'It's crazy': Chase Bank forgiving all debt owed by its Canadian credit card customers
Bank says this was the best way to exit Canada after folding its Amazon and Marriott Visa cards
Finally, a good-news story about credit card debt.
U.S.-based Chase Bank is forgiving all outstanding debt owed by users of its two Canadian credit cards: the Amazon.ca Rewards Visa and the Marriott Rewards Premier Visa. The bank retired both cards last year and said it's wiping out cardholders' debt to complete its exit from the Canadian credit card market.
Affected customers can't believe their luck.
"I was sort of over the moon all last night, with a smile on my face," said Douglas Turner of Coe Hill, Ont., after learning he's off the hook for the $6,157 still owing on his now-defunct Amazon Visa. "I couldn't believe it."
After 13 years in the Canadian market, Chase decided to fold its two Visa cards in March 2018.
The bank — which is part of global financial services firm JPMorgan Chase & Co. — wouldn't say how many Canadians had signed up for the cards or how much debt was outstanding.
But it is likely that many cardholders were still paying down their debt, including Turner.
Every month, he said he put $300 toward his big bill, racked up by making purchases on Amazon for items such as electronics and supplies for his six dogs.
When he received a letter from Chase this week, Turner expected bad news. "I'm thinking, 'OK, I missed a payment.'"
He instead learned that his sizeable credit card debt had been obliterated, and that his latest $300 payment — submitted after Chase made its debt-forgiveness decision — would be reimbursed.
"It's crazy," said Turner, a 55-year-old long-haul trucker. "This stuff doesn't happen with credit cards. Credit cards are horror stories."
Based on his monthly payments and the 19.9 per cent interest rate on his card, Turner estimates he's actually saving a total of more than $7,500.
"I'm glad that it was up there," he said about his bill.
'I consider myself lucky'
Turner's good news is shared with other Canadians also celebrating their sudden reversal of fortune.
Paul Adamson, of Dundalk, Ont., first learned something was afoot last week, when he tried to make a payment toward his Amazon Visa card — and discovered his account had been closed.
"I called my bank a little frantic. I'm like, 'I don't want to miss a payment here,'" said the 44-year-old technical writer.
When Adamson learned he no longer had to make payments toward his outstanding $1,645 debt in Amazon purchases, he found himself in disbelief.
"I'm honestly still so … flabbergasted about it," he said, noting this is unusual behaviour for a bank. "It's surprise fees, extra complications — things like that, definitely, but not loan forgiveness."
Christine Langlois, of Montreal, was also surprised by the news, especially considering she stopped making regular payments on her Amazon Visa five years ago.
"It's kind of like I'm being rewarded for my irresponsibility," said the 24-year-old university student who's being forgiven a $1,300 debt.
Langlois got her card when she was 18 to use while travelling in the U.S., as users weren't charged a fee for foreign currency transactions.
As her debts piled up, Langlois stopped making regular monthly payments and her credit rating took a hit.
"Every time I got a paycheque, it was like, 'OK, food or pay this credit card.' And it was just super stressful."
But now the stress has disappeared — along with her credit card debt.
"I consider myself lucky," she said. "To have it just gone, it's sort of like, surreal."
Why did they do it?
Credit card rewards expert Patrick Sojka said Chase likely concluded that debt forgiveness was ultimately cheaper than continuing to collect credit card payments in Canada.
"They're still probably paying taxes, paying accountants, and for them, they just probably worked it out and [said], 'Let's just forgive the debt and fully get out of the country.'"
But he's stumped as to why the bank didn't instead opt to sell the debt to a third-party debt collector, which would allow Chase to recoup some cash.
"It is definitely a head-scratcher, for sure," said Sojka, the founder of Rewards Canada, a site that tracks reward programs.
Chase told CBC News it chose the debt-forgiveness route so that everyone benefited.
"Ultimately, we felt it was a better decision for all parties, particularly our customers," spokesperson Maria Martinez said in an email.
Turner said he's still confused why the bank would care about former customers in a country where it no longer offers credit cards — but he's not about to quibble with Chase's decision.
"I'm not going to complain."
To note: Following the publication of this story, some readers inquired if the lucky recipients would have to pay income tax on the amount of debt they were forgiven. The short answer is, they shouldn't — as long as they used their cards for personal purchases, said Jamie Golombek, managing director of tax and estate planning with CIBC.
"Think of it as a tax-free windfall," he wrote in an email to CBC News.
However, customers who used their cards to buy items for their business may have to pay up at tax time. That's because their debt forgiveness could be viewed as income by the Canada Revenue Agency, said Golombek.