Check confusion at Macy’s is driving me #$&!@ mad

littleny /
littleny /

Question: I recently made a purchase at a Macy’s store in San Francisco using two checks. One check for the amount of $31 was supposed to go towards the Macy’s American Express Card Account. Another check for the amount of $173 was supposed to go towards the Macy’s department store account.

I was told by my bank that both checks were processed electronically and deposited. But just one problem: The amounts went to the wrong accounts ($173 went to the American Express Account and $31 went to the Macy’s department store).

My wife, whose name is on both accounts, and I have attempted to make several phone calls to solve this matter, to no avail.

I tried to explain but was treated rudely by the call center. I was given a few fax numbers and my bank faxed information as well. I even phoned Macy’s Corporate offices and spoke with a representative, and she assured me that this situation was resolved.

Well, I just received my statement today and it says I still owe the company $209, so nothing has been resolved. I spoke with a customer service rep, who said Macy’s needed “proof” that one of my checks had been deposited.

I would like to resolve this situation as soon as possible. We have never received such poor customer service from Macy’s. Please advise me on how to solve this problem. — David Garcia, San Francisco

Answer: Macy’s should have applied the payments to the right accounts, of course. When it didn’t, it should have quickly fixed the problem instead of forcing you to send faxes and talk to representatives who, as it turns out, couldn’t help you.

Your transaction is a little confusing to me, since I’m not a regular Macy’s shopper. But if you’re at the cash register, why wouldn’t you pay by credit card and then mail in a check to cover the expense later on?

I consulted with someone with knowledge of a department-store’s back-office operations, who told me that writing a check like that at the register would have caused some problems from a bookkeeping point of view. That may be one reason why you ran into trouble, but I can’t know, because I wasn’t there at the time.

I suspect you might have been able to short-cut all of this nonsense by sending a brief, polite message through this form on the Macy’s site. It would have been routed to the correct department for a hopefully fast resolution.

Another even more obvious solution: Next time, consolidate your payments. Don’t try to pay for a credit card bill at the register. Also, I would consider scrapping the company-issued credit card. You know, there’s a reason they offer 20 percent off your purchase price when you open an account. These payment methods earn the store a tidy profit, especially when customers only pay off the minimum balance.

An appeal to someone higher up at Macy’s might have worked, but you needed a paper trail to show them you made an effort to fix this, and you didn’t have one. Most email addresses at Macy’s are and you can find a list of executives on its website.

I think you’ve suffered enough. I contacted Macy’s on your behalf, and it put the deposit amounts in the right account for you.

Who should change the way they do payments?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Cybrsk8r

    I’m confused. Why did her bank return the checks? If Macy’s applied the funds to the wrong accounts, that wouldn’t cause the bank not to pay the checks. The only reason the bank would have for returning a check would be insufficient funds.

  • jpp42

    I’m not sure where you read that the bank returned the checks. The article says: “I was told by my bank that both checks were processed electronically and deposited.”

    This indicates the checks were deposited and paid to Macy’s; it was an internal bookkeeping issue in terms of getting those payments applied to the two credit accounts.

    The confusing part to me is why the OP is trying to pay off their cards at the store – I’ve never heard of that before, but then again haven’t ever used a department store card before. Is that common? I would have thought you would normally mail in a payment with the little slip that comes with your statement, which has the correct routing info to ensure your payment is credited to the correct account.

  • Josh S

    Macy’s offers a few different credit cards. These guys have a couple different ones. But, having recently done research on these very cards, I was unaware that either the Macy’s Star Rewards American Express or the Macy’s Credit Card offered paper checks that could be used to draw against the lines of credit represented by those cards.

    In short, I’m thoroughly confused? Were these guys drawing checks against their credit card accounts (ie. paying via check, but instead of drawing money sitting in a checking account it was adding to their balance due on a line of credit), or were they using a regular bank check to make a payment toward their existing balance on their cards at the register? Neither of these sounds normal, and I wasn’t aware that either option was even possible.

    The Terms and Conditions of the account (available here: ) hint at the possibility of “a check that accesses your credit card account”, but never states anything beyond that.

