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I needed a loan. I’m entitled. I’m an American. I had bankrolled a few too many of my children’s summer camps on my credit card. “No” has always been a difficult word for me when faced with potentially life-changing educational adventures for my children.
One of my credit cards I’d cut up into little pieces, the other one felt the whisper of the guillotine blade before it was finally spared. Hey I’ve got to have SOME backup. Big mistake.
“Let them eat cake.”
So, I walked down to my neighborhood banking conglomerate branchlet to see what I could see. My bank has been on the same corner since I moved to this town fifteen years ago. It has the same lovely drive-up teller windows, the same vault, the same bank of safety deposit boxes, even some of the same tellers. But the bank’s name on the big sign in front has changed three times in the last five years.
I sat down with Justin who walked me through the possibilities. He was very helpful. He got Cheryl involved. Between the two of them, my head was spinning when I walked out. It turns out there are more ways than I imagined to encourage debt.
I talked it over with my wife, resolved that a $30,000 line of credit on my house was going to save me money over the long run from what I was giving to those other conglomerates — the credit card companies — and applied. And, through the miracle of good banking and questionable credit, we were accepted.
That’s where the fun started. Justin and Cheryl can’t close a loan. We had to talk to “the underwriter”.
“Isn’t the bank the underwriter,” I asked. “Weren’t they representatives of said bank?”
Guess not. They gave me a 1-800 number to call and talk to Randy.
“Hi Randy,” I said, his actual phone number readout said “Phoenix, Arizona” on my phone.
“How’s Phoenix,” I asked.
“I’m in Pennsylvania. Are you ready to close on your loan sir?”
Randy was a flatliner. He laid out the terms that were many percentage points of interest higher than Justin had laid out.
“Woe pardner (I was still stuck in Phoenix) what happened here?”
He proceeded to give me the opportunity of a lifetime to open a new account at the bank that would do everything including shine my shoes. He also said that if I wanted to pay the closing costs of the loan that would also bring the interest rate down.
“What are the closing costs,” I asked.
“Let me think about it, Randy.”
“Get back to me as soon as possible so I can speak with the underwriter.”
“I thought YOU were the underwriter?
“Well maybe I should talk to the underwriter. Who is this mystery man?”
“I heard you the first time Randy.”
“Get back to me as soon as possible.”
“Okay Randy, I will.”
When I went to my local bank the next Saturday to ask who the Underwriter was, Justin wasn’t there.
“He’s out for training today.”
“When will he be back?”
“Well is Cheryl here?”
“She’s not in yet. But I can help. My name is Edwidge.”
“Alright Edwidge, who’s the underwriter?”
“Never mind. I’ll come back when I can talk to Cheryl.”
Awash in well-trained Customer Service Reps who can only be trusted to divulge 1-800 numbers of other well-trained Customer Service Reps, I left the office in search of a human being. I bumped into Cheryl in front of the frozen yogurt store.
“Yeah, they can be tough,” she admitted. “I tried to get them to waive a late fee on my account, and they wouldn’t do it.”
“But don’t you work for the bank,” I asked.
She blushed and winked. “I think we all work for the bank,” she said.
Despite this I felt I was getting somewhere. Cheryl stood right in front of me. There was no doubt she was a human. She even had a daughter who wanted to go into banking.
“Who’s the underwriter, Cheryl?”
“I don’t know, but let me call Gloria for you,” she said.
So now I’m on the phone to Gloria. “You don’t need a $30,000 loan,” says Gloria, “you need one for $90,000. It’s no real extra for you and you’ll always have it.”
But Gloria, I don’t want a $90,000 line of credit. I couldn’t be trusted with a credit card that had $7,000 on it and stupidly paid for summer camps with money I don’t have. Now you’re going to give me $90,000 to spend even though it’s not mine? I don’t think so.”
“Suit yourself,”she said, “but if you take $90,000, your interest rate will be lower.”
“How much lower?”
“4%. Exactly what you asked for.”
“Be careful what you ask for Gloria.” I rang off. How stupid would I have to be? I am not taking $90,000 that is not mine. That would get spent in a New York minute.
