American Express Financial Reviews: What You Need to Know T.J. April 13, 2020

American Express Financial Reviews: What You Need to Know

If you’ve been lurking around the Miles & Points community for a while, you have likely come across someone in a panic asking for advice about a financial review (FR) on their American Express (or other financial institution’s) account. You may even have had the pleasure of going through one yourself. 

While FRs are not nearly as exciting as signup bonuses, they may well be a rare occurrence along your journey, and this article aims to provide an overview of the financial review and the various outcomes that can result from undergoing one. 

It is important to note that the information in this article is based on anecdotal evidence, as only those who are privy to internal processes for financial reviews can say with certainty how they work. If you have any questions or have any additional information to share, be sure to get in touch or leave a comment below.

In This Post

What Is a Financial Review?

A financial review is a process used by American Express to verify information pertaining to your account. As an unsecured lender, Amex uses the FR to ensure that the information provided on your application(s) is indeed true and that you have the ability to pay back the debts owed to them.

Your entire account will be under scrutiny during the review. Your spending patterns, account(s) history, purchases, applications, and business credentials will be carefully inspected, and you may be asked some very detailed questions about any of the above. 

How to Know if a Financial Review Has Been Triggered

At the onset of an FR, there are several ways that you will know that something is amiss with your Amex card(s). You won’t be able to avoid the FR once it has been initiated, and it will be quite clear that your account is under a review. 

If you have the Amex app on your smartphone, you may receive a notification that Apple Pay has been deactivated on one or more cards (even if you don’t have an Apple device). This is usually the first indication that something has changed with your account.

On your online account, you’ll notice a message stating that your spending privileges are suspended due to the status of another account, and asking you to call in if they haven’t spoken with you already. Your accounts will be frozen during the FR, so be sure to change any automatic payments to ensure you don’t fall behind on your bills.

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A member of the FR team will call to inform you that they are conducting a financial review of your account. From my experience, they prefer to discuss the details of the review immediately, so if you do answer the call, be prepared to dive right in.

You will also receive a letter in the mail advising you to speak with one of their representatives, too, especially if you haven’t already contacted the FR team.

When you call in to any Amex number, you will be redirected to the FR call centre after entering your account number. They are only open on Monday to Friday, from 9am to 5pm Eastern Time, so if you call outside of those hours, you’ll have to call back when their office is open. In the meantime, you won’t be able to speak with any other call centre representatives, who will simply direct you to call back to speak with the FR team. 

What Happens During a Financial Review?

When you first speak with a member of the FR team, you will likely be asked a variety of questions pertaining to your account. The nature of the questions will give you an indication of why you are having a financial review. So, you should be prepared to offer a clear explanation for anything that can be found on your account.

In most cases, the FR team will request several documents from you. You’ll need to provide the Notice of Assessment from the previous year’s tax return. This is likely to verify that the income reported on your card applications matches the income reported to the Canada Revenue Agency. Any wild discrepancies between your reported income and your actual income are not likely to bode well in your favour.

They will also ask to see your bank statements for the preceding three months. They are likely looking to see regular income deposits from reputable sources to ensure that you can pay back your debts to them. 

If you have any business cards, there are numerous data points about the FR team pressing for information about the nature of your business. For the sole proprietors out there, this can be a sticking point, as they will ask for business numbers, a master business license, and/or separate bank accounts for your business. So, if you have any business cards, you should be prepared to provide the documentation they are requesting (or otherwise be prepared to argue your case).

Documentation may be sent in via the Form and Document Centre on the American Express website or by fax. If you submit the documents via the Form and Document Centre, it is a good idea to call the FR team to verify that they have received everything, as some data points suggest that they don’t go looking for it unless they have an idea of where to find it.

Once they have received the documentation, the actual review takes a few days to be completed. After they have combed through the documents you provided, the statements you made on the phone, and your account data, you will receive a phone call advising you of the outcome.

What Are the Outcomes from a Financial Review?

In the vast majority of cases, if the information you have provided matches what they are expecting, most people seem to have their accounts reopened within 30 minutes of the phone call and everything returns back to normal. So, if you have been forthright from the onset, you will likely survive the FR unscathed, albeit possibly with a lowered credit limit or cap on your charge cards as a risk management measure. 

In some cases, you may be asked to “voluntarily” close one or more of your accounts. Most data points suggest that business cards are the most common reason for this outcome, likely as a result of Amex not being convinced that your business is worthy of a business credit card. You may be eligible for an annual fee refund or rebate, which can be discussed when you are transferred to a call centre representative to close the account.

