One would think that banks, given all the recent problems they have had (and produced) would at least try to get their software right. Apparently they don’t.

Yes, that's me on my tricycle--and the house I now own.

I had better start out by saying I am one of the lucky ones. I have (or rather had) a fixed-rate mortgage, with monthly payments less than the rent I was paying before I decided to buy the house, and an auto-pay arrangement where my checking account bank automatically sent my monthly payment to the mortgage bank. Once I found my IRA (don’t laugh — as a state educator I went off Social Security to IRA’s years ago, but I didn’t know where mine was) I found I was getting less interest on the IRA than I was paying on the mortgage so I started paying down the principal — especially as I’ll have to start distributions this year. So far, so good.

The beginning of this week I got a phone call from the bank that held my mortgage. I was in arrears. There would be a penalty. Did I want to pay at once? (I don’t think it was meant as a question.)

Needless to say, I have heard the horror stories about people who have actually paid off the mortgage being foreclosed on, of robo-signing, of families being turned out into the streets. “I can’t be in arrears,” I babbled. “It’s on auto-pay.”

“Well, we didn’t get your April payment. It’s 10 days overdue. There must be something wrong with your account. Maybe you’re overdrawn.  Now will you pay up?”

“I’ll check with my bank and call you back.”

Well, I checked with my bank. No, they had not sent funds to the mortgage bank in April. The mortgage bank normally billed them, but they had not received a billing in April. My account balance was fine.

I called the mortgage bank back, of course getting a different person. I explained that they had not received a check for April from my bank because the bank had not received a bill — the account was fine. “I’ll have to check on that.” After a long pause on hold, she came back. “No we did not send out a billing in April. We’ll have to set up the autopay all over. Now we’ll need your account number. But I don’t understand why … Let me check something else.

This time, she sounded apologetic. “We didn’t send the bill because your regular monthly payment was more than you owe.”

“On the whole loan?” I knew I’d paid down quite a bit, but the last statement I could find from the mortgage bank — for the first of this year — still had quite a bit of principal. Still, I had sent in a large check near the end of the year. “Did you post that payment before the end of the year?”

“No.”

In other words, that dunning phone call was because I had almost paid off the loan. Their auto-billing software was not set up to handle the case that the regular payment was more than the outstanding balance. This kind of programming error was frequent in the early days of computers, when it was not uncommon to get a dunning letter saying you owed $0.00 and you’d better pay up. But that was 40 years ago! Surely programmers have learned to cover all the possible outcomes of an if-then branch! I learned that when I was leaning to code FORTRAN, 45 years ago!

Apparently not.

Well, she told me exactly how much I needed to pay off the loan, and I got a cashier’s check and went down to the local offices of the mortgage bank and paid off the loan. (They did cancel the late fee, though they still charged interest between the date they should have sent out the bill and the date I paid.) Given the efficiency of their computer system, I’ll relax a little when I actually have the deed in my hands. But not completely, even then.

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