Saturday, July 19, 2008

Before I Go Dark: Banking and the Art of the Nebulous Sentence

I have to stop posting for a few days. I'll be back soon. But first ...

I've been doing more copy editing in the last year. As a result, my attention to words, sentences, and their meaning has improved. Basically, I get paid to stop and wonder: Did that sentence make sense? Was it clear? Did it do the best job possible of enlightening the reader?

I enjoy the work, but I'm just now beginning to realize the full value of keeping this particular mental muscle in shape.

A postcard I got in the mail yesterday served as an eye-opener. The postcard was from a bank with which I have a credit card account. I don't use this credit card anymore. The bank pissed me off two years ago when they sided against me in a charge dispute. (CompUSA had, without notifying me of their plans, erased my hard drive and then charged me $209 for the honor. The bank said that I failed to demonstrate that CompUSA's tech desk was staffed by primates.)

Because I don't use this credit card anymore, the bank's announcement probably would not have affected me. The problem was that, from their wording, I had no way of knowing:

At BankyBank (name changed to protect me from the dangers of announcing who I bank with), we're always looking for ways to enhance your BankyCard experience. That's why we're pleased to introduce a new feature for your credit account this fall. If you receive this offer, it means you can borrow at a lower APR than the standard purchase rate you pay on your credit accounts, with repayment in predictable monthly installments.

If you accept this new feature by using the check offer, your minimum monthly payment will increase by the monthly installment to which you agree. If you do not want to receive the offer for this new feature, please call the customer service number on the back of your card.

That's all it said. There was nothing else written on the postcard.

In other words: We're doing something to your account and we refuse to tell you what it is. Oh, and only people who wade through this nonsense will realize that silence equals consent.

I called the number of the back of my card. After wading through the computerized menu system, I got a woman on the phone. I told her the situation.

She asked, "What is the offer you're referring to?"

That's exactly the point, I said. I have no frickin' idea. When she finally figured it out, she started on a spiel about the benefits of this new feature. Not what the feature is, mind you -- just its pluses.

I cut her off. I'm quite sure, I said, that the feature has benefits. I just resent your company foisting it on me without a word about the potential costs or even a basic explanation of what the hell it is. I ended by issuing the clear instruction: Don't make any changes to my account.

She assured me that they would not alter my account in any way, however, it may take up to 30 days for them to make the change.

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Joel said...

I'm convinced that the major differences between drug dealers and credit pushers are 1) the credit pushers are cloaked under a facade of legality and 2) with the drug dealers, you actually get something positive out of the deal. Of course, not having ever dealt with the former, I'm sure my comparison is unfair. I apologize to the drug dealers.

It's especially irritating given recent events that these folks (and I include the big names who have ceremoniously gone under, though I'm sure they think themselves better than the strip-mall mortgage hacks and plastic peddlers) expect and generally get bail-outs and preferential treatment, meanwhile their bilking the working classes out of their hard-earned cash with 25+% interest and ARMs, etc., is sanctioned and even occasionally frosted with sanctimonious sermons about said working classes' irresponsible spending habits.

June Casagrande said...

Oh, my god, I can't believe I never considered those three things together before: predatory credit card-pushing, lenders going under and needing our bailout, and the murmured shame-on-you message that their victims must endure even as the banks take the victims' money and the taxpayers' money and run.

Wow. Now I'm really mad. Your apology to the drug dealers, however, took some of the edge off my anger.

: )
See you in a few days.

- June


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