Tuesday, April 3, 2012


I'm going to blog this out in hopes that it brings me some stress relief.

I have my mortgage for the Vista house set up through BofA online bill pay.  This ensures I don't have to think about it, it's a great convenience, an example of a great value added service.  I love BofA online bill pay and I use it for all of my bills except the few which are variable amount and don't issue e-bills, which I think is limited to the water/sewer bill for both properties.  Property taxes are paid in November and February.  I have an escrow account for that which basically spreads out the property tax and homeowners insurance over 12 months and ensures those bills are paid on time.  It's been working nicely since 2005, and once BofA bought Countrywide, I can see all my balances online which is really nice.

So, the trouble started with the last property tax payment.  When it was made, my account was re-assessed and the escrow payment increased by about $100.  I am told this is to cover an increase in property taxes (not sure how that makes sense b/c property values have not increased, but it's not like I have any control over that anyway) and also for some sort of slush buffer that is $60/month which sounded like a total BS way for them to make a few pennies in interest off all of their customers.  The BofA agent said she can manipulate this amount for me if necessary, but whatever, the whole point of an escrow account is to have a slush fund for this stuff so I don't object to a reasonable amount of overestimation.

My mortgage is a 30 year fixed.

The problem occurred when the new payment amount exceeded my recurring payment plan amount.  Apparently when that happens, the loan servicing department rejects the payment and sends it back to the originator.  BofA online bill pay deducts the amount of the payment from the account it came from on the day it was received by the recipient.  So, we are now over a month past due and the money is still effectively lost in some system somewhere, inaccessible to me, and similarly inaccessible to the loan servicing department, simply because the escrow payment increased (with no notice given to me, not even an email) even though the payment amount greatly exceeded the mortgage payment principal and interest and even though the next property tax payment is November.

I noticed this only because I went to my property address to collect the rent check from the tenants and saw the mailed notices.  They were sent to the property address even though every other address on record at BofA is my current residence.  There's a cool blog about this somewhere, about how data is replicated all over various systems, but it's an even greater red flag when you consider that one company, BofA, and one account, mine, has multiple addresses in multiple disparate systems.  The illusion of integration that is given by the fairly nice and very usable BofA web system hides the myriad of inconsistencies and data silos which run the process of checking, saving, and loan servicing departments.  I know how complicated that all is, having worked for a lender for a few years and having worked with information systems for 16 years now.

But it gets better.  The website prompts me, upon logging in, which I apparently haven't done since the 15th when the payment became past due even though it was processed on the 5th and apparently rejected sometime after that.  The problem could have been identified on the 15th, but it wasn't because my mailing address was the property address which I only check once a month when I pick up my tenant's rent check.  Anyway, the website prompts me to pay the past due amount and the current month's amount but as I go through the clicks for this I realize I don't actually have the funds to pay 2 more mortgage payments of an increased value because the payment from 3/5 is still sitting out in some system somewhere, a system owned by BofA, but one which operates in terms of weeks, accepting paper checks and issuing paper checks when the incoming paper checks are rejected.  So I have to cancel my double-payment after I make it.  Then I schedule a single payment, but apparently I did that after midnight EST so it's still in "processing" until tomorrow and doesn't even show up on the loan servicing system's radar, while the canceled double payment does.  Who knows, they may only receive one payment per day so it's possible that my single payment winds up getting lost in the void as well.

It's all just laughable really.  One of premier companies has the same issues that everyone else does.  Data resides in multiple disparate systems which don't integrate seamlessly with each other because they were all designed by different people, and many of them were built years ago.  Data (and money) flow between systems takes far too long.  And we, as customers, pretty much have no way to help fix some of the problems that occur even when they weren't caused by a mistake on our part.

The giant wheel of the American economy just keeps grinding away at a steady pace.  Put a finger in one of the cogs and it will surely get severed.  Acceptance is the only way to deal with it.  Meanwhile, the American dream of home ownership has been decaying at a rapid pace since the housing bust.  This particular property may be worth less than the mortgage, so there is no way to refinance it, even though 30% of the original purchase price has been paid at this point.  A loan modification might be an option if I were willing to intentionally miss a few payments and deal with a credit hit.  Interest rates are about 1.5 points lower than when I bought, which would more than cover the differential caused by this increase in escrow account payment.  But more important than any of this, because of the state of the economy and corporate greed, no person is assigned the responsibility of looking over the systems, to identify problems which could be easily resolved with a phone call, so the cogs keep turning and everything deteriorates.

I guess my point is that the role of the system developer/designer is sadly under-appreciated because we all seem to accept the absurdities of modern living.  It would take years and millions if not billions to rebuild the systems BofA uses, and the efficiencies gained would be visible only in problem situations such as this one.  As a database guy, I know how easy it is to deactivate one record and reactivate a different one, but transferring money can't be done this way, it must have accountability, traceability, and a clean audit trail.  The reality of James Cameron's Terminator exists today, only without the drama and glamour.  We have become slaves to the machines which run our world and it will take a tremendous effort to turn that around, an effort by developers who are typically treated as costs instead of opportunities for future stability, efficiency and growth.

* I changed glamor to glamour b/c it just didn't look right and after reading this.


  1. Well, I have nothing good to say about BofA. After years of dealing with them, I was happy to switch to another bank. I hope you get to talk to someone who gives a crap. Occasionally they have an employee like that.

  2. i told you i would help with the refinance.....

  3. came across your blog through skinny runner and radomly read this post ( not a stalker..lol ). i am in the mortgage business and audit loans for a living. so, we do not deal with particular bank as one of our investors, however, we do see quite a few refinances paying them off. in my own experience, i refinanced my home with gmac and chose NOT to have an escrow account due to this reason. i was really tired of my mortgage payment just changing...well, should i say, increasing every year. i wanted to see more control in this area as it's the biggest purchase i have ever made. so, i refinanced my mortgage loan only and pay my home owner's insurance and taxes on my own. it does take discipline in making sure that these are paid for but the freedom of not being bound to the mortgage company to ensure payment is pricesless. anyway....just my two cents. have a great day!!!!!

  4. p.s. no, i do not work for gmac. this is not a proprietary post.

  5. Thanks everyone for the comments and suggestions.