Amazon Payments. A Personal Banking Nightmare from the 1990s.
SEATTLE, WASHINGTON -- With the slow but steady demise of BillMonk, my friends and I turned to other means of debt tracking and bill sharing for our nights out. Ultimately we turned to Amazon Payments and their 'TextPayMe' service. While many of them may rant about how cool this is, I'm not going to.
Here is how it supposedly works. You give them your credit or debit card number, or alternatively your bank routing number and bank account. They supposedly from then on will magically deduct the texted amount from your bank and automatically drop it into your friend's Amazon Payments account. No need to split bills anymore, no need to settle up later. Its all done with a quick, flashy text from your cellphone to Amazon's number. You just text them the short "Pay $$ 'Account Name Here'" and tada! No muss, no fuss.
Here are the massive hiccups involved in this service, and the inducement of what is at least a 5-7 business day headache... it not much much longer, because one then must undo the damage done.
1). Unless you weave through the complicated and ill-laid out Amazon Payments website to find the box to check, the TextPayMe is going to call you and demand your Amazon Pin. No big deal. The phone call takes a minute or two. You're done, right? Nope.
2.) You've authorized the payment, it should be done, right? No. Something happens, and I have not yet been given a straight forward answer as to why. You get a text back either confirming that the money was transferred, or the OTHER message. "Your credit card was declined."
Okay, well... you know theres plenty of money in your account. Why was it declined? Meanwhile your friend wants his money and you look a bit like a deadbeat. You apologize and say you'll try again. Cue the annoying slew of 'call your banks' from your friends. Yes, that's exactly what I want to do- sift through a phone tree of computer automation.
What Amazon's very vague text that literally says, 'your credit card was declined' actually means is its been 'temporarily declined.' That is the exact wording given to me by the person on the other side of the 'Contact Us' link. But they don't tell you that in the text. Its just declined. In the rest of the world, that means its over. Try again. So what does it really mean?
This charge has been put into a review, which they claim takes 24 hours. I assume business hours. Unless you go onto their site and figure this out yourself by clicking on the right thing, you would never know. But why was it put into review? I wish I could tell you this. They have a box you can click SOMEWHERE that says, 'call me above a certain payment amount.' I had this unchecked. But they still called.
More confusion before we go on. They bounced certain charges, but let others go through.
Back to the meat of it. Tired of dealing with them pulling directly from my credit card because they didn't seem to like it, I decided to dump my 'going out' budget into Amazon Payments so they could directly pull from there. The TextPayMe system is supposed to pull from your balance with Amazon Payments first, and if you don't have enough there, it pulls from your credit card or account. Reasonable. But then we enter the 1990s.
Depositing AND withdrawing money into your Amazon Payments account takes 5-7 business days. That is 5-7 business days that it disappears from one place, reappears in another but isn't actually usable until then. Didn't we dispose of this (I believe by law) way, way back? This is not a money transfer where physical tender is being moved from place to place, this is electronic information. This is two computers talking to one another and saying, "Got it?" "Yep, got it." "Give me." "OK." Done.
So your budget for going out is in limbo, your Amazon Payments balance is still nonexistent, they are still reviewing your 'temporarily declined' payment and your friend wants his money. So what do you do? Try again? No that would be silly. But I did it anyway. Result? The exact same. The card was declined, the payment shunted to a reviewed status and I now have two payments and a balance transfer hanging in limbo. Its like the sword of damocles. When and where will the payments strike, further depleting your weakened saving account.
I had finally had enough. I contacted Amazon and they told me all of this 'temporarily declined' nonsense and they assured me that my poor limbo'ed budget would eventually arrive. And oh, they reviewed the first declined charge and its going through. But the other charge is still pending. When its deemed successful, it will be charged too... whenever that is. Twenty hours has passed, I'd like to note. Fantastic! Except I asked them to cancel them both so I could just pay my friend in cash! Now he must pay ME back for the duplicate charge.
So here I sit. Officially complaining about a product for the first time in my life. Lets add one last insult to injury. When I finally get my balance that has been floating unusably through cyberspace until then, I still either have to use this service to get it back, or else wait ANOTHER 5-7 days for them to transfer it back into my account. 10-14 BUSINESS days that I have not had my budgeted funds available, and have had to dip into other budgets to fulfill demands made. That is 2-3 weeks to those who are counting... business days after all.
A double payment that was supposed to come from my Amazon Payments account has been pulled out of my savings account, and I won't be getting that back until it is all settled. I did kind of want to go buy some groceries this week, but heres a fun fact- the money you have in your AP account can only be used with Amazon, and even then only on certain products.
I don't think an ATM (or a kind, apologetic smile and a request to split the check) has EVER looked so good right now. I ask you: who would do this to themselves? How is this convenient to have a reserve of difficult to access, difficult to replenish, difficult to use money that is not doing anything useful but sitting there possibly a good thing? Even in an ordinary savings account, its use or movement is near-instant, and in the meantime its making tenth of cents in interest.