Woman charged late fee despite online payment

January 19, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
Many people struggle to pay bills on time, but 7 on Your Side's Michael Finney says even paying early can get you in trouble.

You would think that paying your bill online would ensure that it gets to the merchant on time. But, as one woman found out, it does not always work out that way

Lauren Carlysle is a stickler about paying her bills on time. She has a filing cabinet devoted to her accounts and she keeps track of all payment due dates in a calendar.

"I've never missed a payment. Oh no. I always pay online and I always pay early," she said.

True to form, Carlysle paid her Lowe's credit card bill for the month on January 5, four days early. So, she was shocked when her online statement said the payment was late. Not only that, she was charged a late fee of $39.

"So, I immediately called and the girl just said, 'Oh yes, I see we got your payment on the 5th,'" she recalled.

So what gives? It turned out that her payment just sat there until the due date, January 9. Because the 9th fell on a Saturday, it did not get processed right away and triggered the late fee.

"Can you explain to me how a company can put a late fee of $39 on the very day that it's due when they've had the payment in a pending status for four to five days prior to that?" Carlysle asked.

Carlysle thought it didn't seem right that they could do that, so she called 7 on Your Side. Lowe's credit card company, GE Money Bank, explained that they post payments "on the due date" unless the customer specifically changes the payment date on the computer screen. Also, if the due date falls on a Saturday, it will trigger a late fee. But, that fee is always automatically reversed as long as the customer has paid on time. So, it should never appear on a bill.

Carlysle's late fee was automatically reversed and after 7 on Your Side called, she received a personal apology for all the confusion.

"I called 7 on Your Side in the morning. I got a call at 5:00 from somebody at Lowe's, apologizing profusely. So, I'd say that's action. That's action," said Carlysle.

You may think you are making an instant payment online, but as this story shows, that is not always the case. Check the rules before hitting the send button.