I hate AT&T.
November 22, 2011 7:11 PM   Subscribe

Did I just mess up my credit? And if so is there anyway to fix it?

I had a year contract for Internet through AT&T. I wanted to cancel it as soon as it expired and was told a date in early September to call. When I called and was told I had to pay the next month because I hadn't called early enough. I grumbled a bit to the customer service person that I had called when I was told to previously. She was very nice and said she would zero out my bill for that month and that I owed nothing. It was cancelled all was good.

Fast forward to mid October and I get a bill from AT&T saying you haven't paid us our $40. I call and they tell me nothing was zeroed out. They have no idea what I'm talking about I owe them $40. I'm annoyed, but say fine, but this better be the end of it. They say it is and that they will redo everything and send me a final bill for the prorated amount. Ok fine.

I get back from being away for about ten days and there is a bill from a collections agency for $40. It says they are collecting for AT&T. I don't think much about the fact it's from a collections agency and just think oh this is AT&T contractor or whatever and I write the check and drop it in the mail this morning.

Then it hits me. They sent it to a god damn collections agency even though I've tried to settle this bill twice. And it wasn't even for the pro rated amount I owe. I'm trying to get a mortgage in the next six months. I can't afford a blemish on my credit report. How bad is this? And what should I do?
posted by whoaali to Work & Money (15 answers total)
You didn't mess up your credit. You paid your bill. More than you should of just so that you wouldn't mess up your credit or have to deal with endless bullshit. That being said, you may have to deal with getting the report taken off your record if it shows up in a month or two. I would save a copy of the canceled check, print it out and mail it to collection agency and tell them it was paid and to stop dunning you and not lose any sleep over it.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:20 PM on November 22, 2011

Sounds like this is something you need to be back in touch with AT&T again to clear up the miscommunication and call off the collection agency. You can always tell them to stop harassing you, but they need official word from AT&T to erase their records.

When you try calling back just remember to keep calm and remain polite no matter what. Explain your situation very carefully - how you paid, records we not accounted for, etc. Make sure you ask to speak with supervisors and managers because this issue hasn't been cleared up after multiple attempts.

I'd imagine there would be no blemish what-so-ever on your credit report after. When you are applying for your mortgage make sure to explain the glitch in detail. Get some type of document or verification stating the mistake.
posted by melizabeth at 7:21 PM on November 22, 2011

Best answer: I went through something like this, it started a few decades ago, over $20 owed a phone company for settling a bill before I moved. The big difference: I never got the final adjusted-again prorated bill at the new address, and so that $20 "unpaid" (even though it was) bill ended up keeping my credit score below 620 for over a decade, because the phone company (since sold to another phone company) couldn't find a record of the charge, but every time I disputed it, someone at the phone company verified the money was owed. I was finally able to clear it up by calling the phone company and dialing random extensions, talking to everyone I could, until I got to a guy in the IT department who said the account would be on archived DB data, and he was kind enough to dig it up and fax me a copy. Once I had the fax, I was able to convince the phone company to take my $20 and settle the issue once and for all -- after which my credit score began to climb (it was the only blemish), and I'm in the high 700s/low 800s now.

Through the entire ordeal, I thought over and over, "this is only $20, I can't believe I have to go through all of this for $20, I would have been happy to pay it twice in order to get it settled."

So, it looks like you've had what I wished for. Since this will (or at least should) keep this from going to your credit report, you should be fine. But! Here's what I would suggest:

1: Contact AT&T again, explain that you've paid the final pro-rated bill AND a bill from a collection agency for the same amount, but you will be happy to walk away and never look back if they will fax you confirmation that you owe them no money.

2: A month or two from now, request your credit reports, and if this shows up as a problem, dispute it. Send a copy of the fax from AT&T with your dispute, if you can.

3: Repeat this process every month or two, until you're sure this blemish is removed.

Oh, and keep that fax for your mortgage application, so you can show them that it was paid and closed, just in case it shows up when you're trying to get the mortgage. Good luck.
posted by davejay at 7:22 PM on November 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: AT&T has the most poorly trained staff in the world. I have never contacted them and had things go correctly the first time. ALWAYS get the name of the person you are talking to, ask repeatedly, repeatedly, repeatedly if they are making a note in your file and note the time and date of the call. They will still screw it up.

Call AT&T back, ask for a supervisor and explain the error again and tell them to contact the collection agency. WRITE the collection and say that the bill is in error and that you don't owe the money - don't bog them down with the details.

