My money went "poof!"
January 30, 2008 11:27 AM   Subscribe

What can you do if a collection agency "loses" your payment?

I have an outstanding hospital bill I've been paying off for about two years now. I've gotten my financial and health life together as much as I can, and so I'm finally closing the door on that horrendous phase of my life. Unfortunately, the collection agency that my last hospital bill went to isn't quite so helpful. My original bill was under $200. I called for a final balance today, expecting to hear something that was $50 or less and was shocked to find that my final balance was still over $100. When I probed, I found that the last payment posted was in November - and I've sent in several incremental payments since then that have yet to be credited to my account. I used a billpay service at my bank, so I don't have copies of checks, but I do have the amounts deducted from my bank balance. I called my bank and they did give me trace numbers on the checks - all but the most recent one HAS cleared, so that money is sitting in the collection agency somewhere.

Does anyone have any insight into what may have happened here, or what I might have to do about it?
posted by medea42 to Work & Money (8 answers total)
How does your billpay system work? Does your bank mail a physical check out for you?

If so, ask your bank to cancel (or maybe it's called a "stop payment") the check and send another one.

If it's a transfer of some sort then I don't know how it would work, but the nice thing about this is that you've got a paper trial to work with, so you should be able to get this straightened out.

Call the bank, tell them what happened, and go from there.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 11:32 AM on January 30, 2008

I'm pretty sure the bank will charge you for a stop payment. I'd call the collection agency (ick) and tell them you confirmed with your bank that the amounts were credited to them (name agency) on day x for amount z.
posted by cashman at 11:47 AM on January 30, 2008

Yeah, your bank should be able to provide you with some kind of information about the transaction. Depending upon how you sent the payment, there will be different things you can get. If your billpayment service sends them a check, then a copy of the cancelled check will show on the back who/what entity cashed it/ran it. If they sent an electronic payment - and since you reference a trace number, I would think that's the case - then it's possible that they just routed the money to the wrong place. The money is findable, but you are going to need to enlist your bank (they might have a research department) to help you. These kinds of things are not that hard to find, but it's sometimes hard to get someone to find them for you.

In the case of a bill payment, there may or may not be a stop payment fee, but for the ones that have been cashed/received, you can't "stop" those. They need to find them.
posted by Medieval Maven at 11:56 AM on January 30, 2008

As far as I can tell, it's too late to stop all but one of the payments. The check was cut and cashed months ago - plus stopping payment would cost me more than the check itself. I did get tracking numbers, so someone in the agency is tracking it. My concern is if they still don't find it after I've presented them with that proof - since I have it, no problem. What will I be expected to do? I also want to understand how the payment could be cashed by the agency but never reported to my balance. I'm hoping someone who reads this works for collections and might have some internal knowledge.
posted by medea42 at 12:13 PM on January 30, 2008

I used to work with collection agencies (but not for them), and mistakes happen all the time - a name similar to yours, someone fat fingered the account number, and just a misapplication of the payment. The collection agency agents, however, are trained to be heartless bastards take anything you say as a lie, and just scare the crap out of you until you're practically willing to hand over your whole wallet to get them off your back.

That's why I suggested you give them as much information as you can about the dates of the payments, the amounts, and so on. If they're tracking it, they'll probably find it - just let them know that's the next step in the process - that they find your payments. Bring up the AG if they start getting frisky with you. If I were you, I would make it clear that they need to find these amounts immediately, if they start trying to bully you. ...more.
posted by cashman at 12:30 PM on January 30, 2008

Your bank *should* be able to go to bat for you (YMMV, of course, but that's been my experience with both BoA and a small credit union). They have the cleared checks & such, so they can prove that check A cleared on date B and was written to company C.
posted by tigerjade at 12:36 PM on January 30, 2008

cashman and tigerjade, thanks so much! My bank IS going to bat for me - they're faxing in all the relevant data, and the agent I've been working with was happy to take the remaining balance I'd intended to pay. At the END of the process he asked me about the address - it turned out that it had been going to the wrong address and the agency had failed to notify me of the change. The agent said as long as I proved I had sent payment, he'd sort out the rest. So now I'm in the curious position of putting my faith in a collection agency agent. Anyone want to take odds?
posted by medea42 at 12:42 PM on January 30, 2008

it turned out that it had been going to the wrong address

The same thing happened with one of my partner's credit card bills, which he had been paying through his bank's bill-pay service. This particular one, QVC, did not accept EFTs, so the bank was sending them a physical check. When QVC changed to a different third-party payment processor, the payments kept going to the old address. The bank ended up sorting it out, and actually initiated a conference call with my partner and the QVC agent.
posted by Robert Angelo at 2:57 PM on January 30, 2008

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