    This seems…fishy, or at least sufficiently unusual as to cause me to be suspicious.

  • Josh S

    That was an edit sometime between Cybrsk8r’s comment and yours. When I read the article, that sentence read “I was told by my bank that both checks had been returned.”

    It confused me at the time as well. I’m guessing Chris edited for clarity.

  • jpp42

    That’s a good point, I read it to mean that he was paying the credit card balances with these checks (drawn on a normal deposit account), but somehow doing it at the cash register. However the article does say it’s a “purchase.” But with checks drawn on a credit card account, which do exist but are normally for balance-transfer purposes, the next statement about checking with the bank on whether the checks were paid doesn’t make sense. I think Chris should clarify further whether a purchase was actually made, or he just was using the Macy’s cash register to pay off the credit card balances, which is indeed odd but perhaps possible.

  • NJgirl13

    If you have a Macy’s card it’s very common to pay your bill at the register. I think the OP used the wrong word when she said purchased, she probably meant to say made a payment. The employee should have applied it to the right cards.

  • Fly, Icarus, Fly

    Checks? What is this word “checks”?

  • $16635417

    I’m currently seeing that statement in the third paragraph, last sentence.

  • Christopher Elliott

    Maybe I should have edited the letter to add a clarification. I’ll see if I can go back to the original thread for more details.

  • Cybrsk8r

    Checks are an ancient form of payment still used by some, including me, who don’t like to keep their banking information on their computer.

  • $16635417

    I may be mistaken, but I’m guessing the OP had two Macy’s branded cards. One a Macy’s AMEX and the other a regular Macy’s card.

    While he states he made a purchase, it is more likely he made a payment instore. He wanted to apply $31 to the Macy’s AMEX and $173 to the regular Macy’s card. Those payments somehow got reversed.

    After this, it becomes more confusing. The checks were returned, according to the bank. We don’t know why. They are being told they still owe Macy’s, which makes sense if the checks were returned? Yet somehow the OP thinks he doesn’t owe?

    I may have to tap out on this one.

  • Alan Gore

    Always make credit card payments by bank transfer. A checkout clerk is not a banker, and is not used to handling bank-type transactions.

  • Christopher Elliott

    Agreed — the sooner we move to a cashless society, the better.

  • Raven_Altosk

    But your checking information is already in multiple computers….just sayin’ bro.

  • MarkKelling

    Most companies like Macy’s (JCPenney, Sears, etc.) have always allowed you to pay on your accounts in store. This is nothing new or unusual. If you are going to be there anyway, why not save postage as well as get immediate credit to your account for the payment (especially if you might be running late with the payment)? I have done it in the past before the option of doing online payments became common. I now use online payment options offered by these companies and have never had any issue with things not posting as expected.

    I think the issue here is that the OP has two accounts and someone, either the OP or the cashier in the store, crossed up the account numbers when the payments were applied. The OP should have verified the receipts received from the cashier and had the payments reapplied correctly at that time instead of waiting to see which one showed up where. He or his wife could have also taken the receipts back in to the store and handled this in person since the issue was not immediately noticed.

    As far as the rude CSR experience, I can’t say because I have ever had to deal with anyone related to Macy’s other than in the stores. I have always been treated respectfully by the store employees.

  • Steve Cousino

    That’s partly correct – if you work for Macy’s or other store that accepts payments at the register, the training class is supposed to teach you that. I worked for a department store that was later acquired by Macy’s (Famous-Barr) and we did the same thing – we accepted store credit card payments at the register. A lot of folks liked being able to just drop it off instead of just mailing it in and waiting who knows how many days for it to post. It was rather simple – scan the bar code on the payment stub, hit a key or two on the machine, and process the form of payment as if it was a purchase. La dah.

  • MarkKelling

    Maybe they were making a purchase and the payments as well at the same time and this got lost in the edit?

  • MarkKelling

    Will never happen as long as the credit cards continue to charge high interchange fees. But that’s a whole ‘nother topic. :-)

  • BillCCC

    I do not understand what happened here. It appears that he made a payment not a purchase. He says that the checks were deposited but shouldn’t there have been a withdrawal instead? Unless he was using checks from one credit card to pay the other one and vice versa?

