5 On Your Side

Late payments, bad credit could affect your power bill

Posted February 19, 2014 5:30 p.m. EST
Updated February 20, 2014 6:27 p.m. EST

— When the power bill arrives, most people don’t expect it to be $200, $300 or even $26,000 more than normal, but that is what happened to multiple Duke Energy Progress customers. They reached out to 5 On Your Side to complain that they were blindsided by bills with added deposits without notice.

Mary Ann Schultz says she opened her bill to find that it included an unexpected $458 deposit.

“I said, ‘Gosh, did I not pay the bill? Am I losing my mind?’” she said.

 

Jeff Brooks with Duke Energy Progress says "deposit policies exist to protect customers whose accounts are in good standing from those whose accounts may not be in good standing." He says more customers are being hit with deposits because the company now automatically reviews its accounts.

Initially, Brooks told us all accounts were up for a credit history review as the company assessed the need for a deposit.

 

Now, they say the credit history check is only for new customers and business customers – to determine if a deposit is needed.

Existing customers could have a deposit added to their bill if they have one of the following triggers:

  1. two or more late payments, even by just one day
  2. shut-off notices for non-payment or
  3. payments that didn't go through, for example for insufficient funds.

 

Many of the customers who complained to 5 On Your Side said they have never been late on a payment, had a good payment history or always paid their bill.

“It’s like a slap in the face,” said Schulz.

Part of the trigger for Schulz’s deposit fee was a bankruptcy filing in 2012 after Hurricane Sandy ripped her dream home into the ocean, which ruined her credit.

“(Duke Energy Progress) said, ‘Well, we sent your information to Experian, and according to them, they said we should get a security deposit,’” Schulz said, adding that she thinks the practice is unfair.

TCG Legacy, a printing, packaging and labeling business in Garner, was hit with a $41,000 bill, according to administrative assistant Wendy Majewski. Although the company uses a lot of power in day-to-day printing – about $15,000 per month – the $41,000 bill was shocking.

“There it was, (a) $26,000 deposit right there on the bottom,” Majewski said. "I think a phone call was justified rather than just all of a sudden a $26,000 dollar bill. Some conversation between us and them – anything would have been better than the shocker of opening a bill with that amount owed to them."

Duke Energy Progress officials say with millions of customers, the bill is the easiest way to reach everyone. They add that residential customers’ deposits gain 8 percent interest after 90 days, but they can be refunded if kept in good standing for 12 months.

Customers who are concerned about their credit rating can check it for free each year from each of the three major credit bureaus – Experian, Transunion and Equifax. It’s best to go to annualcreditreport.com and check the report every four months. Besides power bills, credit reports can also affect loans, how much will be charged for insurance, whether a landlord will rent you a home, and it could determine whether an employer offers you a job.