Never use AAA!
October 25, 2007 2:50 PM   Subscribe

Help me protect my credit report from corporate idiocy.

I have been a AAA member for roadside assistance for several years. This year, I moved before it was time for annual renewal. Despite setting up mail forwarding with the post office, their three letters reminding me to renew never made it to my new address. They do not call to remind you to renew, ever.
About a month after my membership lapsed, I called for a battery jump. They didn't tell me on the phone when I called for a tow truck that my account had lapsed and I assumed everything was fine (that service is free for members and exactly what I had it for). Now, two months later, I finally get a letter forwarded from my old address telling me I owe them $50 for the battery jump and I have one week to pay or it goes to a collections agency. I explain to them that I missed my renewal and their letters due to a move and it was their fault they didn't remind me on the phone at the time of the battery jump, or I would have renewed right then. They didn't tell me I would be billed for the jump on the phone, and of course I never saw a bill. I offered to renew on the phone with the collections person today in return for having the $50 charge erased, but no dice.

So, I really don't want to suck it up and pay them the $50 because it's their fault and they wouldn't accept a very reasonable compromise (I offered to pay late fees on the renewal, whatever), but what kind of impact will it have on my credit if I don't pay? Is there a really good reason other than annoying phone calls not to let this go to collections? Should I try going through someone else at AAA first? I've read the previous AskMes on this, and answers range from "suck it up and pay" to "dispute it with your [State Bureau of Consumer whatever]" to "just ignore the phone calls from collections agents." What's best in this case, for my credit score and my sanity? I've read that even if I pay now, it might still show up on my credit report, and then I'm screwed over twice! I've never been late with any other bill or rent, ever, so I have good credit now (I checked and nothing bad showed up as of today). I'm in CA.
posted by slow graffiti to Work & Money (22 answers total)
It's not "their fault". You didn't update your address with them. It's not up to them to keep track of where you are. Pay up.
posted by moosedogtoo at 3:00 PM on October 25, 2007

$50 for a service call isn't bad. It's your fault. You didn't have the coverage, the end. Pay up or have it on your credit report.
posted by 45moore45 at 3:07 PM on October 25, 2007

Not trying to come off callous or rude, but it's not really their responsibility to call and remind you that your bill is due.

On the other hand, they most definitely should have told you when you called them that your account had lapsed.

Chalk it up as a lesson learned.

As for the collections, pay it before the week deadline and your fine. Most of the time they give a little more time, as soon as they sell off that debt they are already collecting less.
posted by enobeet at 3:08 PM on October 25, 2007

$50 is cheap for a tow truck and pristine credit. Pay the bill.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 3:08 PM on October 25, 2007

$50 is cheap. Pay. Perhaps hedge your bets about how likely you are to need service again and don't renew this year.
posted by acoutu at 3:11 PM on October 25, 2007

Response by poster: Yes, yes, my bad for forgetting to tell them my new address. But isn't it borderline fraudulent to tell someone a service is free on the phone and then bill them for it later?
posted by slow graffiti at 3:15 PM on October 25, 2007

If you can find a lawyer to press this claim for less than $50, knock yourself out.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 3:21 PM on October 25, 2007

$50 is about what an annual membership to AAA costs, right? Are you sure the bill isn't for your membership renewal, which might just have been triggered by the service call?

If that's not the case, I'd call and see if you can negotiate something - tell them you'll pay for the jump, but if you do, you won't renew; or you'll pay for a renewal, effective retroactively, which would cover the jump; but you won't pay both. If they still want you to pay for the jump, do so, then get roadside assistance coverage somewhere else. (I have mine through my cell phone provider, which costs less than AAA, and will cover towing up to 10 miles, as opposed to 5 miles with AAA's basic plan.)

They do not call to remind you to renew, ever.

Lucky you. When I deliberately let mine lapse, they called me several times to try to get me to renew. (In fairness, it's probably a function of the state automobile association - IN vs. CA - as a "AAA membership" is technically a membership with the state association, IIRC.)

On preview: But isn't it borderline fraudulent to tell someone a service is free on the phone and then bill them for it later?

Did they explicitly tell you on the phone the jump would be free? Your original post only said they failed to tell you there would be a charge, which is different than an explicit statement that the jump would be free.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:23 PM on October 25, 2007

Yes, but that's not what happened. You called the member number, you misled AAA into thinking you were a member even though you weren't. Now isn't that fraudulent?

Answer: Neither side was trying to mislead the other. It was a miscommunication and unfortunately you're on the hook for it.
posted by dendrite at 3:25 PM on October 25, 2007

Sorry, but technically (and more important, legally) it's your fault. If you dig up your membership agreement you'll undoubtedly find a clause in there saying you're responsible for notifying them if you move, and they're not liable if you don't get their bills for whatever reason. They know they hold all the cards here, which is why they aren't willing to make a deal.