Wow. 4%. Pretty good rate.
I was getting nowhere. I called Randy back and left another voice mail. He was never at the extension he gave. And when he called me back, first the phone ID read “Miami,” and later he’d been transferred to “Dubai.” He got around, that Randy.
After phone prompt shenanigans of the worst kind, we finally hooked up.
“Are you ready to close,” he fairly chirped. This after the last malevolent message he’d left me said the entire loan would be withdrawn if I didn’t close soon.
“Yes, give me terms Randy.”
He went through the terms and ended with the closing costs of $1,350.
“Wait? What happened to $565.65?”
“Where’d you get that figure,” asked Randy.
“YOU gave it to me.”
He consulted his computer. Hmmm.
Seventy minutes later. He still couldn’t explain. “Your closing costs are $1,350, Mr. Jones.” He had no bedside manner.
“These phone conversations are recorded, aren’t they Randy?”
“That’s right sir.”
“Alright, I’ll wait here while you play back last week’s conversation when you told me it was $565.65.”
“I can’t do that sir.”
“You’d better talk to the Underwriter, Randy, and straighten this out.”
I rang off. I was getting angry. This is not good. On the other hand, being angry at the bank seemed like an appropriate response to denying my own stupidity. But it didn’t feel very fun. It wasn’t the rush I had thought it would be.
I was alone on this loan. I had no one I could turn to. Maybe I should call Gloria. We’d had some laughs, some good times. She had a little more bend in her voice than Randy, at any rate. Randy was a two by four, at least Gloria was plywood. I was a sapling.
Gloria agreed with everything I said. “What is wrong with those, people,” she exclaimed. “Let me see if I can reach the Underwriter.” Gloria was ALL bedside manner. “We’ve got to take care of our customers better, Mr. Jones.”
“If you reach the Underwriter,” I emoted to Gloria, “tell him that the cause he has to hate me is based only on my poverty, not on my spirit. Tell him my spirit is strong and can’t be deflated by three penny nails.”
“I’ll do my best, Mr. Jones,” Gloria said and rang off.
I let it go. I decided to wait until I heard from someone…anyone. Clearly I was out of my depth here amongst the sharks of finance: I was a schlump with a job and enough conscience, ignorance and decorum not to stiff a phantom bank.
That’s when I realized I was not alone. My wife who’d been following the action decided to call Randy and leave him a nice message about how he should expect a call from the Attorney General who liked to ride steeds in Arizona with young boys named Randy.
Suddenly I got a call from Randy. “We’re ready to deal, Mr. Jones.”
“Oh wow, Randy. So glad to hear from you.”
“We prize ourselves on customer service and we’re ready to close this loan, with a closing cost of $1350. Are you ready?”
“Look Randy. All I want is what you promised me — a $30,000 line of credit and a closing cost of $565.65.”
“No. We’re looking at a $90,000 line of credit. It says right here.”
“I don’t care what it says, I’m saying to you that I never asked for a $90,000 loan.” That goddamned Gloria must be a double agent.
“Oh, well in that case your closing costs will be $565.65.”
“Do you believe in God Randy?”
“I’d have to ask the Underwriter, sir.”
“I know the Underwriter personally, Randy. And he said this loan is A-okay with him. So tell him I’m walking into my bank branchlet this Saturday morning and if they don’t have a loan for me to sign, I’m going to give the teller a polite note asking to hand over $30,000, capiche?”
“I think so sir. You’re telling me the Underwriter has passed on the loan.”
“That’s right, son. And once that happens, I can withdraw into my shell and he can bundle up the loan with a lot of others and sell it to a Berlin banking conglomerate who can separate us by credit scores and re-sell me and the other lower credit scores to a Gypsy hookah consortium with an interest in Ethiopian arms manufacturing and Arabic prisons. That way the monthly payment I’m sending you can bring the maximum level of pain, sorrow, death and destruction into the world at large. Except in Pennsylvania. I think you’re safe Randy.”
“Thanks sir. Now, please stay on the line to take our customer satisfaction survey.”