Citibank and AT&T tell me to go to hell


One of the first credit cards I ever got was an AT&T Universal Card, which was not only a credit card, but also a calling card. In 1990, I was in college, and that calling card made a big difference when I needed to call home or friends across the country.

AT&T Universal Card

It was a unique combination at the time. No other premiums were offered with the card. In fact, the long distance rates were fairly pricey, but it was hard to ignore the convenience.

In the past 19 years, I’ve juggled a few cards and never missed a payment, except for those rare times when I simply forgot. But that AT&T card was my primary card for years, until it became a lot less convenient. I seem to recall something about the automatic payment feature kicking in before I had received my bill (yes, long before the days when you could check your statement online).

So I stuck in a drawer and used a better card, one that had buyer protection, good customer service and a 1 percent cash back reward.

AT&T eventually sold its credit card business to Citibank. That was 12 years ago, in 1997.

The other day, I received a letter from dear old Citibank. It said:

Due to prior inactivity, your account will be closed on December 28, 2009.

Wow. Nineteen years of customer loyalty down the drain. My card even says “Charter Member,” which is now worth exactly the plastic on which it’s printed.

Even better, Citibank made sure my 5-figure credit limit was cut down to size:

Please note, as we prepare to close your account, your credit line will be reduced to $100.00 on December 1, 2009.

Ouch. Had I gone over my credit limit? Missed payment after payment? Quite the opposite. I hadn’t used it all, and my punishment would be swift and severe.

I wasn’t really surprised. A few days before I received the letter, I saw “The Card Game,” an excellent investigative report by PBS’ “Frontline.” Take a peek …

Video: an excerpt from “The Card Game” on “Frontline”

(You can watch the full hourlong program.)

The news program showed how banks for years have targeted low-income consumers with supposedly free credit cards that carried high interest rates. Left unchecked, they profited heavily at the expense of consumers. For example, Providian was making up to $1 billion annually on the backs of those who could least afford it.

This year, in the wake of consumer revolt fueled by the recession, the federal government passed the Credit Card Act of 2009, set to take effect in February. What does this mean for credit card companies and consumers?

  • no retroactive rate hikes;
  • statements must be mailed 21 days before payment due date;
  • payment dates can’t suddenly be shifted;
  • statements must say how long it will take to pay off balances and the total interest costs if paying just the monthly minimum;
  • 45 days notice required for changes in terms and conditions.

But in the meantime, banks are doing everything possible to squeeze out the last bit of profit before the regulations take effect. So even someone like me, who paid on time and maintained a good credit score, is no longer welcome as a customer.

My most recent transaction was for a book purchase from an online retailer. It was during the George W. Bush era, back in March 2008. The transaction was for 28 cents. And yes, I paid that month’s bill in full and on time.

I would happily promise to never ever bank with Citibank again, save for one small problem. Like other big banks, Citibank bankrupted itself after gorging on subprime mortgages since 2002. So in November 2008, the federal government bailed it out with $25 billion.

That’s right: I’m still paying Citibank, and you are, too. Huzzah.

A financial institution may be too big to fail, but apparently I’m too small to matter.

Dear Citibank, you’ve taken enough of my money. Please implode as painfully and as soon as possible.

Love, me.

Have you had a falling out lately with your credit card company? Please share your story below.


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