AT&T Universal Card, S. Larson, and Account "Upgrades"
I received a letter from "S. Larson" in Customer Service at AT&T Universal Card informing me of the good news: because of my credit record and because I'm a "valued cardmember", they've upgraded our account to a new AT&T Universal Platinum Card. Whatever. The color of the card doesn't matter to me. But what is interesting is that I'm sure that they've also upped our credit limit (that is, given us more opportunity to get into debt with them) but they don't say so in this letter.
But I was curious: does "S. Larson" really exist, or is he (she?) a phantom generic identity like so many other of these credit card company people. So I called AT&T and asked for Mr. Larson, just to find that, well, he exists, but I can't talk to him. Uh huh. So I checked the Citigroup annual report and if S. Larson does exist, he's not important enough to be listed as executive staff. There's also no mention of "Larson" associated with Citibank, Citigroup or Citi in the Wall Street Journal.
Perhaps customer service might not be that important? Even though the AT&T Universal Card division pulled in a cool $3.8 billion (yes, billion) in fiscal 2003, and even though the Cards group now encompasses Sears Credit Cards and the Home Depot credit card too. A search on the Web seems to suggest that many people are convinced that S. Larson is fictional, though, and perhaps they're right...
Anyway, the card seems like it might not be that bad a deal until -- as usual -- I began to read the small print, which includes:
- "In addition, you get wireless phone loss and theft insurance providing reimbursement for the purchase of a replacement phone - at no additional charge." and the associated small print: "Insurance Coverage is limited to a maximum reimbursement amount of $100 in excess of the $50 deductible." In case no-one at Citibank actually buys their own cellphone, most of the newest ones cost more than $150...
- "up to thirty free phone minutes per month" which has the caveat "A surcharge of at least five minutes (subject to increase) applies to pay phone calls.". I love the 'subject to increase' and imagine that some day we'll find that if you actually use the AT&T Universal Card's calling card feature at a pay phone, you'll find that the minimum is ten, twenty, or even sixty minutes. And that'll be quite a bill.
- Finally, the so-called "competitive variable annual percentage rate" turns out to actually be: 12.24% APR on purchases and 19.9% on advances. Not too bad, but read on: "if you default under any Citibank Card Agreement, your APR on all balances may increase up to 23.99% plus the prime rate. Currently, this corresponds to an APR of 28.24%." Maybe it's just me, but I can't see how they can say "competitive' and "28.24%" in the same letter. It's outrageous and I surmise that Lenny the Loanshark probably has better rates than this.
I mean, 28.24% APR, or higher? They've gotta be kidding...
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