Cell phones - Outstanding bill collection procedure?
June 10, 2005 10:40 AM   Subscribe

Does anyone know if there is a rule, strategy, or timeline that phone companies follow in pursuing outstanding bills from customers? Normally I could care less about such things, but recent dealings with my provider (Cingular) leave me rather puzzled..

On about 3 separate occasions over the past couple years I've payed my cell phone bill 2+ months late (long story short- I have 2 lines, and rather than try to collect money from my friend every month, it's easier for me to take care of it every other month, and the phone company doesn't seem to mind much). In each case of long overdue payment, I had not yet received warnings or shut-off notices before getting around to sending instant internet payments. But strangely, also in each case, I did receive either a phone call, or written warning/reminder within 24 hrs after sending payment (for the written notices, they were post-marked w/in 24 hrs of payment).

When they called to remind, they claimed to not know about my payment until after checking their records while I waited (not sure why they would not check before calling).. But after the 3rd time (today, I received something in the mail), the timing seems like too strange to be a coincidence. So it seems they are consistently sending payment reminders just after I've already payed them.

This doesn't make much sense to me. Are they trying to scare me into paying on time the next month? Or trying to make me think they are paying closer attention to my bill than they actually are? Has anyone else experienced this before? Do I have too much time to think about trivial things?
posted by p3t3 to Society & Culture (10 answers total)
It sounds like you're paying roughly every 60 days (i.e. 30 days late every time). Might they just be sending them when you're 30 days overdue?
posted by willpie at 12:12 PM on June 10, 2005

Yes, but it just strikes me as very odd because I'm not making my payments on a strict schedule at all. It just happens to be the day that I remember to pay an outstanding bill- a few hours after paying I would get a phone call from Cingular reminding me to pay my bill. To which I reply- "funny you should mention, I just payed you"..

I guess they have a policy to contact me after X days overdue. But there is probably a window of at least 2 weeks or so, and of the 3 times that I paid late, this happened every time. On the same exact day, or the next day- they contact me.?..

I'm not really sure how mefi's could really answer unless you happen to work for Cingular, it is just perplexing my otherwise bored mind at the moment.
posted by p3t3 at 12:37 PM on June 10, 2005

I do a lot of programming work for the Accounts Receivable (aka Credit and Collections) department of a pretty large utilities company operating across North America. Stuff that we do includes:

* Call to remind folks that they're overdue before they get two months over (they've already had a late payment charge by that point). The response we get from the folks we call affects when we call them again (and we do).

* Use credit scores to find current risk of current and overdue customers, attempt to calculate how likely delinquency is based on this.

* Send people to collections agencies when they're six months overdue. We've discontinued service long before this though.

* Write off bad debt one year after sending to collections. If we haven't had a payoff by then, we probably never will.

It sounds to me like they are doing the "don't let customer get two months overdue" call / letter, because your liklihood of permanent delinquency increasely massively if you've gone two months without paying.

Also, it's nothing personal. The processes that trigger phone calls and letters are usually automated (as is the calling system itself), so the person who "calls you" has no idea who you are until they are told who they're speaking to by their system, and they probably don't bother to actually check your account unless you claim you've paid. Why spend the time to check each account when, say, 95% of accounts haven't paid, and you have thousands of customers to call?

As far as the company is concerned, your late payment is a risk to their bottom line. I'm sure that Cingular has a "risk" in the tens (maybe hundreds) of millions of dollars.
posted by lowlife at 1:11 PM on June 10, 2005

So apparently i just have a very precise biological alarm clock to go along with my innate procrastination. How convenient :) And thanks for the added insight.
posted by p3t3 at 1:23 PM on June 10, 2005

This happened to me once. I must have paid just after the trigger to send me a notice.

I received a bill in the mail asking that I pay them the $0.00 that was currently outstanding on my account.

I put the notice up on my fridge.
posted by ODiV at 2:43 PM on June 10, 2005

They are probably calling you because you have a history of paying late. They pay almost nothing to make those phone calls, but it can convince some people to get them money faster. Google "float" to learn more about this, and rebates, and a lot about large companies in general.

Get a credit card, and have the charges billed to that account. Have all of your monthly charges billed to that account. Not only will it help build your credit, but if you pay it off every month, you don't lose a penny. And you only have to remember to make one payment. I've heard that you should pay all but $1 every month, and it will help your credit more.

On the credit score thing - you are killing your credit right now. Make all of your payments early or on time. If you can't, find a way to make it happen. You'll thank yourself in a couple of years when you see your FICO score.

Or get a good credit union with online bill paying. You can automate everything these days. I don't even think I have any checks left in my checkbook. I don't need them.
posted by bh at 4:40 PM on June 10, 2005

Actually, I have a pretty long credit history, and last time I checked a few years ago my credit was at about 660-680 which is decent, no?

I was under the impression that phone bills (unlike CC bills and other utilies) don't usually negatively affect your credit rating until they stop your service (after 3 months of no payment or thereabout); or until they threaten to and get an unsatisfactory reason for the non-payment. But I don't really know where I came up with that idea to be honest, and there's not any terribly good reason to not pay on time, so your advice is well taken, and I'll look into my credit rating again.
posted by p3t3 at 6:25 PM on June 10, 2005

If you are 30, 60, or 90 days late, it is noted, and factored into your score. Every major company reports them, including phone companies.

There is a chance that since you always pay, they don't report you. It varies by company. Citibank and Capital One are notorious for reporting everything. I've not had any personal experience with your phone company, so I couldn't say.

660-680 is very decent. You could be much higher if you had no late payments. Pull a three in one credit report for more information.

If you want a *very* high credit score, there are companies that will make those late payments disappear.
posted by bh at 6:58 PM on June 10, 2005

If you want advice from a 784 credit score (at age 26 with no "real" job, even), I would suggest you phone the phone company and ask them to change your billing to bi-monthly. With any luck they're flexible enough for that and then you won't have any black marks on your credit record.

Payments more than 30 days late can be noted on your credit record easily, if the company chooses to. I know on my "full" report, all the "30 days late" payment boxes on my revolving accounts were all marked "OK". I had, however, missed perhaps one or two payments in the past 10 years. I've never, ever had a company call asking about payments (although I've had them call asking if my card is being used fraudulently -- no, it wasn't).

I think they save the phone calls for people that are worrying the company as to whether they'll pay or not. That means if you're getting calls you're getting red marks on your credit report. Look it up.

Do what you can to get these people their money on time. Your effort will be rewarded with the ability to mortgage a home on your word alone.
posted by shepd at 9:41 AM on June 11, 2005

posted by grouse at 11:39 PM on June 11, 2005

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