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Credit card chaos

Bruce opened a credit card account as the main account holder and his wife, Ann, as the supplementary account holder. Every month Bruce got an email reminding him to check his account statement online and pay the amount due. Because Ann took care of the couple’s finances, Bruce would ask Ann to pay the credit card bill. Ann checked her online statement and paid the account balance in full.

After a couple of months Ann began to wonder whether she was seeing all the transactions, because the only transactions appearing online were her transactions. Ann queried Bruce, who called the credit card provider. Bruce said the credit card provider told him not to worry, and so Bruce didn’t.

About a year later Bruce got a text from the credit card provider saying his credit card balance was $58,000, $8,000 over his $50,000 limit. Bruce was shocked and called the credit card provider.

The credit card provider explained that Ann had been paying only the balance on the supplementary card, so the debt on Bruce’s card had been accumulating. The problem only became apparent when the total balance on the account exceeded the credit limit.

Bruce agreed he should pay for his transactions, but asked the credit card provider to refund the $7,500 in interest he had been charged on his account. When the credit card provider declined, Bruce referred his complaint to FSCL.



Bruce said the credit card provider’s staff misled him when he called to query whether Ann was able to see all the transactions on the account. If the staff had correctly advised him that Ann could not see his transactions he would have asked for Ann to be given full visibility over the account. If Ann had been able to see the true balance owing on the account she would have paid it, avoiding interest charges.

The credit card provider said all its staff know a supplementary card holder cannot see the main account holder’s transactions and would not have misled Bruce.



We asked the credit card provider for the records of its conversation with Bruce. The credit card provider confirmed Bruce did call when he said, but the credit card provider had kept no notes of the call and was unable to locate the recording of the conversation.

Without records of the call we were unable to find that the credit card provider had misled Bruce. We queried why Ann, who had previously noticed that none of Bruce’s transactions were showing on her account records, did not raise this again with Bruce. We were also of the view that Bruce had some obligation to check his own statements from time to time.

Although we were unable to find that the credit card provider should compensate Bruce for the interest, it seemed to us fundamentally unfair that Bruce should be detrimentally affected by the credit card provider’s poor record keeping.



We recommended the credit card provider pay Bruce $500 as compensation for the inconvenience caused by the failure to keep adequate records. Bruce accepted our recommendation, pleased that we had agreed that the credit card provider should have kept better records.


Insights for participants

Keep records. We do not expect consumers to keep records of their conversations, but participants should keep records of all contact with consumers. If we cannot reach a decision because of poor record keeping, we may decide that compensation is appropriate.