Friday, November 8, 2019

Scam Alert: PayPal Credit, Synchrony Bank Playing Hide and Seek With Special Financing Purchase Offers

by Fearless Rick Gagliano, editor, Money Daily

     When it comes to banking in general, most Americans (Europeans and Asians, as well, we might assume) are skeptical about institutional sincerity and customer care. After all, it was just a decade ago that some of the biggest banks in the world were caught up in a messy triage with overzealous rating agencies and absent regulators that sent global finance to its knees.

Image result for PayPal credit logoSince the Great Financial Crisis (GFC) of 2008, there have been more than few dubious practices entertained by major banks. Wells-Fargo comes to mind, whose employees, paragons of virtue all, no doubt, opened accounts in people's names without their knowledge, among other scandalous activity.

Certainly, the annals of banking history are rife with examples of financial trickery, pandering and assorted crimes and misdemeanors carried on by monied institutions, all in the name of profit and greed.

With the advent of the internet age, banking has become more streamlined, varied and accessible to anyone with a smartphone, tablet or computer. Offerings from non-bank institutions abound. The leader among transactional vendors being PayPal, the the online business-consumer, peer-to-peer middleman company founded in part by Elon Musk, Max Levchin, and Peter Thiel made its name by offering online accounts to anybody who could "fog a mirror" and with a few nickels to rub together.

With an IPO in 2002 and subsequent acquisition by online auctioneer eBay, PayPal became the de facto standard for online payments. Reacting to a squabble from investor Carl Ichan, eBay divested itself from PayPal in 2014 and since then PayPal has been a stand-alone company. It was late in 2008 and early 2009 that PayPal, after acquiring the company known as Bill Me Later, began to offer credit to consumers. Aptly named PayPal Credit, a complete credit and debiting system aimed at the massive consumer audience worldwide was established.

Among their many marketing tactics, PayPal Credit offered a wildly popular option called special purchase financing, bearing zero interest for six months on purchases of $99 or more if paid in full during the allotted time. That promotion still exists today, but the present and recent past are where the issues of dubious claims and incomplete disclosure of terms begins.

Enter Synchrony

Image result for Synchrony logoPayPal partnered with consumer credit giant, Synchrony Financial, to offer credit cards to PayPal account holders in 2004 and took the relationship even further in 2017, when it sold $5.8 billion in consumer credit receivables to Synchrony Financial, effectively yielding control over the operation of PayPal Credit to Synchrony.

It was around that time in 2017 that how payments on PayPal Credit accounts were allocated was altered. When parent company PayPal was operating PayPal Credit, allocations of payments on accounts were handled roughly as anything over the minimum required payment on the entire account was then allocated to the special purchase financing.

For example, a PayPal Credit account holder, with, say, $1000 existing outstanding balance and a minimum monthly payment of $40, makes a purchase for $500 and takes advantage of the Zero Interest for Six Months if Paid in Full Special Financing Purchase. When the account holder makes a payment, say $100, $40 would cover the outstanding minimum credit payment and the remaining $60 would be applied to the Special Financing Purchase. That was pretty standard, and logical.

No more. Now, when that same account holder (or any account holder) with an existing outstanding balance makes the same transaction, the entirety of his or her payment goes toward the account balance and NONE is allocated to the Special Financing Purchase until the final 60 days of said Special Financing Purchase. In the meantime, interest accrues on the Special Financing Purchase at the full amount, in our case, $500. If the Special Financing Purchase balance is not paid off in full at the expiration of the six months, all of the accrued interest becomes part of the account balance due.

Nowhere in the terms and conditions of Special Financing Purchase is this made obvious or even mentioned to consumers. It is only revealed when (as our Editor found out) one questions PayPal Credit customer support by phone or by online chat. The response to why this devious practice is maintained, is that PayPal Credit and/or Synchrony Financial uses best practices in allocating funds in this manner. It's almost a certainty that said best practices are what's best for the bank, not the consumer, and here's why:

Beyond the failure to disclose this in-house allocation rule, the bank (Synchrony, in this case), has interest accruing on that Special Financing Purchase (remember, ZERO interest for six months if paid in full) at the full amount of the purchase, not at a lesser amount if account holder payment allocations were done the old way, in a moral, reasonable, and logical manner. It also sets up the casual account holder for a shock, when he/she looks at the Special Financing Purchase and realizes that with two months left to pay off the Special Financing Purchase at Zero Percent he or she still owes the full amount.

Unless one is careful enough to scrutinize the monthly statements generated by PayPal Credit, this poor or mis-allocation of payments - done in the name of best practices - can easily go unnoticed, especially if one makes automatic or automated monthly payments, a practice which all banks and credit card companies strongly encourage.

There is some relief, maybe.

Calls to PayPal Credit on this or any credit account issue result in referral to Synchrony. The supervisor with which Money Daily spoke on Thursday, November 7, elicited the response that payments can be allocated to the Special Financing Purchase if one calls Synchrony at 1-844-373-4961 and requests the payments be directed according to the wishes of the account holder, and NOT in the manner usually employed by the BANK (Synchrony). Synchrony says they will honor such requests and process them, but allocations will not show up on online accounts for "a few days."

Additionally, none of this would apply to anybody who isn't carrying a balance (the wise and fortunate 20-30% of account holders) with PayPal Credit and the only purchase made was a Special Financing Purchase. In that case, all of the monthly payment would be applied to the deferred interest financing because that's all there is.

Therein lies the problem. Instead of doing business in a morally correct, logical, reasonable, responsible, and customer-friendly manner, Synchrony Financial has chosen the usual path of 21st century bankers: deceit, incomplete disclosure, "gotcha" terms and "special financing" with in-house rules designed to maximize the bank's profitability, the customer be damned. To do business in what would normally be considered the "best practice" for the consumer, the account holder has to go out of his or her way to make a special phone call, jump through hoops, listen to all of the recordings and prompts to get what should have been done automatically. This is, after all, the age of high-speed communications and the internet, not Ma Bell's twisted copper.

If this practice isn't illegal, it would be no shock today. Financial institutions have been afforded wide latitude in their dealings with the public, to encourage loans, credit, and debt in a wide array of products and offerings.

In a world in which sanity, fairness, and reasonableness would be the norm, this kind of operation might be considered fraud at worst, bait-and-switch at best. But today, in our world of glorification of all things money and financial, where the dollar sign is revered and worshipped, it barely registers a "lookie here." It's a sad commentary on the state of morality and banking when gigantic, faceless institutions are able to run roughshod over consumers. It goes against the public interest, an interest, incidentally, that nobody - from bankers to consumer credit agencies to politicians - seems to be even remotely interested in protecting.

So, what do you think? Is this practice just run-of-the-mill deceit and standard underhandedness by PayPal Credit and Synchrony Financial, or does it rise to or border on criminal mischief, something banking regulators or congress should address? Comments are open, and are moderated.

Anybody experiencing issues such as those outlined above should call Synchrony at 1-844-373-4961 and complain loudly.

Be polite, but overall, be careful.

UPDATE: Found a thread on the PayPal boards dealing with this very issue. Many are fuming about it.
See here:

UPDATE 11/27/19: This issue will remain, as the actions of Synchrony are guided by Regulation Z. See the updated blog post:

At the Close, Thursday, November 7, 2019:
Dow Jones Industrial Average: 27,674.80, +182.24 (+0.66%)
NASDAQ: 8,434.52, +23.89 (+0.28%)
S&P 500: 3,085.18, +8.40 (+0.27%)
NYSE Composite: 13,395.55, +43.98 (+0.33%)

No comments: