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American Express

My AMEX Financial Review

My AMEX Financial Review

For anyone that follows me on Twitter, you know that I got hit with the dreaded American Express Financial Review last month.

While it was a relatively painless experience except for the small forest of trees that I had to print out and FAX in, I thought I’d share my experience in case anyone else has to go through a Financial Review in the future or wants to know how to avoid having one in the first place.

Back Story

While I was on my mega trip last month, I remembered that I had to pay my grad school tuition before the quarter started. Typically, these types of large payments have to be made by either check or loan distribution BUT to my amazement, my school allowed us to pay by credit card (without any additional processing fee)!

Although the $11,000 payment was a large dent in my checking account, it also meant $11,000 in spend on my credit card, which meant MILES!

I was thinking about putting the charge on my SPG AMEX but ultimately decided that 11,000 Ultimate Rewards Points would be best since I could transfer those UR Points to United, Southwest, Hyatt, British Airways, etc.

While my limit on my Chase INK Bold is only $8,000, I had pre-paid my card with an extra $3,000 the previous month, thus giving myself a credit of -$3,000. This way when I charged my $11,000 tuition, I wouldn’t go over my $8,000 credit limit because the $3,000 credit would kick in.

Well on my trip, a few times I had to pay with my Chase INK Bold and depleted some of my $3,000 credit.

When I logged into my Chase.com account before I charged my tuition, I realized that I would more than likely go over my credit limit. Since the tuition payment was due that day, I couldn’t simply just over pay my bill again, so I called Chase to see if they could move some credit around from my other cards.

Well apparently since the Chase INK Bold is a charge card, there aren’t any additional credit lines they can move to it.  So I was effectively stuck with my $8,000 limit! 

Since paying with my Chase INK Bold was off the table, I decided to pay with my AMEX Platinum Card, which has no pre-set spending limit.

I’ve always wondered what that phrase “no pre-set limit” meant. Could you just buy a $50,000 car and charge it to your credit card if the dealer allowed it?

Since the payment was being made online while I was in another country, to make sure the purchase didn’t get flagged for fraud, I called AMEX and told them I was about to make a $11,000 charge and to make sure it didn’t get flagged.

They made a note on my account and I went ahead and charged the entire $11,000 to my AMEX Platinum Card. There weren’t any problems and the payment went thru smoothly. 

I was planning on paying off the charge right away but since I was traveling and had an entire month to pay it off, I figured I would just wait and pay it when I got back to Chicago. 

When I landed back in the US, I decided to go ahead and pay off my bills so I logged into my AMEX account and saw that ALL 4 OF MY AMEX ACCOUNTS WERE FROZEN!

I figured maybe there was some sort of fraud due to the big payment, however when I turned my cell phone on after it being off for 1 month, there was a message from AMEX saying they were calling from the Financial Review Department…

I figured that when someone calls you from the Financial Review Department and all 4 of your accounts are frozen, that can only mean one thing…

I called AMEX and they confirmed the obvious…..I was getting Financial Reviewed.

The reason for the Financial Review was due to the large $11,000 charge which was outside of my normal range of purchases. AMEX wanted to verify that if they were going to “lend” me $11,000, that I had the resources to pay it back. 

Financial Review Process

To complete the Financial Review, I had 15 days to send in my previous year’s tax forms to prove my income.

AMEX is pretty tech savvy but Financial Reviews are the one area where they are still in 1980s.

How does AMEX expect you to send documents to them?

By physically faxing in your tax forms of course! There is no option to mail or email in your documents.

I do my taxes via TurboTax and have all my tax returns saved as PDFs on my computer, but they are over 60 pages each due to all the calculation sheets that TurboTax produces.

So instead of being able to complete the Financial Review process in about 1 second by sending AMEX an email with the PDFs attached, I had to physically print 60 pages and then fax them to AMEX.

My thoughts on fax machines…

It of course also takes a few days for the fax to show up in AMEX’s system and then a few more days for someone to manually review your forms. 

After I faxed in my tax forms, I figured it would be prudent to pay off my bill before they did the Financial Review, so I went ahead and did that. 

Financial Review Potential Outcomes

The 3 outcomes of the Financial Review process are fairly simple: 

  • No Change – If your tax forms match the income on your original credit card application then you are in the clear and your accounts should be re-opened without issue. Your points are safe!

  • Decreased Credit Line – If your tax forms are lower than the income on your original credit card application due to change of jobs, etc, then your credit line will be re-adjusted accordingly to match your new income. Even though your limits might get lowered, your accounts are still in good standing and your points are safe. Remember it certainly could be worse!