You COULD try to fight this, but you're very unlikely to have a good outcome. You'll have to spend countless hours educating yourself on credit laws, writing letters, and arguing with credit reporting agencies. But it'll all be futile because of the membership agreement you signed and you'll end up trashing your credit and probably paying a lot more than $50 in fees. Don't think about ignoring it either, a single missed payment that was mistakenly reported on my wife's credit dropped her FICO score by 100 points.

The good news is that it likely hasn't been reported yet. Usually the company will make threats, but they won't report anything themselves. Eventually they'll pass it to a collection agency who will contact you. The collection agency won't report it right away though, they'll give you 30 days to pay the original debt, plus a late fee. It's not until you've ignored that for 30 days that it'll go on your credit.

My advice is to suck it up and pay it while it's still a little problem. Get your free credit reports and make sure it's not been reported. Then call them up and tell them you agree to pay it if they agree not to report any negative information to the credit reporting agencies. If they agree, you follow through on paying, and they later report negative information you can potentially sue them in small claims court for $1000.
posted by TungstenChef at 3:28 PM on October 25, 2007

Response by poster: No no, there was no misleading on my part. When you're a member you have an account number that you have to give to the phone operator to get a service call. You couldn't have that number without being a paying member, plus you have to show a card. I gave them that number, and they thanked me for my membership and informed me there would be no charge for a jump. I don't know how their system didn't have me flagged as lapsed.

I did offer the compromise as suggested, they didn't take it.
posted by slow graffiti at 3:32 PM on October 25, 2007

Did you specifically ask if you would be charged for this on the call, or did you assume that there would be no charge because you thought that you were current? Are you positive that in the small print of the agreement that it doesn't say that you will be charged at set fees if you call for service while not covered?

For CAA, I pay I think $68 per year - that jump is almost the same cost for a year of coverage; I think that it's not too reasonable for them to waive an out of coverage fee to get you to sign up. I'm +1'ing that $50 to get a truck out to you is reasonable, and for the amount of hassle you can avoid you should really just pay it. In the same paragraph, I'll state that I think that they should have stated that you were non-current. However, especailly if they have print in the agreement that you pay set rates for service if you're noncurrent I can see why they didn't bother to tell you.
posted by nobeagle at 3:33 PM on October 25, 2007

slow graffiti: argh, your post wasn't in my preview. If that's the case, then I'd suggest calling and asking to hear a recording of your call. At the call center in our company, while management only listens to 5% of calls at best, every call is recorded and kept for at least a year as policy. Likely a manager will need to call back with the recording; and it might take a few days. But I would bet that the manager will listen to the recording first so that they don't go into this ignorant.

If your memory is correct, and it was explicitly stated as being free, the manager should happily waive the charge for a renewal of membership. If your memory is incorrect, then go back to the previous advice; pay up and be happy that you only had to deal with the collections department, and not a collections agency.
posted by nobeagle at 3:41 PM on October 25, 2007

You got a $50 service that you didn't (yet) pay for. What, exactly, is the problem? That they weren't prescient enough to divine your new address? That the truck dispatcher you spoke to didn't have complete access to your financial records? That s/he wouldn't be able to take your renewal anyway, because that's a completely different department? If you really consider this corporate idiocy, feel free to take your auto club membership elsewhere, but you owe them for the tow, because you, through your own fault, didn't have coverage.
posted by sageleaf at 4:07 PM on October 25, 2007

$50 isn't much, you should keep track of your membership and even if they had you believing you were still a member, you weren't. Why does everyone want something for nothing? (That's rhetorical.)

The only point you might ever have (and it's a tuny one) is that you wouldn't have gotten the jump if it weren't free. But you know you would have. So pay up.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 4:26 PM on October 25, 2007

AAA is being kind of weird here, I think. I was with a friend when he called AAA for service; his membership had lapsed, they told him so and took his credit card information over the phone to reinstate his membership (and of course sent the tow truck at no additional charge).

If I were you, I'd call them one more time and explain that there are two options:

Option 1, you suck it up and pay the $50, then join the Better World Club. For their $50, AAA gets no more money from you ever, and you become an evangelist to your friends for a roadside assistance club that is able to provide decent customer service and record-keeping.

Option 2, they work with you to reinstate your membership and waive/reduce the tow fee, which is what they should have done when you called for assistance. They will have a satisfied customer (and continued $$ from you) for many years to come. (Obviously, you had a responsibility to keep up with your account in the first place, but you're not out of line to expect that they might have that information when it's needed, especially considering they'd been sending out letters to that effect for some time.)