  • Steve Cousino

    I used to work for a department store before it was acquired by Macy’s, but they had similar policies on most store operations, including the ability to accept store account payments at the register. It was, and is, a decent service – your payment gets posted that day rather than waiting X number of days for it to be mailed and get processed by their usual department. It’s just a matter of HOW the payments are being made.

    I don’t think it’s necessary for the customer to consolidate their payments, or to avoid making payments at the in-store registers at all. It’s a matter of separating the payments for the two cards. Make a payment on one card, wait a bit, make a payment on the second card. Don’t attempt to pay on two different cards with two checks on the same day. That can definitely cut down on the cross-posting confusion.

    Also, did the customer indicate on the check itself which account it was designated for? That’s what the Memo line is for. That could have helped the situation, though it may not have prevented it.

  • MarkKelling

    But when you send someone a check, they have everything they need to wipe out your account balance if it gets intercepted along the way: Your name and address, your signature, and the bank account numbers. All it takes then is a standard printer and some blank check stock.

  • sirwired

    I believe most dept. store cards will let you make payments at the store. It can be handy if you are running late and don’t want to pay postage or use direct debit. My wife has done this a couple times, as we only use store cards once in a blue moon and they aren’t on our regular payment schedule.

  • James Orth

    I took that to mean that the checks were deposited into Macy’s account. The withdrawal would have been from the OP’s checking account.

  • Bill___A

    So many misleading comments on this thread.
    Obviously, write the credit card account number on each “check” or “cheque” and also, when paying at the cash register, check the receipts to make sure the cashier has done it properly. This should be checked every time you do something like this. That said, it seems like one of those things that’s a pain to get sorted, glad Chris was able to do so.

  • John Frenaye

    I have never had a branded Amex card but is that even possible to pay for your Amex bill at Macy’s? It seems that they are likely in two different banks (store branded cards are usually with a variety of banks and Amex co-branded cards are usually with either Amex or Centurion)?

  • Stephen0118

    Actually. It’s one card. I have the same thing. It’s a co-branded card. Any purchases made at Macy’s is charged to the Macy’s side, any purchased made outside of Macy’s goes towards the AMEX side. It becomes clearer if you look at your account online. You’ll see two sections. The top shows your Macy’s purchases and the bottom shows your non-Macy’s purchases.

  • $16635417

    That makes it even more confusing. The Macy’s website shows one card as a AMEX branded card and another as a regular Macy’s card with no AMEX branding. I understand the AMEX branding, you could use that anywhere AMEX is accepted, but then why have a linked Macy’s card with no AMEX branding? Couldn’t you just use the AMEX/Macy’s card at Macy’s?

  • bostonbuyer

    While this case is not so clear, it, none the less, is an example of the disarray that is what we used to know as a fine old department store. I experienced major mistakes in billing, problems w/ orders sent to the wrong address. Mail orders taking weeks and weeks because of wrong routing, stores in total chaos, clerks who required me to step behind the counter to enter data into the computer/cash register, long lines, etc. etc….sad state of affairs for a fine old institution

  • Marketeer

    My Macy’s card worked two ways: as a Macy’s card in Macy’s and as a VISA card elsewhere. I receive two separate bills/statements: one for the Macy’s card and one for the VISA. I make two separate payments. I suspect this couple has the same type of card, because the same thing happened to me. My VISA payment was applied to my Macy’s card and my Macy’s payment was applied to my VISA card. And, let me tell you, it was godawful to try to get them to fix it. I finally dropped both cards I was so disgusted by the lack of customer service.

  • Stephen0118

    Good point. I should have been clearer. Even though it’s one card, Macy’s treats them as two separate cards, so you get two billing statements. I don’t remember exactly why they did that :).

  • bodega3

    I pay my Macy’s bills at the store. My Macy’s card is two cards in one like the OP’s. There is the Macy’s Revolving account and the AX account. One bill I get at is due at the first of the month, the other is due at the middle of the month. When you pay at the store, it is a good idea to always clarify which account you are making the payment for even if you have written it on the check and have the statement with you. When you pay at the store, they run your check through and give it back to you with a receipt. This IMHO was just a human error by the clerk and glad Chris was able to assist in getting it cleared up. Silly that the ‘customer service’ department wasn’t able to assist, but it no longer surprises me any more.

