/ Money

Why wasn’t I told I was in arrears?

Figure leaning on credit card

When I noticed three consecutive late payment fees on my NatWest credit card recently, despite having made my payments on time, I phoned up to find out more…

The explanation? My online, telephone, app and text alerts were all failing to give me the full picture of my credit card account.

Truth be told, I hadn’t noticed that I had incurred a £12 late payment fee on my credit card account in May and June – it’s not a card I use very much.

However, this month I knew I had paid enough to cover the minimum payment on the day it was due, as I responded to a monthly text reminder I have set up. So I was surprised to see another £12 charge added on to my account a few days later.

When I looked back at my statements I had, in fact, received late payment fees for the past three months, despite having made my payments on time. I checked my text alerts and in each instance the amount I had paid was enough to cover the minimum payment.

Credit card fees

I phoned NatWest to ask them for an explanation and they told me that following a payment I’d missed in April, I was about £15 in arrears and this had been added on to my due amount each month – so my minimum payments hadn’t been enough to cover it – hence the late payment fees.

But why wasn’t this showing up on my text reminders? NatWest explained that unfortunately its text alert system only links up to the ‘general’ online banking system – which only gives a snapshot of your credit card details and therefore it wasn’t including my outstanding arrears.

They suggested I should sign in to the specific credit card section of the website to see the full amount I owed, and sure enough, the full amount I owe for next month is showing up there – £15 more than my ‘minimum payment’ according to the texts they sent me.

Credit card confusion

NatWest agreed to refund me the last three payments, but I think it’s wrong that I didn’t get the right information, and I’m yet to find out if the ‘missed’ payments will affect my credit score.

It’s clear that NatWest uses different systems for its credit card services and its other online and telephone banking services, but should you have to be aware of that distinction? My online banking app, the online banking section of their website and their automated phone service all gave me an ‘owed’ amount which did not include the arrears.

Have you had a similar experience to me?

Comments
Profile photo of alfa
Member

I always try to pay off credit cards in full every month but I had 2 occasions some years ago where the payment was not made as I was out of the country and they got missed.

I remember it was almost impossible to clear the debt as you get more interest added on each month.

The only way to clear it is by paying well over the balance on your statement and put yourself in credit. This is wrong and they should be able to tell you the amount you need to pay to clear it.

Profile photo of John Ward
Member

This is why a lot of people opt for automatic direct debit payment of full credit card bills every month even though that can be a nuisance if you have a large expenditure one month that you might prefer to spread over two or three months. In these days of minimal interest on savings I don’t mind keeping a couple of credit card accounts, which are not on direct debit repayment, permanently in credit.

It is not satisfactory that systems offered to customers by banks are not giving all the information they require for proper management of their accounts, and that banks are not explaining the best way to use these systems to avoid arrears accruing and compounding.

I am glad NatWest reimbursed you, Amy, but would other customers realise what was happening and why?

Profile photo of Amy Hupe
Member

Hi John,

That is precisley my concern – if I hadn’t called them at the point I did, who knows how many late payment fees I might have accrued? I can’t believe I’m the only one who’s been affected and I’m interested to know if anyone else has had a similar experience…

Member
Naomi says:
7 October 2015

Hi,
Yes I have exactly the same issue , I was late with a payment in June , I have now incurred 4 late payment fees £12 each and I just can’t get my head round why? I use my online banking to make a payment but I don’t have the credit card service one set up , I’m really not happy now I think this is out of order they should notify you in some other way my credit file is now affected by this , it’s wrong !! I’ll be on the phone first thing

Profile photo of Carole
Member

Hi John,

I have a Tesco credit card that a couple of years ago advised, in small print, that it would no longer permit “overpayments” i.e. putting the card into credit. I always used to overpay before going on holiday just to be on the “safe side”. I have had to set up a D/D to take full payment each month but I object to their practice of drawing the D/D 4/5 days earlier than the latest payment date.

Profile photo of John Ward
Member

Coming from Tesco, that’s not helpful.