Check your credit report and if the collection appears there, dispute it. If it doesn't appear, check again in 60 days.
posted by shoesietart at 7:23 PM on November 22, 2011

Response by poster: I should clarify I haven't paid a pro rated bill because I never received a pro rated bill. All I've received is this bill from the collections agency for $40 and it went in the mail today.
posted by whoaali at 7:28 PM on November 22, 2011

Response by poster: I was told I would be sent a pro rated bill about two weeks ago and instead I received the bill for $40 from the collections agency.
posted by whoaali at 7:32 PM on November 22, 2011

Then follow up with them every week until they either tell you there's no pro-rated bill coming, or the bill shows up...and keep checking your credit reports.
posted by davejay at 8:13 PM on November 22, 2011

Best answer: Oh boy, I feel your pain. Normally these types of bills end up going to a collection agency. And normally the ones that work with telephone service providers won't ding you for $40 permanently on your credit report (I forget the amount where they can make it more permanent). But that being said, the collection account will show up like a giant white dialectric substance of aviaran origin on your report until things are settled. As soon as you see the record, file a dispute with the 3 major credit agencies just to buy some extra breathing room in case you're trying to do other things in life that the more fortunate folks who aren't assumed to be and treated like being deadbeat customers....you know, things like getting approved for a loan so you can live the dream...what was that country again this dream happens in?

Anyway, I really empathize here, and have been through it with Verizon (which in my opinion is the final boss in the life sucking game of "canceling phone service: hell edition"). The amount of hours spent on the phone being tossed from one person to the next like a dirt covered hacky sack will wear on your psyche. Get everything journaled and the details ready for submittal to the BBB and Consumerist if necessary. Hold on to EVERY bill and statement you get from AT&T, even if it's a year from now.

For now, you're going to have to go back to AT&T to get someone to help you to clear this up. Write down the names and times of every person you interact with, and be ready to explain the entire history of conversations you've had to the next person you get, and what you were told or assured...whether you're transferred from Billing to Financial or from Financial to Billing. Eventually, like removing the final ring from one of those novelty puzzles, you'll get to someone who can actually "help" correct the issue...or atleast sound helpful. Hold them to it (politely) as you know you've already been told it was taken care of several times before...but essentially your goal is to get someone in the financial wing of AT&T to vouche for you on a corrective request to the collection agency. Don't be surprised if the collection agency wants you to then jump through hoops to finalize the ordeal. (I seriously think this game is a ploy to just get the person accused to just give up and pay regardless...)

Again, my experience was with Verizon and it was a recurring problem every month for over a year (a mind bogglingly delete resistant $35 charge...every rep noticed the error and "zeroed" it out....my best guess is that their billing system was just a empowering distraction to keep them occupied while on the phone). We finally got the charge removed, and confirmed with the collection agency that the phone company requested the withdraw of the delinquent charge....we did also recieve a mysterious $70 check in the middle of the ordeal that no one at the company could account for, seriously...no record in any of their systems that it existed....we eventually cashed it as payment for the hours of our lives wasted on hold that we'll never get back....but nervously....not because we didn't feel deserving of it, but rather we feared that the transaction would somehow trigger some kind of financial system meltdown on Verizon's completely borked WOPR that would start billing random people millions of dollars a second. Anyway....best of luck to you!
posted by samsara at 8:40 PM on November 22, 2011

Best answer: I feel your pain. I was involved in something similar with Verizon Wireless, which is notoriously and surprisingly aggressive about these matters. It was as if they were on a moral crusade to ding you for "wronging" them... even though it was their mistake as far as I could see. It was the worst customer "service" hell I have experienced. Anyway...

The only goal for me was to get the blemish removed from the three credit bureaus. I imagine the same for you. In the end, the $40 or so didn't matter. What I found (YMMV) is that VZ (in my case) first dings your credit, then sends the matter to a collections agency. The agency, once paid off, is irrelevant.

What I needed to do was get VZ to send the credit bureaus a letter saying they withdraw their mark against me. What was difficult was finding someone at VZ billing department to:

(1) acknowledge that at minimum there was a chance that VZ had made a mistake (in my case, telling me I owed nothing, then referring a $40 "delinquent" bill to a collections bureau;

(2) agree to amend their own records;

(3) and generate a form letter to send to the bureaus requesting that they remove the negative mark.

When they generate the form letter, ensure that they send you a copy, as well. This will be the critical documentation you need, should the bureaus ever screw things up, or someone else at VZ decide to overturn that favorable decision.

The first challenge was getting to the billing department. Not sure if this will be an issue for you. I can't remember how I got through, but it took some experimenting.

I spoke to several people at VZ billing, all of whom curtly declined to correct what they deemed not to be a mistake on VZ's part. I persisted and called repeatedly hoping that at some point, I will get to speak to someone either with empathy or see things my way. It took many, many tries, and many wasted hours of my time... but eventually I got to that one person by calling the same billing department phone number.
posted by ccl6yl at 11:04 PM on November 22, 2011

It probably didn't hit your credit reports, but the only way to be sure is to pull them and check.