In rare cases, the result of the FR could be that all of your accounts are closed and you are required to settle the balances in a timely manner. You also lose any of the Membership Rewards points that remain in your account. This is certainly not the desired outcome of an FR, and indeed most anecdotes point to this outcome arising from continuing to have unusual spending patterns after at least one previous FR. 

It isn’t possible to dictate the outcome of a financial review, so while the outcome of having your accounts closed is a rare occurrence, your best defence is probably to avoid an FR in the first place.

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How Do I Avoid a Financial Review?

As for what triggers a financial review in the first place, without being an employee on the FR team, it is impossible to know what gets your account flagged. There are a variety of factors at play here, and I don’t think there are any surefire ways to either trigger or avoid a financial review.

Applying for a significant number of cards within a short timeframe likely increases your odds of having a financial review. You may want to develop a long-term plan to reach your Miles & Points goals and take spaced-out, incremental steps to get there. If you have a partner, two-player mode is also a good way to space out the applications of a single individual while continuing to rake in the points. 

If there have been any sudden changes to your established spending patterns, you are likely at a greater risk of having a financial review. This would include any unusually large purchases shortly after opening an account (especially a charge card, which has no preset spending limit) or any repeated transactions that appear suspicious. 

One way to check whether a purchase on a charge card would be deemed “safe” from tripping up the alarms is through the “Check Spending Power” tool on your Amex dashboard, although you should be warned that overuse of this tool has also been known to trigger FRs, so it should be used sparingly.

While planning your large purchases in advance can be a great way to meet some of the higher minimum spending requirements on Amex cards, there’s a small chance you may end up having to explain the expenses to a member of the FR team if those large purchases trigger a review. 

Spending huge volumes of money on your card that run up to your stated annual income is probably one of the easiest ways to be flagged for a financial review. For example, if your reported annual income is $60,000 and you have already put through $50,000 on your account by June, you may be asked some interesting questions about how and why you managed to do that. 

The practice of “cycling through” your credit limit within a billing cycle may raise some eyebrows as well. For example, suppose you are doing some renovations on your house and plan to spend around $20,000. But, since your credit limit is $10,000 on the card that you’d like to use, you’d have to do two rounds of maxing out your card and paying it off in a short amount of time. If this becomes a pattern, you may have to explain why you consistently tend to cycle through your credit limit.

If you’ve had an FR before and were asked to refrain from some specific spending patterns, and then you have continued to generate these spending patterns, you are very likely to be asked about this activity again under a second FR, which may have harsher consequences than the first. Therefore, be sure to adhere to any suggestions the FR team gives you if you’d like to avoid further scrutiny on your account.

Of course, some people out there engage in any or all of the above spending activities and never get selected for a financial review. Given the host of reasons that may contribute to whether or not you have the honour of receiving an FR, it’s best to be mentally prepared for all potential outcomes if you decide to pursue a diversified set of points-earning strategies.

When the Credit Card “Churns” You…

Lastly, I wanted to share an anecdote that a Miles & Points colleague shared with me about his experience with the FR, having received the harshest possible outcome of mandatory account closures on his Amex cards. 

Upon receiving notification that his accounts were cancelled and all points forfeited, he asked the FR team member if he had been blacklisted from any future applications. The Amex representative suggested that even though his accounts were cancelled now, he was free to apply again after six months, suggesting that maybe they are “churning” us, too. 😉

Sure enough, he was approved on a subsequent application and is back to enjoying the excellent bonuses and benefits that Amex products have to offer. So, if you do find yourself in “Amexile”, there is hope that you can eventually return to the promised land of Membership Rewards after an imposed cooling-off period.

Conclusion

While undergoing a American Express financial review isn’t a particularly fun experience, it is one that most emerge from with little or no impact. If you give the FR team what they ask for, and if it lines up with what they were looking for, the worst part will be the inconvenience of having your accounts temporarily frozen for a few days’ time. 

Some strategies in Miles & Points come with a certain degree of risk, though, and it is important to understand that your financial institution has the power to close your accounts if they don’t like what they see. Although the majority of cardholders who undergo an FR will emerge unscathed, repeat offenders may find themselves joining the lost souls in Amexile for an indeterminate length of time.

If you are selected for an FR, or if you’re desperately trying to avoid one, reach out to the community of fellow Miles & Points enthusiasts either online or in person, and people are usually more than happy to share their experiences. 

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T.J.

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