AAA will likely pick Option 1, which is probably best for you because their customer service really is awful. Seriously: I had to argue with them to send someone out to jump my car, because their records somehow showed that my membership number (the one printed on my card, right above my name) belonged to someone who didn't exist (the name was a combination of my name and the name of my sister's fake ID alter ego, both of which had at one time been associated with the same address, even though the alter ego had never used or applied for AAA, and even though every bit of paperwork, payments, and physical card on that account had my name on it.) I'm not in the least surprised that they didn't know your membership had lapsed when you called.

I should mention, for those that say he misled the AAA dispatcher, that AAA (at least in California) prints cards that show your membership is good for 2 years, even though they charge for a single year. For scatterbrained people like me, this is a problem when the bill for the second year comes around but the card says your membership still has a year left on it. Or worse if you never get the bill but believe your membership is valid (sure, you don't remember how much you paid last time but you must have taken advantage of some 2-year renewal discount because it says right there on the card that you're a member until 2008 or whatever and why would AAA put the wrong year on the card unless they just liked to confuse people...); that might not necessarily be the case here, but since AAA seems to like making things weird and confusing, it's certainly possible.

I'm actually inclined to tell you to skip the phone call and take Option 1 right off the bat. AAA still gets less than what you might have paid them for membership, and you get a roadside assistance organization that's more environmentally friendly, not to mention just plain friendly.
posted by stefanie at 4:52 PM on October 25, 2007

Now, two months later, I finally get a letter forwarded from my old address telling me I owe them $50 for the battery jump

Wait, what? You STILL hadn't updated your address with them at this point? While they were arranging to tow your car, it didn't occur to you that they didn't have your current address?
posted by desuetude at 4:58 PM on October 25, 2007

This may help you later instead of now - but I just paid my AAA renewal, and I noticed an email in one of my lesser-used email accounts telling me that the renewal was en route. I don't recall when I signed up for these alerts, but if I saw the email and then didn't get anything in the mailbox, it would be a handy reminder to follow up.
posted by pinky at 5:36 PM on October 25, 2007

my AAA renews automatically. I received email notification that my credit card would be charged and it was.
The card that I have (Texas) lists membership expiration as the day that it will expire next year.
By the way, my wife used it for the first time this morning, and I'm pretty sure we are now enrolled for life if she has anything to say about it. A very pleasant experience (AAA's part, not the lead up to the call to them.)
posted by busboy789 at 6:32 PM on October 25, 2007

AAA is being kind of weird here, I think. I was with a friend when he called AAA for service; his membership had lapsed, they told him so and took his credit card information over the phone to reinstate his membership (and of course sent the tow truck at no additional charge).

When my membership had lapsed, unbeknownst to me, and I called for roadside service, I was charged a $25 additional fee for renewing at the time that the service was provided, essentially a penalty fee for failing to renew before expiration. It was more expensive than if I'd been paying for a brand new membership rather than a renewal but they wouldn't let me out of it. That was the last year I belonged to AAA, that's for damn sure.

The fact that they're coming back after the fact and saying "pay this fee" after the customer service agent confirmed that there would be no charge is skeevy. They should be willing to eat that fee in exchange for a renewal because they made the mistake.
posted by Dreama at 10:20 PM on October 25, 2007

They should be willing to eat that fee in exchange for a renewal because they made the mistake.

I respectfully disagree, inasmuch as the person who said it was free was doing so in good faith that the caller was a paid member; so their overworked customer service rep maybe had their computer down that day, and rather than say "we can't help you, our computers are down" they went with "hook up people with membership numbers and we'll work it out later."

From their perspective, you might have known you were no longer a member, but have been trying to BS them into paying for the tow. From their perspective, it would be easy to say "you should be willing to pay this fee because you made the mistake (of thinking you were still a member, and of not giving us your address.)"

And at that point, if I were going to side with one or the other, I'd side with them, because the dollar amount is small and you were in a situation where the alternative would have been "sorry, we can't help you because your membership is expired" -- leaving you stuck either renewing for $50 to get towed by them, or finding someone else to tow you for $50.

Unexpected car repairs that leave you stranded suck, and you got rescued for $50. That's cheap in my book, and since both parties made mistakes but they saved your ass in good faith, I vote for pay the $50.
posted by davejay at 1:26 AM on October 26, 2007

Wait, is it coming from AAA collections or We Screw You Collections Agency?

if it's from AAA, chances are it never went to an outside collections agency and they won't report it anyway.
posted by drstein at 9:46 AM on October 26, 2007

« Older Climate Change Step-By-Step   |   Backup girlfriend/boyfriend ok? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.