  • y_p_w

    Macy’s trains all of their cashiers to process credit card payments. At least at one time the signs over the cash registers used to say stuff like “CHECKOUT/EXCHANGES/REFUNDS/PAY YOUR MACY’S BILL”. Even when Macy’s worked with a Visa issuer, that particular bank wasn’t a retail bank with branches, so it made sense to pay off at a store if it would have otherwise been late when sent in the mail.

    There used be a time when the only place to pay off a credit card bill in a store was at their business office. Each store had one, and they might also have other services there like event ticket sales, or credit card applications.

    And a lot of checks now are “deposited electronically”, which means a physical check isn’t sent to the bank. I see a lot of these on my electronic account info, where it states the amount and check number, but I can’t access a copy of the check. Once I paid a copay at a doctor’s office, and they simply scanned the check in a machine that printed something on the back and handed it back to me. If you receive a check, a lot of banks these days even allow you to take a picture of it and transmit it to your bank to deposit the amount.

  • y_p_w

    I remember back when it was typically done at a business office and not at the cashier. Back then it was more likely that the business office employees were better trained in how to handle payments.

  • y_p_w

    If it’s the Macy’s Amex, you can pay it directly at a Macy’s store.

    I previously had a Macy’s Visa card, but that card was invalidated when Macy’s automatically switched to Amex.

  • bodega3

    I always remind the clerk which account I am making the payment for even though I have it written on the check. They often don’t take the time to really look. I wish they would go back to the drop box in the stores!

  • bodega3

    I don’t believe they will take all AX payments, just the one associated to your Macy’s card. I wish they would go back to it being a VISA as AX isn’t accepted much around here.

  • bodega3

    At one store in our area, you don’t even have to fill out the check. You just hand them a blank check and the amount showing on the register is the amount that is deducted. They hand you back your check and off you go.


    If each account showed what was deposited, just make another deposit in the one with the low amount and then you will have a good credit in the other one to use up.
    Better yet pay off both cards, close out the account after collecting any points and then get a capital one credit card and put everything on that. Establish auto pay and just have to worry about having enough money in the bank to pay off the credit card. You don’t forget to make a payment and end up paying late charges. I have too many cards, but Sams won’t take Visa so I have to have a discover.
    Capital one makes no currency conversion charges and no foreign transaction fees. There high yield checking account makes no charge for an ATM withdrawal.

  • Judy Serie Nagy

    Pay your cc bill when making a purchase? Guarantees a disaster just like this. If you want to save a stamp, pay your cc bill at the credit department in the store.

  • bigheartinnewyork

    Yes, it is very confusing to anyone who is not a Macys customer or does not have Macys Credit Card. I have been a Macys cardholder and customer for more than 10 years so I understand the situation. It was purely Macys fault as the two checks got flipped into different accounts. It got sorted out but it should not have caused some much headache to the customer. The way credit cards are at Macys, it is a pretty bad consumer experience and prone to errors like these reported here. Here are some pointers to give more insights into these cards.

    Macys had one store credit card (Red color) that customer used at Macys stores and got points for purchases. Customer could send a check or deposit a check at any counter.

    Few years back, possibly they had a partnership with American Express and started offering another card to be used everywhere whether at Grocery Stores, Gas Station, Restaurants etc…

    So we had two physical cards for a while – One red Macys Store Credit Card and One American Express Macys Credit Card. Then Macys discontinued the red Macys Store Card.

    Both cards have different payment dates and balances even though people now have one physical card. The two accounts are interlinked. So if you purchase at Macys, it bills the (virtual) Macys Card and if you buy elsewhere, it gets billed to American Express Card. Obviously the backend systems are not fully integrated except being visible to Macys customer service who can see both cards. (For example, today I have a credit of $100 on Macys Store Credit Card and a balance of $55 on American Express Macys Card. If both accounts were integrated, I was not required to pay anything and still would have a balance of $45. Still I have to pay American Express Macys Credit Card $55 otherwise I will incur penalties and fees)

    Why people pay with Credit Cards – to get Credit as well as points. They send you vouchers for Macys when you spend enough to reach $25 worth of rewards.

