Perils of Automation: One Personal Disaster


If you’ve already read about my sudden disappearance, then you’d know I’ve been out-of-pocket for a while now with personal matters. Well, I’ve got an interesting story to share which occurred during this transitory time.

All the way from the professional guru to the amateur blogger, anyone in personal finance has, at one point or another, touted the benefits of automation. Automatically diverting all of your money to whatever your financial cocktail includes – savings, college, paying bills, investments, mortgages, and so on.

And who could disagree! For those who have trouble saving, it forces them to adjust their spending to whatever’s leftover. For those looking to dollar-cost average their investments, it periodically purchases your holdings at pre-determined intervals, in pre-determined amounts. And what about those crazy late fees! Everybody hates paying those, and with automation you can eliminate them entirely by paying every bill on time.

Or so I thought. And herein lies the story…

Let’s go through a little background first. Anything related to my finances that can be automated – IS. It’s even gotten to points where the system has been honed down to the nearest $10, and I’m left with barely anything “extra” at the end of the month. Keeping track of those different accounts individually would be a hassle, so I use Quicken Premier to aggregate all of the information.

Having that global perspective provides several benefits: clearly showing where all that money went at the end of the year (I use nerdy pie graphs to categorically organize spending and track investment returns), figuring out what needs to be adjusted for any upcoming major changes to my situation, and highlighting any peculiarities in any recurring transactions.

All of this has allowed me to refine my personal finance system to such a level where I’m able to sock away 40% of my salary on average. And that includes big ticket items like fully-paid honeymoons in Belize!

But what happens if something gets off-track? With accounts and payments deeply embedded in each other, one false move can result in a tidal wave of cleanup. And this is exactly what happened to yours truly about a month ago.

First, let me highlight that I don’t own a TV and thus don’t have cable, but still have a cable bill. *Don’t worry, all of my television is done through sites like: Megavideo, Sidereel, Yidio, & Hulu. BUT – with all of this online automation, blogging, and tv watching – I’m crippled without my precious internet! The monthly bill was fairly low around $40/month.

Each and every month, the cable company bills the full amount to one of my credit cards. Well, it so happens that the card expired the same month I was out of the country!

Credit cards expire every few years, so it’s not something I think about regularly. Everything with the account is basically the same anyways, just the security code and new expiration date. But once they send you the new card, the old one is deemed invalid.

Coming back I was floored when I saw a bill for more than TWICE what my expected monthly bill was. Reviewing the statement, I saw a $50 “returned payment” fee tacked onto my account!

Of course, I wasn’t going to stand for this and immediately called the cable company.

Before we go on, it’s important to note that I don’t believe in harassing customer service representatives. If you provide them with the facts, are polite and accommodating, and state your case – usually you’ll get what you’re asking for. The times where I’ve needed to be stern and stand my ground are few and far between.

You guessed it, it was an easy fix. The representative understood my plight, and even agreed when I commented how ridiculous it was to have a charge greater than the actual bill. She waived the fee, updated the credit card information, and scheduled the shut-off date as I was relocating.

Problem fixed – back to letting automation run its course.

Not so fast bucko. If I was irritated before, I was FURIOUS when I saw the next statement. Expecting a credit of about $8 before the account closed, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw a bill for now THREE times the monthly amount. Minus their deductions from the previous month (payment plus fee) it came to $30 (from a NEW fee), and there was no way in hell I was paying for that!

This time around I wasn’t so friendly.

The representative kept repeating “Your final balance is $30 sir”. Thinking I must be on the brink of bankruptcy and fearful of collections, I had half a mind to explain that this card had a limit well over 1,000x this petty monthly bill and he was talking to someone with a near perfect credit score. Let alone he writes a personal finance blog!!!

Finally, he reviewed the account and did see the note about “waiving the fee and updating the information”. While I can appreciate these hiccups, it’s not my job to manage whatever disconnects occur within their own account management – that’s their job!

Offering a “sorry, guess we haven’t updated our records” apology, he said “we’ll close the account at a $0 balance”. Although I wanted to negotiate my $8 credit that still believed was owed, I decided to drop it and move on.

So lessoned learned.

While automation can take out most of the micro-managing, you still must monitor your accounts diligently and regularly along with tracking all modifications or adjustments like a hawk.

If you plan on being somewhere inaccessible for any extended period of time, notify your necessary accounts, verify everything is in order and will be executed according to schedule, and don’t forget about those pesky expiration dates!

Don’t usually rant about things here, but hope you enjoyed my train wreck of a story!

Leave a Comment