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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3 Comments

  • simon says:

    There are online services now that you can effectively email the pdf and it converts it to a fax provided you give the fax number. Other services also creates a fax number for you and converts incoming faxes to pdfs and emails it to you. I've seen a few online, never used any as workplace had fax capability in the giant Xerox machines.

    Well sounds like it all worked out. Anytime I fax I always call in to make sure they got it. Fax machines are still huge giant black boxes.

  • I was going to say the same thing as Simon. I've used faxzero.com for all of my personal faxing (when it absolutely HAS to be done – it's annoying that some companies still insist on using them) since 2007, and I've never had a problem, whether I use the freebie (less than 3 pages) version or pay for it. It has a maximum of 15 pages per transaction ($1.99 per transaction), so you would have had to pay for 4 transactions, but that seems worth it to me – saves 60 pages of paper and the time to actually complete the fax! Thanks for insight on financial reviews.

  • forget AMEX says:

    How about another idea, if AMEX wants to be such a pain in the a—s then maybe run off with the 11K and dont pay them?
    I was with them for 28 years when they pulled this with me on the gold premium travel rewards card. I found out they do this often with the Gold travel reward card. I had to buy a hot water heater late at night because my heater broke, I had an expensive plummer waiting in the middle of the night to get this job done and they pulled this on me most likely because the charge was 4K for a commercial heater from home depot, where I never shop and right before the store closed so it was late at night.
    When I asked them why they did this the rep told me "because I didnt pay my bill early enough" even though I he agreed that I was never late in 28 years. Never because my reliable secretary paid my bill and she was never late till the day she retired.
    I went home told them to stuff it and NEVER got another AMEX again.
    I will NEVER fax my rtns to some outsourced call center who knows where with no assurances of security either.
    Actually, I had cs agents call me back from the "executive offices" asking me 1 year later what happened, I told them to buzz off!
    Take my advice, forget AMEX there are lots of cards out there and companies that want your business if you have a good job, dont worry forget AMEX

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