Dear ABC News Fixer: My Bill Pay Error Is Killing My Credit

PHOTO: Citigroup Center sign

Dear ABC News Fixer: I accidentally sent an online bill payment from my checking account to CitiFinancial retail services, when I meant to send it to CitiMortgage.

I didn't realize the mistake right away, and the next month's payment went out the same way, to the wrong account.

My CitiFinancial account was an old account that was paid off in 2008; I have every billing statement and proof of payoff.

I called my bank to try to reverse the payments, but unfortunately, they couldn't. I tried to call CitiFinancial, but was told that this old account was taken over by GE Money. GE Money doesn't have any record of it.

I was given a fax number and told to send documentation. I did that, but haven't heard from anyone.

The payments were mortgage payments on a rental property. They totaled $1,933.74. Please help! Although I've caught up on the mortgage payments, my credit rating has now dropped 100 points. Ugh!

Rachel Gibson, Lilburn, Ga.

Dear Rachel: There's nothing more horrifying to a conscientious bill-paying consumer than realizing you've just sent two mortgage payments into a black hole. Yikes.

Rest assured, you aren't the first person to make this mistake with online bill paying. We've heard from people who've sent a Citi AAdvantage payment to CitiMortgage and a ComEd payment to Comcast, to name just two.

That ancient CitiFinancial account you accidentally linked the payments to was from a furniture purchase you had paid off four and a half years ago. You told the ABC News Fixer that a month after alerting them by fax, you were still having a terrible time finding a live human being to help.

We had a little better luck. After we contacted Citibank with your problem, they jumped on it right away. They were able to locate the money and had it refunded to you. They also canceled the CitiMortgage late fees, assured you this won't appear on your credit report and credited you an extra $50 for the trouble it took to get this fixed.

You found out the hard way that these automatic online bill paying programs are a great convenience, but only if you click on the correct account. The advice is obvious: Make sure you set up your payments to go to the right place.

For anyone else considering online bill paying: Before you pre-schedule all your monthly payments, ask your bank or credit union how long it takes to process an online payment. You don't want your funds arriving a day late and triggering an annoying late-payment fee.

While you're at it, find out whether your bank's online bill pay agreement allows them to take the money out of your account early; some do, if you're a new customer or are scheduling a large payment. Find out if payments are typically debited on the "send" date or on the date they arrive at the payee. All this info can help prevent you dipping into the red.

--The ABC News Fixer

Got a consumer problem? The ABC News Fixer may be able to help. Click here to submit your problem online. Letters are edited for length and clarity.

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