Friday, January 26, 2007

The dangers of online account statements

In the interests of saving postage, most of my financial-services providers (and everyone else's, I imagine) have taken to sending me statements by e-mail. In the interests of avoiding boring things, I have taken to almost never looking at the statements. If I want to check balances and make sure things are running smoothly, I log in to the provider's site to check my account history, but I rarely review the detailed transaction statements I'm emailed.

I recently submitted a claim on my 2006 FSA, to try to zero out $26.65 or so I have lingering on it. Usually, I use my FSA Visa card to pay for things, but the last health-care purchase I made was for $35, and it bounced. I paid for the prescriptions in cash and filed a pay-me-back claim, figuring that would dislodge my last $26.65 and all would be good.

Except WageWorks, my FSA provider, bounced my claim in bizarre fashion. The statement it sent seemed to indicate it processed the claim for the full $35 the prescription cost, then "clawed back" earlier transactions to bring my balance right back to where it started, at $26.65.

It looked weird, but my guess was that WageWorks' system got confused trying to pay $35 in credits on an account with only $26.65 left in it, and hadn't been sufficiently clever to pay out a fractional claim. So I rang customer service, expecting a quick resolution.

Instead, I got a whole new trail of paperwork to chase down.

When you use your FSA credit card, you're supposed to keep receipts for your purchases, in case you get audited -- you're supposed to be able to prove that the $20 you spent at the drug store was for drugs, not magazines. It's a sensible restriction, and I tried to be good and squirrel away receipts. I think I have at least one or two of them in the filing cabinet. But somewhere along the line, I stopped socking away the receipts. My transactions seemed to be going through with no problems, and keeping little paper bits is a pain.

It turns out, though, that WageWorks really does want you to mail or fax them receipts for some of your card purchases. Three of mine over the past year were apparently flagged for verification. I never had any idea about this, though, because the company never sends any kind of alerts or puts any flags on your account for you to see when you log in. Instead, it puts a claim verification form in your monthly account statement, which are only available online. (I do at least open and flip through account statements that arrive the old-fashioned way, by snail mail.)

The account statements I never looked at, because I never had any idea they contained anything more than the transaction history I could check every time I logged in to the site. Grrr. When I got the monthly "your account statement is ready, click here to see it" email, I'd been deleting it.

I suppose I should have actually looked at the statements, but it also seems lame for WageWorks to not flag this verification thing in any more visible way. I just did a quick poll of friends with FSA credit cards; none of them recall ever getting verification requests.

So now I get to see if I can excavate receipts to appease WageWorks so it will release the $26.65 it's holding hostage. Remind me again how online statements and automatic payment systems are supposed to make our lives easier?