The Dreaded Amex Financial Review.......For the Least Likely Target
If you spend much time around miles and points or credit message boards, then you have certainly heard of an American Express Financial Review. For those of you lucky enough to not know that I am talking about, it is where Amex suspends all of your American Express cards without warning, and requires you to provide access to your income tax filings with the IRS or they close your accounts within five business days. Your only options are comply, or close the accounts yourself.....and fast.
I have had a few readers email me or leave comments about their own financial reviews, however most (but not all) of those stories involve some nugget of information that at least makes it plausible that Amex might want to do a financial review. For example, situations where there were very large purchases, multiple Amex cards within a short period of time, or dozens of authorized users added to the account. Not saying that anyone should have to go through a financial review, but at least I can often see some logic in why it might have happened. That is, until last week.
Last week I logged into my mom's Amex account to see if any of her referral points she is owed from Amex had posted. They of course hadn't, but I noticed in big bright red letters the following message: "Charging Suspended". My heart sank a little when I saw that. I hoped against hope that there was some kind of minor administrative issue to call in about, but in the back of my head I was worried that it was a financial review.
If I got a financial review from Amex, I would probably be annoyed. However, since I have obtained three Amex cards in the last year, I would at least be able to rationalize why they might be doing one. Amex, that does not mean that I want a Financial Revew! There are some inherent risks in getting new cards the way I do, and I can accept that. However, my mom has one Amex card total. She got it nine months ago, has used it very modestly since then, has made no large purchases, and has not made any purchase on it since November 2011. Since obtaining the Amex card in May 2011, she has obtained two subsequent credit cards and her credit utilization percentage remains low. The most recent card she received was a Chase card back in October. She is by no means a heavy card churner. She did add four authorized users to her Amex (her husband, her son-in-law, and her two daughters) back in August 2011, and each authorized user card has been used just twice for small purchases.
To make matters worse, I am the one that discovered the alert on her account. She didn't receive a phone call or email first - I just stumbled across it. She did receive an email I think later the same day that I found the alert in her online account, but it still just seems wrong to find out your card has been cut off by logging in to your account. Since she has not used that card in a while, no one would have probably noticed the alert if I hadn't been trying to assist in following up on her missing points. In case you are curious, here is the text from an email that Amex sent.
American Express recently requested that you complete and return a tax form called the 4506T in order to conduct a financial review. The 4506T authorizes American Express to retrieve tax information. We find the review process to be a necessary requirement in order to conduct our business in a prudent and successful manner.
Detailed instructions on how to fill out the 4506T are included below as well as in the American Express Fax Cover Sheet. It is critical that this information be completed correctly and faxed back to us within 5 business days of the date of this email to avoid closure of the account.
Instructions to help ensure quicker review times
1. Print out the American Express Fax Cover Sheet
2. Print out the Blank 4506T Form
Instructions for completing this American Express Fax Cover Sheet1. Fill out the FROM field with your name as it appears on your card.
2. Fill out your 15 digit account number (this is used for internal processing, your account number is not given to a third party)Instructions for completing the Blank 4506T Form1. Please refer to your copy of the tax return you filed for accuracy. Information you provide must match IRS files, or the documents obtained may be insufficient and your account could be canceled.
2. Please write legibly by hand. DO NOT do any of the following: type out the form, write your account number on the 4506T, or make corrections by whiting or crossing out (you must print out a new form). Doing any of those things will cause the 4506T to be rejected and could result in cancellation.
3. Complete lines 1-4
4. Complete line 6. Line 6 must contain the name of the form you filed. Box 6C should be checked already.
5. Leave lines 5,7,8 blank
6. Line 9 must be completed as requested. Please do not add years not requested. Use mm/dd/yyyy format. If you are asked to fill in multiple years, please ensure you use the correct format mm/dd/yyyy for each date (place dates on separate lines)
7. If you filed using a Tax ID instead of your Social Security Number, please put your Tax ID number in the Social Security Number filed. Names and socials must be on corresponding lines for the IRS to accept this document.
8. Sign and date the 4506T3. After completing instructions for the American Express Cover sheet and Blank 4506T Form, return BOTH of the completed forms to: 1 800 219 8549
Once the forms are received, they will be processed in 5-7 business days. If you have questions regarding your review, please call 1800 762 8157 and enter your account manager's five digit extension (listed at the top of this email) to avoid long wait times.
The American Express Financial Review Team
There is just no logical reason why Amex would need to see her tax information. She and I were both already perturbed that Amex is thus far not honoring the referral bonuses she should have received by being targeted for a 10,000 point Membership Rewards referral bonus for each person she referred back in November. While her limit was 50,000 points for making referrals, she referred dozens and dozens of people for that offer. Amex says that they have no record of it. So, she is told they aren't honoring that deal two weeks ago, and now last week she gets a Financial Review. Not a good month for my mom and Amex.
She is writing them a letter expressing her displeasure, and I am calling in (again) to try and have them honor her referral bonuses. At this point, she will likely just close her account, and probably not get the points that were rightfully hers. I feel bad, because she basically just follows my advice with credit cards. I give her very conservative advice so she doesn't have to deal with things like this, but in the end, the Grandma with one Amex that barely gets used got hit with the dreaded Financial Review. While she certainly has nothing to hide on her taxes, that is not a request that she is likely to agree to right now just for a credit card that she barely uses. I'm not sure what the lesson to take away from this might be, other than anyone can be a target of a Financial Review. I would love to know the real reason behind why she was targeted. Was it truly random, or is there some super-top-secret criteria that resulted in her card being suspended. Perhaps she secure messaged one too many times about missing points? ;) Or perhaps her and Amex just weren't meant to be.
I share this information not because I want to dislike Amex. In fact, I want to like them very much, but they are making that difficult right now. I mainly share this info because it wouldn't be fair to only share the great news about credit cards and sign-up bonuses. It's only fair to show the whole picture. This blog is, in part, my family's story of miles and points, and so this is one of those yucky chapters that you hope to get through quickly.
Have you had experience with an Amex Financial Review? If so, I'd love to hear it.