  • Account Closure – If you blatantly lied on your credit card applications and your tax forms are not even close to your income, they may ask to see earlier tax returns or simply close all your AMEX accounts. This is the worst thing that can happen because you lose all your points AND on your credit report, it shows that the cards were closed by the issuer (as opposed to you closing it yourself). NOT GOOD!

Financial Review Results

A week went by and my accounts were still frozen so I went ahead and called in to check the status. Since there is no confirmation or online tracking of your Financial Review, even though I faxed my 60 pages to AMEX, I was told that they apparently never received them…

Hence why my original thoughts on fax machines given they never seem to work…

I thought that AMEX not receiving my forms was going to be a big problem because the 15 day limit had already passed and they typically will just go ahead and close your account if they don’t receive your forms in time! However apparently because I had already paid off my bill in full, instead of having me try to fax the tax forms again, they just went ahead and closed the Financial Review without any further action!

My credit lines were untouched and all my points were safe! 

Now I don’t know if this was an isolated case or if they just messed up but I was fairly happy I didn’t have to re-fax in 60 pages!

Recap

While the Financial Review process is annoying (mostly because of the faxing!), it isn’t as bad as the frequent flyer community makes it out to be.

If I had to take an educated guess, a lot of the “drama” around Financial Reviews is probably based on people putting down fake incomes to begin with and then being surprised that AMEX performed a Financial Review after they bought $25,000 worth of Vanilla Reloads or US Mint coins and their tax forms didn’t match the income they had originally put down…

If you were truthful about your income when you applied, you should have no problem passing your Financial Review. Even if your income is off by a couple thousand, the worst they will do is lower your limits, which isn’t the end of the world. 

That being said, the easiest way to avoid getting a Financial Review in the first place is to NOT MAKE EXTREMELY LARGE PURCHASES that fall outside of your normal purchasing range.

If your income on your credit card application was $50,000 and you charge something that is $10,000, that is 20% of your pre-tax income in one charge which is a big red flag for credit card companies. 

Similarly, if you don’t use your card for months and then randomly make a huge charge, AMEX wants to make sure that it isn’t because you just lost your job and you are now living off of your credit card with no plan to pay it back.

Going forward, I will be more careful about making large purchases with my AMEX cards. If I do need to make a large purchase, I will try and pre-pay my card before making the purchase so as not to raise any red flags.

If anyone else has gone thru the Financial Review process, please feel free to share your experience below. 

-Parag

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1st Ever FFU Alert / AMEX Platinum Concierge Experience

1st FFU Text Alert

This past weekend, I sent out the first ever FFU alert!

If you signed up for text alerts last week, then Sunday you should have received the following messages on your phone!

If you signed up for FFU Alerts but didn’t receive the above messages on your phone, then you may not have enabled mobile notifications.

Anyways, just wanted to make sure everyone who signed up for FFU Alerts, actually received them.

The deal which Just Another Points Traveler found is actually fairly spectacular! A normal U.S – London award ticket would cost you around 30,000 Miles each way on United or American. Instead with Virgin Atlantic, it is only 13,000 – 17,500 Virgin Miles each way with NO FUEL SURCHARGES, which is really a steal!

My AMEX Platinum Concierge Experience

While most of us only get credit cards for the miles, almost all cards come with a host of “perks”.

Some of the perks include priority boarding, lounge access, increased earning ratios, concierge service, etc.

Outside of lounge access from my AMEX Platinum, I don’t really use any of the additional “perks” that come with any of my 21+ credit cards.

That being said, a couple weeks ago I did actually use the AMEX Platinum Concierge Service and was so impressed that I decided it deserved a write up.

While I have known about the AMEX Platinum Concierge Service since way back in January, when one of my friends used the service to have clothes picked out and concerts tickets delivered, I have only used the service once.

This was when another friend left her coat in the Istanbul Airport. I thought it was a stretch but didn’t have any better ideas so I called AMEX Concierge and asked them to see if they could find the coat and send it back to the US. To my surprise, they called Istanbul Airport, Lufthansa, and Madrid Airport everyday for 2 weeks trying to find the coat. Unfortunately the coat was never found but I was still impressed with their effort in trying to find it.

Since then I haven’t used the AMEX Platinum Concierge Service because many times it is far quicker for me to perform the task (like making dinner reservations) rather then calling it in to AMEX and explaining the task to an agent.

