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Credit union customer's yearlong struggle finally over

Mike Jordan kept paperwork to record the winding journey he was on since 2010 to add money to certificates of deposit at an earlier interest rate.

BRENDAN FITTERER | Times

Mike Jordan kept paperwork to record the winding journey he was on since 2010 to add money to certificates of deposit at an earlier interest rate.

NEW PORT RICHEY

An ardent fisherman, James Michael "Mike" Jordan understands patience and determination.

Snagging a 40-pound redfish, however, is nothing compared to the nearly yearlong bureaucratic battle Jordan recently endured with Achieva Credit Union and the regulatory body that oversees it, the National Credit Union Administration.

Jordan was convinced he should be allowed to add money to what Achieva advertised as an "add-on" certificate of deposit. The credit union refused, arguing the meaning of the word "may."

The NCUA spent months shuffling Jordan's complaint between different agencies and regional offices.

Sitting at his dining room table a week ago, Jordan sifted through a folder jammed with paperwork; Two pages are filled with handwritten names, numbers and emails of nearly 75 people he contacted. The paperwork details a half-dozen times regulators delayed him or steered him in the wrong direction.

Jordan ultimately won, but the fight left him thinking there's a deeper problem: The credit union and the NCUA kept delaying because they figured he would eventually give up.

"The whole thing is a fallacy of absurd proportions," Jordan said.

• • •

The odyssey began in June 2010 when Jordan, 69, and his 67-year-old wife, Darlene Hayes, took out two certificates of deposit worth $75,000 apiece bearing an interest rate of 3.17 percent.

Other institutions were offering higher interest rates at the time. They were lured by the promise they could add money to the account any time as the five-year CDs matured. The "add-on feature" is spelled out on the CD itself.

The couple was allowed to add a sizable amount to the CDs six months later without a hitch. But when they tried to add money a second time, the credit union balked. Achieva told Jordan the certificates said that holders "may" add money, he said.

"They said, 'You should know that also means that you may not be allowed to do it,' " Jordan said.

When the credit union refused to budge, Jordan filed a complaint with the National Credit Union Administration on July 10, 2013.

Achieva's official response came a week later: "The ability to add additional funds may be allowed but is not guaranteed and is subject to the credit union's discretion."

Achieva's decision was a blow to all savers using its add-on CDs. It meant they wouldn't be able to tap into the higher-rate CDs during a persistent era of historically low interest rates.

Over the next several months, Jordan's complaint floated between regulators. The NCUA first sent it to the Florida Office of Financial Regulation. That office said it found no violation of state codes. But because the complaint was an alleged violation of the Truth in Savings rules, which fell under NCUA oversight, the complaint was sent back to the credit union regulator.

The NCUA sent the case to a regional office in November. By December, after still no response, Jordan contacted the credit union administration's ombudsman and area politicians such as U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

Winter turned into spring, with Jordan still waiting for a resolution.

The NCUA website states that claims are generally resolved in 60 days, with the average being 45 days.

"There is no penalty, per se, if a case takes longer to resolve," NCUA spokesman John Fairbanks said.

Finally, a few weeks ago, came a victory — at least on paper. The NCUA's Office of Consumer Protection wrote Jordan declaring that Achieva's disclosures were "not clear and conspicuous — a violation of the Truth in Savings Act." The agency said the credit union would be required to "correct the defective notice" and tell its members about the change. Moreover, Achieva was directed to work with Jordan "to reach an amicable resolution."

But the NCUA made no promise of enforcing its findings.

"At this junction we are closing our files on this case," the May 30 letter said. "Should you wish to pursue this matter further, we suggest you consult with private legal counsel."

• • •

The ruling prompted Jordan to contact Achieva CEO Gary Regoli. Regoli's attorney called him back, saying he could not find a record of his complaint. Jordan called back the NCUA, which told him that since the ruling was made, it considered the case closed.

Jordan had had enough. He was almost resigned to writing off the estimated $12,000 in interest he lost from not being able to add funds into the two CDs.

"I just want someone to hold these people accountable," he told the Tampa Bay Times a week ago. "Their whole objective is to do nothing, and that's exactly what they intend to do. Nothing."

On Thursday, several days after being contacted by the Times, Achieva officials backed off, saying they planned to reimburse Jordan for lost interest from the misunderstanding.

"We're going to go ahead and honor his request. … We worked with him to come up with an amicable agreement today," said Tara Murphy, Achieva senior vice president and chief operations officer.

She said she understands how Jordan could have been confused by the add-on option but insists the credit union did nothing wrong. She also said the credit union had removed the wording referring to the add-on option years ago.

As of late last week, Achieva was trying to ascertain how many others like Jordan might have been "confused" by the former language on the CDs, and would reach out to affected customers on a one-on-one basis, Murphy said.

"We want our members to be happy and we pride ourselves on that," she added. "In the rare instance there is an issue involved, we give it our full attention to make sure everything is as it should be."

• • •

Friday morning, Jordan said he was promised that a check was in the mail to reimburse him for all lost interest.

"We are very satisfied with the outcome," he said, if not the process.

His battle changed his opinion of credit unions as nonprofits looking out for the little guy. It made him skeptical of the National Credit Union Administration. But it reinforced his belief that persistence pays.

But why didn't he just give up?

"I don't suffer fools well," he said. "And being hardheaded is part of it, too. (My wife) Darlene will agree with that."

Jeff Harrington can be reached at jharrington@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3434.

Credit union customer's yearlong struggle finally over 06/20/14 [Last modified: Friday, June 20, 2014 6:31pm]
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