On the House: A 'mess' of a paper chase

Posted: September 13, 2009

Clark Linderman of Swarthmore, a self-employed contractor, has had a home-equity line of credit from Chase for nearly four years, about as long as he and his wife have owned their house.

"It's proven to be a valuable financial tool for us," Linderman says. Although they have run up what he calls a "decent balance," a lot of untapped equity remains.

The original intent was to finance adoption of their youngest son. Because Linderman is self-employed, however, the credit line has been a safety net in lean times.

"We've certainly never abused it, but it's nice to know it's there when we need it," he says.

In May, the Lindermans received a form letter from Chase announcing that they had been selected for a random audit. They were asked to complete IRS Form 4506T, giving the lender tax-record access.

Because the couple have always paid the loan on time, they considered the request routine and complied.

Several weeks later, they were notified by letter that the account had been suspended. Chase's explanation: The Lindermans never completed the IRS form. Linderman says he did, returning it in the envelope Chase had provided.

In all, Linderman dealt with five Chase representatives on the telephone - all to no avail.

The first said she would be happy to send another 4506T in the mail, he says, and once the form was received, it was "Chase's policy" to review the situation within 30 days.

Three weeks later, the new form arrived. No longer trusting the U.S. Postal Service, the Lindermans faxed it to Chase the same day.

"We called to verify it had been received, and we were told it had been, and, per Chase policy, it would be reviewed within 30 days - most likely much less," Linderman says.

Thirty days passed, and he spoke with another Chase representative. The review had not been completed.

"When I mentioned the 30-day review policy, the representative told me that the 30 days was more of a goal than a guideline, and that, because of the large number of reviews being conducted, they were running behind."

She said that if it was an emergency, "we could send a letter asking for an accelerated review."

They did, called, and were told by Chase it wasn't received. So they re-sent the form, and Chase said it was received. Two weeks has gone by, still no word.

Without the home-equity line, and because jobs have been scarce this summer, the Lindermans have been using their credit cards, minimizing the damage by taking advantage of lower-interest offers.

I contacted Jennifer Zuccarelli, a media person at Chase headquarters. Within a few minutes, she had forwarded the information to Michael Fusco in the Philadelphia Chase office, who, in less than 24 hours, had someone from customer service back to Linderman.

That person, Linderman says, told him "the mess would be straightened out quickly."

Inquirer real estate writer Alan J. Heavens is the author of "Remodeling on the Money" (Kaplan Publishing). His home-improvement columns appear Fridays in Home & Design."On the House" appears Sundays in The Inquirer. Contact Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472 or aheavens@phillynews.com.

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