our wedding and pay off the balance once we were married. It wasn't a matter of not having the money, but of it being a lot easier to deal with once we knew what our budget looked like.

Fast forward to the beginning of February. We chose to make my checking account our joint one, because I'm with a credit union that I like. We got him added and my name changed, and wanted to close his old account. We kept just enough money in there to pay off the credit card, since intuition said that it would be easier to just transfer the money between WaMu accounts than take it out, deposit it in the new account, write a check for the WaMu card, and wait for it to post.

So, about two weeks before the February payment was due, husband-o-mine called WaMu and scheduled the funds transfer. He set it up for a couple of days before the due date, and that was that. Or so we thought.

When WaMu tried to take the money out of his checking account, they couldn't find it. That's right...couldn't find his checking account. So they sent him some form email saying that it didn't go through. Fab husband, not being a rabid internet-monger like I am, checks his email once a day if we're lucky. In this case, it was several days, and by the time he got the email, the payment was late.

He called WaMu's credit card number and set up the payment to go through again. They didn't know what happened, as they could find his account just fine (and there was much relief at that). Then, he asked for a refund for the late fee, being that the mistake was theirs. They hassled him. He got upset. Finally, they agreed to refund the late fee, but gave him a lecture about making payments on time (in spite of the fact that they acknowledged that he'd tried). In addition, they wanted him to call back for the official fee-waiving after the payment he'd just arranged went through, so he didn't end up with a positive balance on his card (heaven forbid!).

The second payment was supposed to go through about a week after the phone call. Instead, he got another email saying the payment couldn't be made. This time, his checking account showed that the money had been withdrawn and then re-deposited into his account, even though they were saying they couldn't find it. In addition, he was charged a "Cancelled check fee," implying that he had stopped the payment.

What type of credit card are you interested in?
How much do you spend per month?
Do you carry a balance?

He called the credit card people, rather put out. They claimed a computer problem and told him to go to the bank or call back in three days. They also said they couldn't take a payment over the phone. He went to the bank. They were more helpful, but didn't want to issue another payment because the funds weren't showing up at all on their computers. That's right...over $2000 had totally disappeared. And they weren't worried. They told him to come back the next day, or whenever the funds posted again. However, they did refund the cancelled check fee, but only he challenged them to tell them which check, precisely, had been cancelled.

We went to bed frustrated, but feeling like maybe this would be over by the next day. However, before he could do anything the next morning, his phone rang. It was the credit card people, demanding a payment. OVER THE PHONE. Yes, that would be the same phone they had previously denied being able to take payments over. They kept telling him that he was late, that the fees were waived in good faith, etc., and so he needed to pay. I think that was where his infinite patience finally gave out. He got so angry with them that they put a supervisor on, who tried to say the same things again. Eventually, they let him go with a "warning" (to what, be sure to not try to pay off the account ever again?)

Finally, he went back to the bank. They made the payment for him. It posted to his checking account. It still hasn't posted to his credit account, but he called today and they told him that it was in their system but may not post for up to seven days, but would then be pre-dated to the day he made the payment. Whatever.

Lessons learned:

  • Credit card companies don't want you to pay off your balance. They make money when you don't, and don't when you do. This doesn't mean they did any of this intentionally, but they certainly didn't go out of their way to help.
  • What seems like ought to be easier (transferring the funds directly instead of depositing them in our joint account and writing a check) isn't always. Banks are like the rest of us--sometimes they do better with actual, physical pieces of paper.
  • Just because a credit card has a bank's name across it does not mean that their computer system is linked with the bank's in any way, and that paying through that bank will be any easier than paying some other way. It also does not mean that they coordinate with the bank in communication with you.
  • Vigilance is key! If you make a payment, watch to ensure it goes through. If it doesn't, call immediately. If necessary, pay the old fashioned way (with a check or a money order).
  • Financial institutions (like banks and credit card companies) don't trust the customer. If you're right, you have to prove it. Keep all your emails, letters, etc., particularly when you're trying to work out an issue. Without them, you're up a creek.
  • Don't bank with WaMu until they get it together. Seriously, these sorts of errors are simply unacceptable in banking today. Their automated transactions need to work. If they don't, there's not much point in banking there, particularly when there are alternatives that work.