    Why people pay at the counter – One does not not need to mail checks and also can avoid late payment fees if you are close to payment date.

    Their voice recognition system (instead of prompts by numbers) for customer service works poorly. Also, they should increase the hours of Credit Card customer service. I recently called at 11 AM ET on a weeknight to see if they could transfer money from one account to another. They were closed.

    Terry Lundgren, who has been a very successful CEO of Macys (and has grown Macys even when other department stores have done badly) should look into the matter to streamline it.

  • Julie B

    I hate when I get behind people at the registers at stores trying to do these types of transactions! Ugh! “I want this $5 plate, and oh, I need to pay $20 here, and then I want to pay off the bill right away for that I can get my 20% off if I use my card…. “

  • y_p_w

    It’s a bit scary. When in a hurry and I wanted to pay it quickly, I’ve paid bills by solely transmitting a check routing number along with my account number. I’ve done this both online and by phone. It does save me the cost of writing a check though.

  • rw

    Having had a Macy’s card I might be able to shed a bit of light on this. When charging to the Macy’s credit card one frequently gets a discount or some other reward. The clerk knows what this reduction is. So I charge the purchase to the Macy’s card. Then I immediately do a second transaction at the same register to pay off the net amount that will be on Macy’s card bill at the end of the cycle. Net result I never carry a balance on the Macy’s card, never pay interest (I HATE paying interest) and have the benefit of the Macy card discount.

  • chickadee

    This sort of thing happened to us with Geico. My husband’s car and our motorcycles are insured with them (my car is insured with USAA, and after this my husband is finally convinced that it’s a better company) and they have twice misapplied payments. He sends payments to each account using online banking and Geico has applied the car insurance payment to the motorcycle accounts twice, most recently in April. We were notified in May by the state that the car was no longer insured, and had to jump through multiple hoops to avoid registration penalties for lack of coverage.

    Goodbye, Geico.

  • TonyA_says

    Yes I waiting for it to go back to gold or some metal.:)
    Seriously, have you thought through which network will control the exchange of money and how powerful they will be. If you are already complaining now about big banks and financial institutions, you would be livid if they shut you off when they have all the power over transactions. With cash that can’t happen. Be careful what you ask for.

  • TonyA_says

    The presumption is, of course, Mr. or Mrs. Garcia gave the correct intructions to the clerk. Transposing amounts to account numbers can happen if you hand the clerk 2 transactions at the same time. If you simply hand ONE transaction and finish it, then do another separare transaction, then the clerk had nothing to transpose. This looks to me like the error could have been avoided by the OP himself or herself.

  • Grant Ritchie

    Good Lord… the cashiers must HATE that kind of nickel and diming. Macy’s needs to change their policies, because there are always going to be people who will waste ten minutes of everybody’s time to save the cost of a stamp.

  • TonyA_says

    They are 2 different accounts from the same bank – Department Stores National Bank of Citigroup.

  • MarkKelling

    Yes, but “in order to serve you, the customer, better”most stores have eliminated this area in the store. And with the computer registers guiding the cashier through the process, anyone can do it with minimal training. Your success rate may vary.

    I recently ordered something from Penney’s and had to return it. I thought it would be simple to just take it back to a store and return it at the catalog desk. Well there is no catalog desk anymore. You handle everything at a regular register and, while the process is relatively quick and efficient, I could tell the people in line behind me were not happy because the cashier had to follow the return script and ask me a bunch of questions before accepting the return.

  • MarkKelling

    Does Macy’s charge interest from the moment the charge goes on your account? If not, I have a difficult time understanding the need to make the payment immediately. I would wait for the bill and then pay it.

  • MarkKelling

    Macy’s credit card system sounds like the worst cluster I have ever heard of. Many stores have co branded cards that work one way at that merchant yet function as a regular credit card elsewhere and you still only get one bill with the total and with one payment due.

  • EdB

    Macy’s just need to require that type of stuff to be done at the Customer Service counter, not a register on the floor.

