Beware Auto-Payments for the Elderly! And, the Rest of Us?

Ideas and Issues

New Orleans       First, I’ll admit I’m old school.  All my life, I’ll survived on cash flow.  The notion of putting everything on auto-payment where banks and bill collectors are taking their slices off the top and leaving me to juggle the remains, just doesn’t work for me.  I may make bad decisions, but I want to make the decisions, not be forced into a blind financial canyon where there’s too much month, and too little money.  At the same time, in organizing we worship direct deposit dues collection and pioneered in that regard with ACORN in order to stabilize our finances and continue to do so to this day, so I’m not going claim it’s not a useful tool.

I say all of this to introduce my horror at the way banks and, well, just about everyone, take advantage of the elderly with direct payment and automatic renewals.  I’ve learned this the hard way over the last four years when it has fallen on me to manage, as best and inadequately as I’m able, the financial survival of my 95-year old mother.   Admittedly, she is no millennial out there ready to pay everything online, but the few things that she does have to pay that ended up online have almost universally ended badly.

Take Time-Life.  Please!  It’s not a big bite, but even when I ended her subscription to Time magazine, because she was both uninterested in reading the rag and unable to do so, she kept getting this annual calendar at $50 per year.  It was coming on American Express.  I called the company to say we didn’t order the calendar, nor did we want it.  They agreed to take it off.  It showed up again the next year.  Clearly, Time-Life and American Express didn’t work for my mother anymore, so we didn’t renew the American Express card, so I just added another card on my Mastercard account for her expenses, so we could monitor it all.  American Express also insisted that they would have had to talk to my mother in order to renew, and that was also more trouble than they were worth, so boom, that’s it.  But it wasn’t.  They sent another bill for Time-Life.  I sent back the bill, saying, “No way!”.  More letters from them. I remind them that we canceled the card, which they conceded.  Then she gets a bill for even more to renew Amazon Prime.  How could that be possible, when we had canceled the card?  When it all shook out after many more letters, AmEx killed Time-Life, but wouldn’t kill Amazon.  This highlights my problem with auto-payments and auto-renew without permission.

The biggest direct deposit my folks had for years was their car and house insurance with Liberty Mutual, the big insurance company.  When I first inherited this family finance job, I caught the renewal on their two old rides, both of which were more than a decade old, and shaved off the collision and some other coverages.  One finally gave up the ghost and died recently, so I finally got around to calling Liberty Mutual and telling them to take the car off of my mother’s insurance.  It took a little bit, but when I finally got the letter confirming, they also stated the rate she would still be paying for the 14-year old car she still owned, and it was over $2600 for just liability basically!

Direct payment hell, but it gets worse!  I tell the woman on the phone, I couldn’t believe the price, and I wanted to know what the cost would be for the least amount of insurance that was legally possible in Louisiana.  She put me on hold and came back with an amazing answer.  She said that my parents had been longtime customers and their auto insurance had been figured under what she called the “old rate system.”  Under the new one, their rate would be $1600 less!  What she was basically saying is that as long as they could fleece existing, longtime customers and use direct deposit, why rock the boat, even if they were charging twice what they knew was fair.  There ought to be a law!

Banks reported almost 24,500 cases of senior financial abuse to the Treasury Department, more than double five years ago according to government data.  Those reports presumably were about the Amazons, the Time-Life’s, and, maybe even the Liberty Mutuals, but I doubt it, because banks are also doing nothing to police these direct payment scams and are involved in a good number of these hidden and skyrocketing charges as well.  Recently on a deposit for my mother into one account and transferring it to another account at the bank where they had traded for more than 60 years, they held the check for more than a week, bouncing her other checks, claiming it was deposited in a branch two miles away from the branch that normally oversaw her account, so their rules allowed them to sit on her money.  Sure, they reversed it after, I went reptilian on them, but it all proves my point.

There are more and more elderly, and they are seen as easy marks for both low life companies and high flyers, especially in this hyper speedy, opaque direct payment world, where it comes out of your account before you can say, hey! There needs to be protection, not just caveat emptor.


Please enjoy Passing Afternoon by Iron & Wine. Thanks to KABF.