Beyond that, well, just this: I've got my eye on you, WaMu!

Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.

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Andrea Karim's picture

I had a different kind of misery with WaMu, in which they told me (incorrectly) that I was signing up for a free checking account and that I didn't need to deposit money into the adjoining savings account if I didn't want to, seeing as how I had other savings accounts at other institutions. I just needed to have the savings account open in order to have the checking account, so we put something like 5 cents in it. I even asked twice if savings was free like checking and was told that it was.

Imagine my surprise to be overdrawn on my savings account a month later. When they started collecting on the fees for my NON FREE SAVINGS ACCOUNT.

I closed the account, and pitched a fit right in the middle of my branch office, and they actually saved all the fees and gave me my money. But I'm not sure where they ever got the idea that customer service was a strong point of theirs.

Sarah Winfrey's picture

Seriously (I say that way too much!).  Every time Dave got upset, they fixed the problem.  But when he called to ask nicely, they politely denied his requests.  That probably doesn't encourage customers to behave the way WaMu would like them to...

Guest's picture

Since this is all anecdotal evidence I thought I'd add mine. WaMu is by far the best bank I have ever used. I recommend it to anyone who asks. The only thing I have ever had a problem with is that they tried to charge me for a money order if I had them withdraw it instead of handing them the cash. Less than a month later I received a notice that they are eliminating that fee entirely (for everyone). Just like every company, competence varies. It should go without saying that you need to read all the documents you get when you sign up for anything, anywhere.

Guest's picture

I had roughly the same scenario talked about in this thread with a credit card that I have now canceled. They also credited the wrong account with a payment. This account had zero balance. Instead of being intelligent enough to figure out that they credited the wrong account....they started collection calls without even looking in their system. They had a positive balance on one account and collection on another....duh. Maybe it's because they put both account numbers on the same bill which is absolutely the best way to prevent mistakes....yeah right.

They paid no attention to any prior history on any account or even reviewed their own records. I got so upset with the calls I wouldn't even talk to them. I'd have everything cleared up and they would call back. I told them read all the email and support traffic on the issue before you call me. It took them three calls before their people could even find all the data to answer my questions. This data is all within their own system!!!!

I've had problems with every account at washington mutual. I've moved to Wells Fargo and I've been happy ever since. At least when I call their support they can actually find the data. Washington Mutual is fine. Fine until you have a problem. Their collection calls happen immediately when the problem is their fault and it is hard to get the issue resolved. I will never have any interaction with them again in any way shape or form. They've so upset me that I was actually looking for a place to vent.

Guest's picture

Oh and I forgot to mention....you can only contact them via their online support system which they control. When they have a problem with your account they lock it down and you can't even see their support reply. That was classic. Sending emails to the wamu help email got bounced back as undeliverable.

I personally don't want to talk to them on the phone at all. Send me an email or a letter so I have a paper trail to show their idiocy. Phone conversations may be recorded but that is for their benefit...not yours. You don't have access to those phone records if there is a major issue. I would strongly suggest you force them to document in email so that you can make them refer to the paper trail on future calls. You will get future calls because they are really clueless. Even when one department says an issue is resolved you will get calls from another because their systems are not linked together.

Andrea Karim's picture

Seriously, who has the time to read the fine print? I'm sure that's very much a part of the process of being financially responsible, but I don't think that I could possibly manage to get through the legalese that accompanies every account I open. In my case, I was trusting that the rep who was opening my account was being honest with me, especially given that I asked for reassurance. That was too much to ask.

But it's different for everyone. Many people hate BofA, but they've always been great to me.

Guest's picture

Dear Andrea,

You don't have to read the fine print. In my experience, just calling and asking the right questions, listening carefully, and clarifying any words or statements that you dont understand is the key.