On the direct debits, there’s no need for them to take the money more than one day early except to earn more interest on it since there is no clearing required.

This proves once again that we need to be constantly reviewing our financial arrangements since things that start off looking favourable progressively decline in utility and value and eventually become annoying.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

Credit cards have always been an expensive way of borrowing money, but they are extremely useful and do give protection if you have a problem with larger purchases. Mine are payed off monthly by direct debit, so I just need to focus on making sure that the balance of my current account is sufficient. I did this after being charged interest for not paying a credit card bill that was lost in the post.

Profile photo of Patrick Taylor
Member

The NatWest system is manifestly wrong and unfair. If I were Which? I would launch a test case of behalf of a subscriber on the basis that the amount they advised to you as owed was:

a] a system that was deliberately designed to to mislead customers as to the amount required
b] a system incompetently designed with the same result.

I look forward to reading here of a successful challenge and refunds all-round from Nat West for such a cockamaimy and one-sided system.

Profile photo of NFH
Member

I don’t understand why:

1. You were making only the minimum payment each month, as you incur interest by doing so.
2. Why you didn’t log in soon after each billing date to check that the transactions on the bill were correct.

The only rational scenario for the above would be that you were using this card only for a balance transfer with no purchases. Using a credit card for purchases and making only the minimum payment each month is madness. If you can’t afford to pay it, then transfer the balance to another card on an interest-free deal, or get a money transfer from another credit card into your bank account.

Profile photo of Amy Hupe
Member

Hi NFH,

You are correct and admittedly only paying only the minimum off the card every month is not a cost-effective way of doing things.

I’m afraid it was more down to laziness on my part than anything, as the card only has a very small balance on it – which following this incident I have cleared.

Regardless, I feel that the system which is designed to help me stay on top of my payments misled me and though I am in a fortunate enough position to enable me to clear the balance, what about those customers who are not able to do so, and could be accruing more debt each month without realising it?

Profile photo of NFH
Member

I agree with NatWest that you should be signing into your account every month and reading your statement. Online statements are a substitute for paper statements, but just like paper statements you still need to read them every month. Every month there might be incorrect purchase charges, or in this case incorrect charges by the card issuer. I often find errors on my credit card statements, but fortunately they are more often purchases that never appeared on my statement.

This does not excuse NatWest misleading you in its text messages.

Profile photo of Patrick Taylor
Member

Are you going to take the case to the FCA? It would seem fitting for Which? to be involved at a grass-roots level and pave the way.

[ please feel free to fill in the details and initials of any regulatory authority that has taken over the oversight or had a change of name in the last week : )]

Member
Darren says:
10 August 2015

You are aware that they are moving to online statements as a default arent you? Bit of an old fashioned comment. If a bank is giving you a figure, they should be giving you an accurate figure I dont care what you say about paper!

Profile photo of malcolm r
Member

NFH, absolutely right. Just like checking your full bank statement and not just looking at your balance. Particularly when money is tight you need to make sure no mistakes have been made. You might check your bank balance but not know a cheque you gave someone some while ago has not yet been presented – suddenly your balance becomes fiction. I like paper statements and even when I have an online account I print off the statement and check each item against my records.

Profile photo of NFH
Member

Dieseltaylor – To clarify in response to the uncertainty over names of regulators etc, consumers can’t take cases to the FCA. The FCA (formerly the FSA) only deals with policy on an industry-wide level. The Financial Ombudsman Service might be an option though.

Profile photo of malcolm r
Member

“following a payment I’d missed in April” surely is the starting point here – your omission. Whilst your bank might have not helped you with full information it is your responsibility to make payments when they are due and to keep track of your financial affairs. I don’t see why you should be putting this responsibility on to your bank. Sorry. 🙁

Profile photo of Amy Hupe
Member

Hi Malcom,

That’s a fair point and I’m not blaming the bank for my missing a payment in April, or for the arrears this resulted in, but rather the incorrect information which followed.

