By Julian, author of Devil’s Advocate…
Banks have a lot of rules… and they love changing them. I don’t know if this is because banks aren’t very good at writing rules in the first place, or if it’s simply because bank attorneys need to create enough work for themselves to pay the mortgage on their second home in the Hamptons (not to mention the upkeep on the ski condo in Aspen). But for whatever reason, banks are endlessly sending out changes to their terms and conditions.
In fact, if you’ve got even just a couple of credit cards, you’ve probably received enough notices informing you of “Important Changes To Your Account Terms” to build an Eighth Wonder of the World.
With so much paperwork filling up your mailbox, it’s almost impossible to keep up with the fine print. Most folks just chuck everything into the garbage or ignore it entirely. This is doubly true for notices attached to your monthly statements – if you track your credit card activity using your bank’s online portal, you might not even look at the actual statement when it arrives in the mail or by e-mail.
Most of the time you’re not missing anything. But once in a while a vital piece of info gets disseminated this way, and because you didn’t see it, you’re surprised when the change goes into effect. (I am sure I do not need to add that bank surprises almost never save the consumer money.)
This is why it’s not at all shocking that a change announced by American Express on their card statements from two months ago has barely been mentioned anywhere. But if you have an Amex charge card, you’d better know about this change. If you don’t, it’s almost guaranteed to cost you money.
Charge cards versus credit cards.
While many people use the terms “charge card” and “credit card” interchangeably, they are two very different things. A credit card has a preset revolving credit limit that allows you to pay only a portion of your bill each month. A charge card generally doesn’t have that option.
Very few banks issue charge cards anymore, but the one major exception is Amex. If you have any flavor of Amex Platinum or Amex Gold – or even an Amex Green – it’s a charge card. Other Amex cards, such as the Everyday cards or the Delta ones, are regular credit cards. But Amex cards with color or rare gemstone names are charge cards.
Now, you may have one of these cards and not even noticed it was a charge card. If you pay your bill in full every month anyway (which you absolutely should), there isn’t really much of a difference.
But Amex has long had a slightly different due date system for their charge cards. Take a look at a portion of the most recent statement for my own Amex Mercedes Benz Platinum card…
Like all Amex charge cards, this card technically doesn’t have a due date, but rather a “Please Pay By” date. This is more than just politeness. If you look closely at that box, you’ll see that Amex further states they only “suggest you pay by the Please Pay By date” and that payment is technically due upon receipt.
However, they also note that as long as payment is received by the next closing date, you will be safe from late fees. This means you’ve got a pretty large amount of leeway. Personally, I’ve paid this card as late as the day before the next closing date and not had any problems.
This also means Amex is leaving a lot of late fees on the table.
If you recall what I said earlier about changes to account terms and conditions almost never saving the customer money, I am sure you can guess what change Amex is making…
Pull out your October statement.
If you’ve got an Amex charge card, go find your statement with a closing date of anytime in October, then thumb through it past the payment coupon and the actual charges and the fine print about how Amex is allowed to take every bit of info they know about you and sell it to the highest bidder with no regret or repercussions whatsoever.
Eventually on page 53 of 76 or so, you’ll find a section entitled “Notice of Important Changes To Account Terms” and that’s where you’ll finally find the bad news…
Yep, Amex is no longer allowing payments to post by the Closing Date. You now have to make your payment by the due date or you’ll be charged a late fee of up to $38.
This change is effective January 1, 2017, so if you’ve got a January payment already set up, you’d better check that it’s happening before the due date, not the closing date.
Some of you might be asking “okay, but if Amex wants us to pay by the due date, who cares?” And on general principle, I agree. You should never be spending money that you don’t already have, so it shouldn’t make a difference what date the bank wants you to send the money to pay the bill.
But there’s two problems with the way Amex is handling this.
Why the big secret?
First, they haven’t exactly been shouting about this change from the rooftops. Burying it deep inside a monthly statement might be cost effective for them, but it’s not particularly helpful to their customers. I also haven’t seen any e-mails or an announcement from Amex of any sort about this change.
To be fair, I did notice a small banner on the Amex website when I signed into my account a week or so ago. But when I went back to take a screenshot for this post, I couldn’t find it anywhere. So they’re certainly not making that banner prominent or particularly easy to stumble upon, which means a lot of customers are going to get a rather unpleasant surprise when their January payment is suddenly late.
The other issue with this change is the way Amex sets their due dates. On a normal Amex credit card, the due date tends to run about a week or so before the next closing date. That’s similar to the credit card payment timeline at most banks.
But on Amex charge cards, the gap between the time you receive your statement and the “Please Pay By” date is extremely short. As you can see in the earlier screenshot from my Mercedes Benz Platinum, the “Please Pay By” date is just 15 days after the statement closes.
If you’re a customer who gets their statement by mail and are subject to the whims of the United States Postal Service, you might have no more than a week to pay your bill once you get it. Better not be out-of-town when that statement arrives.
It’s possible Amex will reset their charge card due dates once this change is implemented in order to give customers a little more time to receive their statements and pay their bill. But they haven’t said anything about doing that, which brings us back to the lack of information I previously mentioned.
In the end, this isn’t an awful change, but the rollout and implementation of it are far from ideal. Hopefully Amex will make more of an effort to get the word out in the next few weeks before the change takes effect. In the meantime, if you have family and friends with Amex charge cards, do them a favor and make sure they get the news.
Other Recent Posts From The “Bet You Didn’t Know” Series:
• The Secret Shortcut to LaGuardia’s Amex Centurion Lounge
• Cracking the Bulk Fare Code! How to Tell When a Flight is a Bulk Fare
• Two Quirks in the Hyatt Changeover That Might Be Mattress Run Worthy
Find all the “Bet You Didn’t Know” posts here.