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Draft letter to New York State Electric & Gas
looking for opinions as to how to make this letter better.

Last week, on Wednesday, 12 March 2008, I called the NYSEG billing number to deal with an overdue electric and gas bill. My intent was to pay the total due amount, [REDACTED] due on account number [REDACTED] for service at the location [REDACTED]. Although the bill was paid, I have concerns with the handling of the transaction.

My desire was to pay via my Visa card, issued by Alternatives Credit Union. When I said I wanted to pay by Visa card, I was informed of two NYSEG policies regarding payment via Visa card: First, there would be a fee of [get specific amount, between $6 and $7] per $500 or fraction thereof charged to the card, and second, the payment would be made in separate charges of $500 each, except for the final charge which would cover the balance. In my case, that meant that there would be two charges, one for $500 and one for [REDACTED].

I'm concerned about this policy because it clearly states on the web page http://usa.visa.com/about_visa/ask_visa/#anchor_4 that:
Visa merchants are not permitted to establish minimum transaction amounts, even on sale items. They also are not permitted to charge you a fee when you want to use your Visa card.

On the face of it, it appears that NYSEG is in violation of the Visa merchant agreement. According to the same Visa page, when such a violation occurs, I should talk to the issuing financial institution about it.

The next day, 13 March, I spoke with Alternatives Federal Credit Union regarding the situation. They verified that there had indeed been two charges to my account by NYSEG for the amounts told to me by the NYSEG Customer Service Representative. Their suggestion, as a first step, was that I should contact you and ask for clarification on two issues:

1. Why was the transaction divided into two separate charges?
2. Why was there a $6+ fee per charge applied?

I am also interested as to why there is a fee for use of a Visa card, but no fee for use of a "check by phone", which was suggested by the Customer Service Representative.

How I proceed from here obviously depends on the answers to those two questions.

I await your reply,
Buddha Buck

CC: Alternatives Credit Union
CC: Better Business Bureau
CC: New York State Public Utilities Commission
Inc: copies of the bill in question, bank statements attesting to charges.

Opinions? suggestions? Other comments? This is not intended to be an email, but rather a printed letter sent through the US Postal System.

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Good job! Nail the greedy bastards!! :-)

So you think the letter is good enough as it is, and can't suggest any improvements?

Innnteresting. That's a well-worded letter and not on the offensive. I've seen a growing trend that companies are charging fees of varying sorts for paying with your credit card - I always thought it was to recoup the fee that the credit card networks charge them. I didn't realize that the merchant agreements forbid that. I wonder if enough companies do that, will the credit card companies change that part of the agreement? Or, will Visa/MC/Amex/etc. issue large fees/penalties/lawsuits?

Either way, I think it's ridiculous that NYSEG doesn't take credit cards. you want to pay your bill, and you're being penalized by wanting to pay them in full.

Good luck with the letter - let us know how it goes!

the problem is that some 'merchants' who are not specifically retail merchants do have a recoup program - I know the courts do for traffic tickets and such - their logic being the court is not going to pay a fee to assist your convenience.

I'm not certain that would apply to utilities, but you may want to discuss it with a Visa rep and not just look at the 'average' customer info for retail merchants. I know when I did craft shows and had my little mobile card machine that I had to abide by all those rules and was not permitted to recoup the processing fees from the customer - But - as its a COB it came off my taxes at end of year -

As Bob Sullivan of the Red Tape Chronicles terms it, this is a "pay to pay" scheme, which is truly poor form.

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