If it is on there, then you need to start the dispute process hard and fast. It sounds like there are all sorts of discrepancies you could dispute on.
posted by mad bomber what bombs at midnight at 10:11 AM on November 23, 2011

Response by poster: So I called AT&T today and after being transferred to six, yes six!, different people I got the following information.

1) there system shows I owe NO money.
2) after 2 months and 2 calls they still hadn't disconnected my service
3) they are sending something to the collections agency saying it shouldn't be in collections
4) they are sending me a letter saying I'm in good standing and my account is not in collections anymore or something like that
5) supposedly since I responded in under 30 days to the first contact from the collections agency it shouldn't go on my credit report (not sure I believe this, but somewhat reassuring I'll following up)

I have to say AT&T is so infuriating that I'm going to report them to BBB or whatever appropriate body I can find. The people I spoke to we're all very nice, but their system is a clusterfuck of truly unbelievable proportions that I really do believe exists to cause confusion and overcharging. I've already paid $40 more than I should have. Not to mention at least 3 or 4 hours on the phone (thats going to be a nice cell bill...) and very possibly some other costs as I try to clean up this mess. But I'm feeling like this will be fixable if it isn't already fixed.

Thank you for everyone's advice it really helped me figure out what I specifically needed to ask for and how to follow up. It really was invaluable.
posted by whoaali at 2:34 PM on November 23, 2011

All said, that's the best possible result. If the collection agency did already report to the bureau, they should rescind that on AT&T's instructions, and if they don't the letter from AT&T will help in disputing it. And if none of that works, that letter will clear everything up with the mortgage broker. I used to take a similar letter whenever I needed to rent an apartment.
posted by mad bomber what bombs at midnight at 2:59 PM on November 23, 2011

Good to hear you made some progress...stuff like this really makes otherwise sane citizens really ponder how large corporations obtained the legal right to ruin the finacial integrity of many, yet escape the same consequences when they are at fault. I really mean this...the moment congress imposes hefty fines for improperly charging customers and causing mental duress, these shenanigans will stop in a heartbeat. But because companies like Verizon and AT&T can get away with what amounts to extortion with little consequence, they'll continue to do this as they are making profits over those that just give up and pay.

Anyway, avoiding another tangent...this stuff still grinds my gears even though its in the past. Don't for a second believe the last helpful person you spoke with resolved the issue....document document, and use the BBB and Consumerist as your outlet. If you also get to a point where you want to "release the hounds," head over to the AT&T discussion board in the Consumerist to get plenty of similar stories, and what was done that worked. One of my favorites for Verizon was a post that included direct contact information for every high level executive within the company....you might have luck googling "executive carpet bomb"...just make sure whatever letter/fax you send, it is kept polite and informative when referring to the overral dissatisfaction...mention an impending filing with the BBB and Consumerist if no response is recieved within 10 business days. It puts them in "damage control" mode more often than not.

The reality is, very few support reps you reach on the phone really care about your disposition. Sure few seem more helpful than others at times, but they all go home at the end of the day having answered x number of calls. The person you spoke with likely faked surprise, and got an identical call from another ex customer right after your call ended. Don't give up hope! The moment this stretches the law to the point you could take legal recourse and win, they'll back off. (at least this is how my once sane, yet now crazed mind rationalizes it...a year of tremendous disbelief the bills were still arriving after all those promising assurances could only lead me to this conclusion...I hope AT&T resolves this for you quicker!)
posted by samsara at 8:16 PM on November 23, 2011

"I have to say AT&T is so infuriating that I'm going to report them to BBB or whatever appropriate body I can find."

I'm so glad you want to do this.

Your profile says you're in DC, so here's a possibility:

Consumer Protection

"The Office of the Attorney General and the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs are aggressively pursuing businesses trying to make a quick buck at the expense of District residents. This is a central, easy-to-find location where residents and visitors of the District can get consumer protection information, file a complaint, provide anonymous tips or research businesses. We want to hear from you."

Good luck!
posted by kristi at 12:04 PM on November 24, 2011

Just a note, the Better Business Bureau is a subscription service that the business pays to be a member of. They are not a true consumer protection agency. By the way, have you ever contacted the BBB before doing business with a company? Me neither.

(And they have a ridiculous script when they call you - "We've already had several calls inquiring about the rating of your business, and we can't believe that you aren't already a member." Riiiight. I haven't even started advertising yet, so who the hell would have called?)
posted by vignettist at 3:41 PM on November 25, 2011

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