Text alerts are offered as a way to remind you to make your payments and I believe should therefore contain all of the information needed to help you to do so.

I also log into my main online banking account on a regular basis to see what my credit card balance is and can view what transactions have been made.

Even this particular view didn’t show me the arrears that I owed, which I don’t think is right.

Profile photo of malcolm r
Member

Amy, are you saying when you logged in to your credit card account and viewed your statement it did not show the “penalty” payment was outstanding?

Profile photo of Amy Hupe
Member

Hi Malcom,

There are two sections on the NatWest website where you can log in to view your credit card balance and transactions – the online banking section on the home page and the credit card specific area.

The credit card specific area is where you can view PDF copies of your statement, and I was aware that it tends to update slightly more quickly than the main online banking view, but to my knowledge those were the only differences.

Profile photo of Amy Hupe
Member

…and to clarify – it was the general online banking view which showed me a due payment which did not include the arrears I owed.

Profile photo of malcolm r
Member

Amy, thanks for the clarification. So I think you should regularly check you credit card statement – not only for missed payments but for your own security, as was mentioned above. Fraudulent transactions for example.

Profile photo of malcolm r
Member

To clarify, by “you” I mean people in general! 🙂

Profile photo of Amy Hupe
Member

Hi Malcom,

I do agree that it’s good practice to check your statements, but I still feel that a system which shows you your transactions and tells you how much you owe should capture all the information necessary to make sure you know exactly how much you need to pay to avoid fees.

And thanks for the clarification – I guessed that was what you meant 🙂

Member
David says:
10 August 2015

Interesting series of comments and queries. It appears to me though that the central point is that Natwest do not provide consistent information regarding the state of your accounts. In this day and age it surely can’t be acceptable for banks to have systems/subsystems that are not integrated. This is particularly galling when they penalise you for what appears to be their system weakness

Profile photo of Patrick Taylor
Member

There is case law on bankers advising people of the amount of debt so it would be an interesting area to trawl to see what rights [if any] a bank has to give you different figures and then charge you a penalty for relying on what it provided to you.

There is a smidgen of a defence but not one I think that would succeed, and if it did would expensively shoot themselves in the foot.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

As David says, consistent information is needed. After at least 25 years of paying off my credit card balances fully and in good time, I missed a payment because a statement failed to arrive. I contacted the credit card company, explained the reason, and they refunded the interest.

Profile photo of duncan lucas
Member

This just highlights the New Way of Working in relation to banks/loan companies etc . You are now expected to get into debt to make financial institutions money from public banks all the way up to the IMP/ECB etc for countries they dont want somebody like me who only holds a debit card not a credit card who doesnt do online banking who get paper accounts through the post.Maybe its because I was a poor as hell as a child and couldnt afford to buy many things others could but I grew up never allowing myself to get into debt (except for my mortgage which is paid off now ) If I cant pay for it I dont buy it adverts dont influence me to get into debt by borrowing ,some companies short term loans =1000 % .The World is run on debt now and thats how Big Business likes it I would rather walk than board that bus.

Profile photo of NFH
Member

I’ve noticed that Barclaycard neglects to mention the minimum payment on its PDF statements. It would show this on paper statements, so why is it missing from PDF statements?

Although I recommend paying the full amount due on a credit card, the minimum amount is relevant for those on cheap or free balance transfer or money transfer deals, for example where the annualised money transfer fee is lower than one’s offset mortgage interest rate.

Member
ailene says:
4 November 2016

I have been charged arrears fees and penalty fees from blemain finance which are more than i actually borrowed in the first place and are about 13k now on a 12k loan… i really need free legal help to fight this unfair situation…and today i open a letter with 100.00 of fees for last month and my payment is only 158.00

Profile photo of John Ward
Member

My only suggestion is that you contact Citizen’s Advice who do try to help people with money problems and take up such cases as yours with the lenders, especially where the total repayment exceeds the loan, the repayments are unaffordable, and the borrower is being driven deeper into debt. It is a free service with offices in most areas that you can call. You might like to visit their website first.