Amount owed: $0.00

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2006/05/21 12:01 -04:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2006/05/21/603288.aspx


You know the old joke about getting dunning letters about owing $0.00 and in order to placate the dunners needing to send a check for $0.00?

I thought it was an urban legend.

But something hauntingly familar to that has been happening to me over the last few years from Puget Sound Energy.

You see, for as long as I have been getting bills from utilities, I have almost always overpayed them, since having to write checks for really small amounts every month is just annoying, especiaslly if you are travelling a lot. So when I moved to email notifications and online bill paying, I kept doing the same.

But when I am sent bill reminders for most months, it lists a due date that is coming up and an amount due of $0.00.

And if I look at my account online, it has many notes about past bills that are due, each one in that same amount of $0.00.

(all of the months that I actually made a payment have had the entries removed, so it is just a huge list of these no-money-due entries.)

When I finally got sick of these entries and wanted to remove them, I tried to pay them with payment entries of $0.00.

Unfortunately, the payment center was a bit smarter than that and does not allow me to pay such an amount (too bad the billing center is not that smart!).

And it is also unfortunate that I cannot simply pay $0.01 for each, as this super-smart payment center is suspicious of attempts to pay with identical amounts, assuming it must be a mistake on my part (again, too bad that the billing center is not that smart since it had no problem billing me with identical amounts, and also it is really too bad that the payment center cannot take the trouble to look at the identical amounts, either!).

So, about every 6-8 months or so, I pay off each of these $0.00 entries with amounts from $0.01 to $0.08 and that clears out all of the old entries.

And it stands to me as proof that computerizing still has a bit of a ways to go (and makes me realize that not all 'improvements' over an old system sending dunning letters for $0.00 actually represent progress!)


# Harold on 21 May 2006 5:22 PM:

Just for the fun of it if you have the spare time, let these
*****come after you for the amounts you don't owe...and
see what happens when the news media is brought into
the mix...mabe you can sue them for return of the odd cents
you sent them and get them to send it to you by mail costing
them postage or just ignore them as I do. I've gotten bills from
credit cards for amounts past due $00.00 with finance charge
of $00.00, each time they send one of those it costs them
postage. Try sending the bill back in the pre-paid envelope,
mabe a person will open it...those people are paid to do that
plus benifits. Try one of those TV judges?
Nice country where you're at; you can see Mt. Ranier?
I live in Chicago, very nice here too. No earthquakes, slides or
brush fires. Many years ago, I served in Viet Nam and passed
through Ft. Lewis.

# Keith Farmer on 22 May 2006 1:25 AM:

Tsk Tsk!

You know sending them money you don't owe is not the answer.  Don't bother rewarding them for stupidity.

First, of course, check your credit records.  You're allowed 1 free from each bureau each year.  I actually maintain an unlimited subscribe to mine through Experian.  If they're reporting non/late payment for zero amounts, that's illegal according to my knowledge of FICA (IANAL).

In any event, you need to inform them of the bug in their system.

# Michael S. Kaplan on 22 May 2006 1:40 AM:

Hi kfarmer,

Well, they do credit my account with the money -- so I can pay that much lesss money when my credit amount runs out.

I have reported the problem, but it does not seem to be a very high priority to them -- they do not dun me or anything, I suspect it is just a bug in their system that these "nothing owed" entries hang around that I could likely ignore. They just aren't, so I am in my current situation....

# Michael S. Kaplan on 22 May 2006 1:41 AM:

Hi Harold --

I can see the mountain on clear days, but how many of those do we really have here? not too many! :-(

# Maurits [MSFT] on 22 May 2006 2:08 PM:

Have you tried sending them a check for $0.00?

# Michael S. Kaplan on 22 May 2006 3:19 PM:

That would be *much* more expensive!

BTW, how did everything go?

# Maurits [MSFT] on 24 May 2006 5:54 PM:

Pretty well :)

# Maurits [MSFT] on 24 May 2006 6:02 PM:

Here's the urban legend, BTW:
http://www.snopes.com/business/bank/zero.asp

# Michael S. Kaplan on 24 May 2006 6:20 PM:

Well, I can say for fact that my situation is still on-going! :-)

# Michael S. Kaplan on 24 May 2006 6:22 PM:

By the way -- awesome on other thing!

# Shai on 5 Jun 2006 7:21 PM:

Might be a rounding error, similar to the Windows Calculator one.

“The version of Calculator shipped with Windows 3.0 and Windows 3.1 suffered from a bug causing it to display completely wrong results for certain classes of calculations. The most typical example was the 1-1.1 operation, which would lead to a long number sequence approximating the expected result, -0.1, such as -0.095645564564564.... One of the most joked about calculation is 3.11-3.1, results in 0.00. This leads to the joke "Q: What is the difference between 3.11 and 3.1? A: Nothing!" (In this case, "3.11" and "3.1" imply the version numbers of Windows.)”  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microsoft_Calculator)

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