Here's the fastest way to do it: When your paper work for the card arrives call customer service and ask them to break down the terms and conditions of your accuont.

Ask them what your A.P.R. is, and how it's calculated ('LIBOR' or 'Prime'}. Ask how many points above LIBOR or Prime your account is. Ask is there a grace period for payment and what do they concider the 'default rate'.

Those questions should save you a lot of time and headache.


PS, BOA is the worst bank I've ever dealt with.

Guest's picture

I've been a customer of WAMU for years and never had a problem. I've transfered payments between accounts, moved money around and never had a problem. I'm surprised yours was such a hassle. But things like this happen on occasion at any bank. If you hadn't closed the account yet, how could they not find it? After the first missed payment why didn't you just send a check? I'm really curious...not being rude.

I think one of your key points is that the credit card is not necessarily linked to your bank account. It's serviced by either Visa or now days - Mastercard.

It probably would have been far simpler to take the money out, send a check for the balance of the credit card, and call it a day. I guess we can all learn from the unfortunate problem your family had.

Sarah Winfrey's picture

Andrea: Totally...I don't think I have the money to keep a lawyer on retainer to explain the fine print to me, either

Tim: To your question, "if you hadn't closed the account yet, how could they not find it?", well, that was part of my point.  There's no reason they shouldn't have been able to find it.

    To your question, "Why didn't you just send a check?" I forgot to mention that we don't have a checkbook for this account, as that was stolen from my husband's car during a recent break-in.  Not WaMu's fault, but not mine, either.  Besides, in the electronic age, electronic transfers ought to work. 

Lynn Truong's picture

my bf just recently had major issues w/getting his bills paid through WAMU bill pay. he scheduled a few payments, they didn't go through, and he was never contacted. no email, no letter in the mail. he found out when he got the overdue notice for the places he thought he paid. not very cool, since one of these bills was his mortgage. i know he was on the phone w/wamu several times before it was finally resolved.

Guest's picture
Incredibly Frustrated with WaMu

I have been trying to cancel my PMI with Wamu for over a YEAR. You read that right, a YEAR!!! The incredibly incompetent people that work at Wamu can't quite figure out their process. It's too long of a story to write but the long and short of it is this:
They tell me I don't need an appraisal, I just need to have my mortgage at under 80%. Then, they change their mind because of the state I live in and say that I do infact need an appraisal. But, no one really knows for sure. They have to ask the PMI department, which doesn't have telephones. You can only email them and they can only send out letters. I wonder if they have their employees chained to the desks too. No one knows the answers because no one really knows anything. They just want to keep my extra $45 each month.
They think that I need to use their appraisers to appraise my house. However, when I found a state statute that confirms that I don't need to use their appraiers, but instead can find my own as long as he is certified, they decide that yes, that must be correct. When I call to confirm that information the evening before the appraiser is coming out, they say, no we think that you do need to use our appraisers. But, then the question again is raised if I need an appraisal or not!

When I tell them that I'm sorry I really don't trust you, I need a second opinion (because I get different information every time I call) they get upset! Huh?! So, right now, the story isn't over. I'm now waiting for their "Executive Response Team", who is the highest level of the company, to get an email back from the PMI department telling me the exact information. Well... it takes 1 to 2 business days to get an urgent request for information back. Can you imagine? Don't we live in the techology age where business only survives if it moves at the speed of technology? I can only hope that Wamu's days are limited. They have incredibly aweful customer service, unfair business practices, and processes that even their employees can't explain.

My advice - if Wamu has the lowest rates available - RUN!RUN!RUN! Don't use them as your mortgage company they are terrible!!!!

I can't wait to see what the commissioner has to say!!

Guest's picture

I havent had any problem yet with Wamu. Although, they do have a long processing period when transfering funds. However, that process is all explained to the customer via website and paperwork. All these horror stories I keep reading about on the net with Wamu has got me worried! I will post if a later problem occurs.
Now if everyone would pay their bills ON TIME,(reguardless of your personal issues, its your responsibility to be ON TIME), READ EVERY bit of information about the banking policies, and keep an eye on your account activities, then their shouldnt be any problem whatsoever!

