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TIAA-CREF Complaint - Overpayment refund and issues on 2006 403(b) account are still unresolved

Review by Bags on 2007-04-01
Company: TIAA-CREF

Ongoing complaint: After giving me wrong information about maximum limits on 403(b) contributions for tax year 2006 (letter sent by TIAA-CREF with a TDA calculation in July 2006), I discovered in January 2007 that I had overpaid on my retirement account in 2006. Umpteen telephone calls, faxes, letters and emails later, I received a refund check on March 30, 2007. Recent examples of telephone calls, with dates and times and first names of agents I spoke to in March 2007. Last names have been abbreviated on purpose.

1) called Heather L. on 3/5/07 at 5:20 pm - 15-minute hold while Heather checks why the refund has not been processed yet although I had been calling from mid-January. She does not know the reason and says she'll check into it and call back later (no one called back)

2) sent fax on 3/9/07 to 704-595-0848 regarding the lack of refunds. Also sent email to TIAA-CREF via secure (after logging in) website.
3) my university sent fax to the # number provided by TIAA-CREF at 12 noon on 3/9/07.
4) called Sascha S. on 3/14/07 at 4:30 pm to confirm receipt of the faxes - no record found. Received an auto-reply to my email complaint from a "do-not-reply" address.
5) called Steve W. on 3/15/07 - he said to call Debbie R-S out of Charlotte. So I called and left a voicemail on her phone answering machine.

6) my university sent the fax they had already sent to 2 other #'s given by TIAA-CREF. There is a 2-4 hour lag between the time we send faxes to the time it is received electronically in their system. So I call Bob S. at 8:30 am and Mike L. at 10:30 am on 3/16/07 but there are no faxes received at 800-914-8922, 704-595-0848 or 800-842-5916.

7) my university called Debbie R-S and she gave her direct fax line to which another copy (4th copy) of the same fax was sent. Finally, at 2 pm, I called Debbie R-S and she confirmed that she had received the fax (the deadline for the refund to get processed in 14 business days was March 16, 2007).

8) called Johan on 3/26/07 at 4 pm to check on the status of the processing - no information found in my record
9) called Debbie R-S at 3/26/07 at 5:55 pm and she said the check and a letter have been overnighted to me. The letter, she said, would explain why TIAA-CREF was not sending a corrected 1099R form until 2008. She said to call back by Wednesday, 3/28/07, if I had not received the mail.

10) on 3/28/07, there was no mail, so called 800-842-2776 at 8:40 pm on March 30 because Debbie R-S said that this main phone# has consultants that can help with my status query. I talked to Michael and he was able to tell me that my refund check was processed but he does not know whether it was mailed.

11) called Debbie R-S on 3/29/07 at 11:40 am and she said she did not know why Michael could not access the notes made on my record that stated that the check had been mailed via regular (not overnight) mail. She also did not know why the materials were not sent via overnight mail, given that I had been battling this issue from mid-January 2007 and time was of the essence.

Debbie R-S works in the Participant Relations Unit out of Charlotte, NC. She said on 3/29/07 that I needed to pay the 10% tax penalty. When I asked the reason for the penalty (because it was TIAA-CREF's erroneous letter that I had overpaid in the first place), she quickly backpedaled and said I needed to send in a complaint letter to the Participant Relations Unit in Charlotte, NC, and someone would research the whole issue all over again!

To date (4/1/07), I have not received the letter explaining the refund and overpayment although I received the refund check (finally) on 3/30/07 at 2 pm. My husband and I are still waiting for the all-important letter so we can file our taxes for 2006 in a timely fashion. After discovering the error of overpayment on my own despite TIAA-CREF's best efforts to mislead me in every communication (Debbie R-S originally said that I did not overpay because my December 2006 retirement payment showed in their system in January 2007), I have been educating all the consultants and agents who were supposed to be helping me!

Most of them are ignorant about laws governing retirement plans, specifically 403(b) plans. Worse, they mask their ignorance with wrong information and false assurances of follow-through ("We'll call you back tomorrow"). For example, Debbie R-S, when asked why I should pay a 10% tax penalty, said that she was not a tax advisor. Then she said I was liable for the tax penalty!

This is the worst example of customer service I have dealt with in my life, in India, United Kingdom, Germany and in the United States combined. TIAA-CREF has the worst customer service on record. The government seems to do nothing about this company playing with the trust and retirement funds of people in non-profit organizations - in universities and hospitals. TIAA-CREF's computer systems are a nightmare to deal with, its agents and "consultants" know less than I do regarding laws, limits and policies governing retirement plans, and its dealings with the plan administrators at my university also has a spectacularly poor record (according to the HR director).

I'm just a teacher at a university that trusted that TIAA-CREF was a good company to save for retirement, but now I find that they do not even take their fiduciary responsibilities seriously!! Is there no oversight for this careless and irresponsible behavior? Is there no remedy for the ignorant and uncaring customer "service" I have obtained so far?
Comments:1 Replies - Latest reply on 2007-05-19
Posted by mq_liang on 2007-05-19:
TIAA-CREF made a big mess of my 403(b) contribution!!!

I have my 403(b) account with TIAA-CREF since 08/01/2006.

On 04/13/2007, TIAA-CREF sent me a letter mentioned that my account got switch from a RA account to a GSRA account. The letter cached my attention, so I started looking into my account activity. The more I compared the number among various statements and the website information, the more confused I was. Finally I realized TIAA-CREF made a whole mess of my contribution and provided inaccurate financial statement. I made so many calls and more than a month passed, there is no correction made to my 403(b) account, and there is big difference between the contribution from my payroll statement, and the TIAA-CREF statement:

1. In year 2006, TIAA-CREF’s statement shows only half of my contribution, without any indication of my employer’s match.

2. My employer made consistent remittance to TIAA-CREF every month. But TIAA_CREF’s statement show no balance increase from 12/30/06 to 3/31/07.

3. There is big difference between 03/31/07 to current. From 03/31/07 to current, my balance jump 3 times of my previous quarter. There is no explanation why there is a big jump all of a sudden. The life-to-Date contribution has my employer total contribution correct (but nowhere else I can see the detail), but employee life-to-date contribution is less than my total contribution. There is no track of all my contribution either.

I requested the investigation for over a month. So far there is no progress at all. Even the service representative can immediately spot the problem from their screen. No one in TIAA-CREF really looked at the mess they created.

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