  • MarkKelling

    Good idea if they actually have one of those in the store you are at. Many have removed that area and you have no other choice than to conduct all transactions at a register.

  • EdB

    Curious then about those stores. Where do you take returns to?

  • bodega3

    There is no credit department at an of the Macy’s in our area any more. There is a phone to use where the former office was located. Everything is handled at the cash registers. I always feel badly when I have to take a clerks time to handle my payment when they could be helping someone with a sale. But that is how it is set up…dumb IMHO!

  • bodega3

    To any register than will handle a sale. Usually not jewelry, cosmetic or perfume but the others will.

  • jpp42

    I could see myself doing this. It means the issue is taken care of – you simply don’t have to bother with it later. But definitely would be annoying for both the cashier and anyone behind you in line.

  • LudditesAway

    So you’d rather hand someone a piece of paper, with your signature and bank account number printed on it, instead of an electronic form. Brilliant.

  • LudditesAway

    They need to give special treatment to low rent folks who still use checks. I’d say a register int he corner of the basement would be appropriate.

  • LudditesAway

    Or you could just pay the bill when it comes, thus pay no interest, and join the rest of the normal consumers.

  • brianguy

    I’m not sure why the consumer regarded this as a “purchase” in his letter. this seems to be nothing of the sort, just a bill paying function in the store, which almost all dept stores allow. someone at the customer service desk or in the back office in that store screwed it up, and someone in Macy’s corporate accounting should be the one able to fix it. maybe somebody was incapable of transferring them to that dept or contacting them on the customer’s behalf, though I’m not sure why.

    it is a bit surprising, since I’ve had success with Macy’s before when I apparently didn’t have a receipt to return an item, but it had the return tag on it. When they scanned the return tag, it wouldn’t pull up the correct price I paid in the system 30 days earlier (which was $50), only the last clearance price (which was $20). I gave them the (non-Macys) card I’d verified with my bank that I’d used and they still couldn’t find my transaction in their system, though I give them credit for trying. but the manager that they’d called who was working the floor near this dept (shoes) went out of her way to give me a credit for the difference, even though the $50 charge was never found in the computer. I was incredibly grateful since I couldn’t afford to lose the $30. I’m usually pretty good with receipts, but this lesson taught me to be even more careful.

  • bigheartinnewyork

    One company, we know very well, JC Penny tried to change that model to what you are suggesting when its CEO (now ex-CEO) who came from Apple and the company failed miserably. The situation has become so miserable that the company has been apologizing to customers in TV Ads. Majority of customers enjoy this kind of math,discounting and couponing that drives them to stores. They get a sense of accomplishment.

  • JewelEyed

    But still, why would you want to hand a check to an underpaid retail worker who you wouldn’t give access to your bank account?

  • HowMatt

    Was there any info on the copy from the transaction as to which account it went into? Diffrent last 4 of the account #’s, something like that.

  • pauletteb

    I worked part-time at Jordan Marsh/Macy’s for 15 years, and when the Macy’s corporate model was adopted, everything went to hell. Macy’s customer disservice is absolutely no surprise to me. That being said, many customers pay their bills at the register so that they can wait till the last minute. It’s quite possible that the store associate simply applied the wrong checks to the wrong accounts from the get-go, but Macy’s should have fixed the issue without Chris having to get involved.

  • pauletteb

    Most retail outlets allow payments to be made in-store.

  • BeckyAintheBay

    It’s split into two accounts because you get a lower interest rate on the purchases made at Macy’s since they don’t have to pay any percentage fees to AMEX which lowers their cost on those purchases. Most department stores do the same thing, although they don’t usually have two separate minimum payments for each side, they take care of that on their own, because they are required by law to put your payment toward the higher interest purchases. I’d guess that Macy’s is trying to make more money off of their customers by splitting the two accounts so that you have to make a minimum payment towards the Macy’s purchases even though paying the AMEX side first would save the customer interest (the law goes minimum payment first, then highest to lowest interest purchases).

  • Steve Cousino

    As opposed to working with an underpaid bank teller for your financial transactions? Or letting that underpaid retail worker process your cash, check, or credit card payment or assist you in understanding a product you were considering purchasing?