Guest's picture

I can't speak about their banking, but Wamu credit cards are not good to mess up with. I have one for the 1% back, but really you don't want to ever be late on them or they will jack your rate up to 30% or so (I know this from experience!).

I was also amused one time several years back when I called to request an interest rate reduction. The CS rep informed me that "WAMU no longer takes consumer requests for interest rate reductions!"

In spite of that, I keep the account because of the cash back (it's what I use for my everyday purchases) and because the credit limit puts my overall debt-to-credit ratio in a good range.

In general, the best way to avoid all of these problems is to not :walk close to the edge". That means never being in a situation where you schedule a payment just two or three days before it is due.

1) Pay your important bills WAY ahead of time. I prefer to make automated electronic payments just after the *statement cycle end date*, as opposed to close to the due date. That gives me a good 20 days of leeway to fix any problems that crop up. Funny though, once I started doing this, problems stopped cropping up.

2) set up your checking account to pay your credit cards automatically two days after the statement cycle end date. That way you have plenty time to fix an mishaps. I have fixed rate balance transfers on two credit card accounts at low rates, and it would just *wallop* me if I were late on one because my interest charges would go sky high, and given this economy the chances for transferring to another account are very very chancy. So I avoid that situation by automatically paying a good 20 days or so before the due dates on these accounts.

3) check to make sure that your statement end dates don't change. Discover recently changed my billing cycle end date and I made sure to reset my auto payments to reflect that.

4) if you have a card that you use for your everyday (monthly) purchases, set up an automatic payment (again, timed two days after the billing cycle ends) for the largest minimum payment you could ever imagine having to make. For example, I never charge more than $1000 on my card in a month, so to be safe I send an auto payment of $50, which covers me up to $2500 worth of spending. The point here is that, even if I flake out for a month and forget to pay my bill, the worst I will have to pay is interest, I won't ever get a late payment charge because my autopay pays that $50 two days after every billing cycle end date.

4) set up a system of email alerts (I use Google Calendar) and send yourself reminders for important financial transaction dates.

Guest's picture
Mama Sage

Mama and Papa will NEVER do business with them again. Had a way too high limit card. Began paying it off in chunks. First a few hundred. They raised my interest. So I called. "Can't help you mame." Soooooo a few thousand. They significantly raised my interest! Wrote the check for the full amount and will not do business with them again! Seriously it went from 12.9% to 25.99% BECAUSE I WAS PAYING IT OFF??? I always paid on time and always more than the amount requested. Talked to another banker who told me they legally have the right to change their rate at any time for any reason they choose. Great. We are working hard to pay off all accounts everywhere and be debt free.

Guest's picture

I've only been a customer with WaMu for 5 months and have already had a problem with making an ATM deposit. I deposited 3 checks in one envelope, they sent me a letter saying that they only recieved 2 checks. Of course the missing one was $500 and the other 2 were less than $10. This was after receiving the normal letter from they telling me they got my deposist, but it was on hold for 5 days to clear. Fortunately the $500 check was one I had written to myself from another bank, so I called them to see if it had cleared, which it had. I went to my other bank and had them give me a copy of the check to prove to WaMu that they did process it. I went back to WaMu with proof in hand, figuring they would fix the problem. Instead they started a trace on it and was told that someone should call me next week when they find it. Then it could take another 5 days to credit it to my account. I was also told that I should make any deposits inside or in the night deposit drop instead of the ATM to avoid these issues. Like it was MY FAULT that they can't do their job right. I doesn't make any sense to me that if you have the proof in hand with THEIR STAMPED NUMBERS on it, that they can not fix your account right then. Now I have to wait another week and hope that my mortage payment doesn't hit first. WARNING, DON'T USE WAMU ATM FOR DEPOSITS.