However 2 weeks ago, I decided to put AMEX Platinum Concierge Service to the test after I forgot to make dinner reservations for an important dinner.

In typical male fashion, I remembered the morning of the dinner that I had forgot to make reservations. After a quick Yelp session, I decided to see if I could get a reservation to restaurant called RPM Italian, which is owned by Bill and Giuliana Rancic

I called up the restaurant and although it was a weekday, to my surprise the restaurant didn’t have any reservations available until 10PM!

10PM was way too late, so I decided to try the AMEX Platinum Concierge Service and see what they could do. I honestly wasn’t expecting much. At best maybe I thought they could get us a spot at 9PM?

I called the number on the back of my AMEX Platinum and explained where I wanted to go, the time, party size, etc.

The agent was very friendly and asked if this was a special occasion and should they inform the restaurant if it was. The agent also asked if it was needed, could the restaurant secure my reservation with a credit card. Since I knew we were for sure going to be there, I said it was okay, although in the end it wasn’t needed.

The agent said she would give the restaurant a call and call me back in a few minutes.

5 minutes later, the agent called me back and said she had secured us a spot at 7PM!

I was fairly amazed that she was able to snag us a prime time reservation. I have no idea what the agents say but I am guessing sometime during the conversation the words “AMEX Platinum Cardholder” are dropped.

When we arrived at RPM later that evening, we went ahead and checked in with the hostess.

RPM is definitely one of those restaurants where even if you have a reservation and check in on time, they still make you wait 15 minutes and kindly direct you to spend money at the bar…

Anyways to my absolute shock, because of the 15 minute wait after we checked in, the manager came out and brought free glass of champagne for everyone that was waiting.

When we were eventually seated, the manger again came out and apologized for the wait and also sent us 3 free appetizers!

I have no idea if this special treatment was directly correlated to AMEX calling to make the reservation on my behalf but that certainly has NEVER happened to me before.

Recap

While the AMEX Concierge isn’t a service that I use very often, as seen in the above example, it worked like a charm. Again I have no idea if the manager of RPM was aware that our reservation had been made by AMEX Concierge, but in all my years of dining, I have never had an experience like that.

Since the AMEX Concierge is ultimately something you are paying for via the $450 Annual Fee on the AMEX Platinum, going forward I definitely will be trying to use the service more. This is especially true if my requests include anything expensive like dinner reservations, hotel bookings, etc.

At a minimum, it is awesome for getting last minute dinner reservations to “sold out” places!

If anyone else has any experiences with the AMEX Platinum Concierge, feel free to leave a comment!

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AMEX Platinum Card – Annual Fee Waived

AMEX Platinum Card With Annual Fee Waived

I have written extensively about the American Express Platinum Card and how the Global Entry, TSA Pre Check, $200 in Airline Credit, SPG Gold Status, and Lounge Access make it well worth the $450 Annual Fee.

In spite of all those benefits (which are worth more than $450), a lot of Readers still get caught up on the Annual Fee since it isn’t waived for the first year like most other Cards.

I was reading Milevalue the other day and he found a link via Ameriprise that offers the American Express Platinum Card with the Annual Fee WAIVED for the first year!

The only catch is that there is NO SIGN ON BONUS.

You are still getting the same Platinum Card (that you would get if you paid the Annual Fee), just no Membership Rewards Points for signing up. All the other Platinum Card benefits are the same.

Link To Ameriprise Offer

I know a lot of Readers really only want the AMEX Platinum Card for the Lounge Access, Global Entry, and $200 Airline Credit, so the Ameriprise offer might be worth doing since it is saving you $450.

The offer is “technically” only for Ameriprise Clients, but if you read the comments on Milevalue, people who are not Clients have been approved without issue and the application is public and accessible by anyone.

Mercedes Benz Platinum Card With 50,000 Point Bonus

If you are interested in earning Membership Points and also don’t mind paying the Annual Fee, then there is a Mercedes Benz AMEX Platinum that gets you 50,000 Membership Rewards Points after $1,000 in Minimum Spend.

Link To Mercedes Benz AMEX Platinum Offer

Lounge Access For 4 Years

If you are still on the fence about getting the Platinum Card, DansDeals had an interesting tidbit. According to him, you can use your American Express Platinum Card to get Lounge Access until your Card officially expires in 4 years.

So even if you cancel your Card before the Annual Fee comes due, it should still work to get Lounge Access since the Lounge Attendants never actually run your Card.

-Parag

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