18 May, 2010

U.S. Bank screwed up my auto loan (with some help from the WA DOL)

It seems that when all else fails to get a message across to Corporate America, the "blogosphere" is often the only thing that works. So, let's give it a go.

Six months ago, I purchased my friend's 2005 Honda Insight. Truth be told, I could have paid cash for it. But I thought it would be convenient to do an auto loan, just so I could distribute the payments over a period of time, rather than hit my account all at once for the $12,500 that I paid (which was a great deal, by the way).

After some brief research online, I discovered that US Bank apparently had very good auto loan interest rates; 3% actually, which was considerably better than anything else. And especially, better than other major banks. And the fact that I was already a US Bank account holder would (theoretically) make this very easy.


After choosing the bank, I filled out an information request over email, and was contacted by the Bellevue, Washington (Crossroads) branch of US Bank. I have done business at this branch before, and have been generally satisfied with them. Then why did I tell them "Oh, actually I think I'd prefer to do this with the Seattle (Capitol Hill) branch"? Well, because it was closer to my home, and also closer to where my friend (now my girlfriend) lives, so the loan preparation would (theoretically) be easier.


So I was put in touch with a loan officer, who shall remain unnamed, but let's refer to him as Brad Adamson, just for convenience. Brad and I spoke on the phone, and everything seemed like it would go smoothly. We got all the basic info down. He even drove from Seattle to Bellevue to meet me at work, so we could take care of some of the basic paperwork. Brad came to my workplace, we filled out all the papers. I made duplicates of them, so that we could sign both sets. Then Brad proceeded to depart with both sets of paperwork: mine and his. Inconvenient, and a little wonky for a loan officer to do this. But it's an honest mistake.


The next step in the process was that my (soon-to-be) girlfriend and I needed to meet at the US Bank branch to sign the official loan documents and transfer of ownership. This needed to be done on a Saturday morning, because neither of us could make it during weekday hours. Brad told us that he doesn't work on the weekend, but that everything will be ready to sign, and someone will be there who can help us. We arrive at the bank, and the only people working are the desk tellers. They have no idea how to process an auto loan. They do not understand any of the paperwork. We practically needed to explain to them what needed to be signed. Nonetheless, after much confusion, we sign all the papers. The loan is processed. And the ownership has been transferred.


Unfortunately, wrong. This is where things start really falling apart.

To make this long story somewhat shorter, here's what transpired.
  • Not all of the essential paperwork was completed, resulting in the loan not being fully processed - we needed to handle additional paperwork over email
  • Some documents were either not completed correctly, or possibly misinterpreted by the loan underwriting group, resulting in the paperwork being deemed insufficient for processing the transfer of registration (i.e. they didn't even submit to the Licensing Department). This occurred in multiple stages, result in at least 2 delays of submission for registration transfer. During this time, I engaged in many conversations with one of the senior loan officers or branch manager (not sure which) who shall remain nameless, but for kicks, let's refer to her as Sarah. Sarah is very nice, and repeatedly reassures me that she is on top of things. All evidence would suggest that she is - but unfortunately, she keeps encountering oddities and challenges in other areas of the process that make it hard to nail down a definitive solution.
  • Oh, forgot to mention that they failed to process the documentation for collecting proper sales tax on the vehicle purchase (here I must give them some kudos, because they decided to pay this for me - somewhere over $100 - as compensation for the inconvenience).
Time is passing by, and I am becoming increasingly concerned about not having my vehicle registered. Because I don't think I am going to have much leg to stand on if I get stopped by the police 4 or 5 months after purchasing my vehicle and try to tell them it's my bank's fault! I express this concern to Sarah. She says she understands.

About 2 weeks ago, I finally receive confirmation from Sarah that "Everything's all set!" with the registry, and that they should be mailing me my tabs and registration any day now. I am skeptical, but decide to be optimistic, and I thank her.

Within 3 days, I am stopped by the Bellevue Police for driving with invalid registration. I am not pleased. I explain my story, and they tell me that it looks like I am registered fine in the computer, and that I should just tell the police to check the computer if I am stopped.

A week goes by, and still no tabs or registration in the mail.

This morning, I have a ticket on my car. Expired registration: $42 penalty. The only way to appeal it is in person, which would mean that I either need to pay the ticket, or take time off from my job to deal with this never-ending issue. And still no tabs or registration in the mail.

I called the branch to inform Sarah of this situation. They've agreed to pay the ticket for me. But this has been going on for so long, and the frustration level is becoming so high (on both sides), that the kindness is starting to wear off. It's getting to the point that (I imagine) the last person Sarah at US Bank wants to hear from is me. Because every time she hears from me, it means more headaches for her. She is certainly not the one to blame here. But she's the one who unfortunately has to play "clean-up" for a bunch of other crap that has gone wrong.

To add more amusement to this story, it turns out that a big bottleneck has been the Washington State Department of Licensing. Apparently (Sarah told me just now), the licensing department has been receiving hundreds of calls about tabs not being sent. There is some type of massive system failure. This has gone on to the point that they are generating a special series of actions to remedy the tickets that are being issued for said missing tabs and registrations.

The moral of this story is two-fold:
  1. Perhaps you get what you pay for. I thought US Bank would be a great deal. But then I found out that they were new to the auto loan business. And the loan officer and bank simply do not have the process down. They also informed me that my loan was not the only one that incurred such mishaps. This is a major national bank, and the level of churn has been astounding.
  2. "Nice" doesn't cut it. Everyone whom I've dealt with has been very nice. Sarah is nice. Brad is nice. They're apologetic, accommodating, understanding. All those things are great. But my relationship with the bank is a business relationship. It's a financial agreement. I keep my end of the financial agreement by paying my loan payment every month. US Bank is supposed to keep their end of the relationship by ensuring that the loan is processed correctly, and ensuring that the commitment that make to transfer ownership and register my vehicle is executed smoothly. So "nice" isn't enough. It needs to be right.