My DirecTV Refund Experience

Executive Summary

DirecTV holds onto refunds for a long long time. Even if you pay them by credit card, the "refund check" is in the mail. I tried to ask nicely. I gave them more than the 30 days they give their customers. I sued in small claims court. They settled.


I was a happy DirecTV subscriber for the last five years. Four of those I even had the High-Def package with its $400 receiver and the $100/mo cost.

Finally, after many years of being uncompetitive, my local cable company, Comcast, offered a long-term deal (not a 3-month promotion) whereby I could get many many more HD channels than DirecTV (See Note 1). along with 6Mbps Internet and all the locals including alternate channels for various stations and public access channels -- all for $90.

I called DirecTV and let them know (See Note 2). They said ok. Since I prepay several months each time I had a credit of roughly $23. They said that it would be returned to me.

A Simple Matter Becomes a Story

I kept waiting to see the credit appear on my credit card... the one they have on file that each few months they charge... and yet the credit never showed. After 29 days I called to speak with them (See Note 2). I asked them that had I ever been 30 days late on an invoice, what would have been the repercussions. They explained their late fee policy -- $5 minimum.

I said fine ... either refund my money in the next 24 hours (30 days) or I will be forced to bill you a late fee. Mine isn't $5. The customer service representative explained that (of course) he couldn't do that. I agreed, and suggested the way both his company and I would be happy is if they just refunded the money.

We both agreed we'd both spent far too much time on the phone for $23. "Unfortunately," he explained, "refunds take six to eight weeks minimum." I thanked him for his time, and ended the conversation.

Later that evening I researched the name of the General Counsel for DirecTV as well as their internal email address format, and sent him a very very short note. It basically said "Look, I'm a former subscriber who's owed $23. That's not worth your time or mine. Can you please have them refund it?" He replied from his BlackBerry and said he'd take care of it the next day. That's how informal (and unimportant) this all seemed.

Forty-eight hours later with no credit appearing on the card I emailed him again, this time eliciting no response.

Having Received no Response I Turned to the Legal System

I found an online resource that convinced me this wasn't going to solve itself, and might actually get worse. (Link)

To cut to the chase, I filed a Small Claims Court case for the $23 I was due, the $19 filing fee, and $399 the estimated amount I paid for the HD receiver that was no longer of any use to me. (see Note 3).

In the meantime I twice received a white paper postcard asking me to evaluate "How we're doing" and asking how long it took to get my refund check(s?). I never received any checks. I've received other, much larger checks from title companies, so it's unlikely that someone really wanted to get rich off of my DirecTV refund. (In other words I don't believe my mail gets stolen.)

I didn't figure they would have much of an option (See Note 4) which is why I was surprised that they filed a Response to the Complaint. The case was set for trial (23-Jan-2007) and I'd planned to spend a couple of hours this weekend digging up the receipts, records, and electronic mail conversations.

In the afternoon of 18-Jan I received a call from the lawyer who had filed the Response to the Complaint. She explained she'd been made aware of the facts, apologized for my inconvenience, and explained that two checks had been sent out. The first was sent out as per the General Counsel, and the second was sent out after receiving my Complaint. I told her neither was received and about the little white cards.

DirecTV is More Than Reasonable

She asked how I came to the amount I was seeking; I explained; she said that would be fine and could they just pay me and have the suit dismissed. I said that would be fantastic. She promised to call Monday to verify the money had been credited to my account, so that we could avoid showing up to court on the following Tuesday. I agreed and we ended our conversation.

Having checked the credit card activity two days later, I confirmed that the refund had been applied as agreed. I emailed the mutual Stipulation of Dismissal so that both DirecTV and I could dismiss the case. DirecTV sent it back, but not in time to file with the court without an appearance. I showed up at the hearing, providing the Stipulation. The hearing officer dismissed the case without prejudice saying "I thought something like this would happen when I saw the parties." I told him the gist of the story.

The End


1. DirecTV is in the process of launching another bird solely to provide HD signals. Even with those, though, Comcast still has "more better."

2. Of course each call to DirecTV involves at least two minutes of menu navigation and then some non-interminable time on hold. The representatives are friendly, but generally powerless. In other words each call is an exercise in a process, not an actual problem-solving opportunity.

3.Yes, I do understand that when one cancels DirecTV service there is no contractual obligation on their part to repurchase the receiver, let alone at its full "as new" price. This is why we have a court system -- to create justice wherever possible, even if there is no previous underlying agreement.

4. In Arizona, defendants in a small claims court case have an interesting option that they can easily select rather than filing a Response. That option is to move the case out of small-claims and into Justice Courts. The differences are numerous but here are the important ones as I understand them:

  1. SCC court rulings are not subject to appeal. Justice Court ones are.
  2. SCC court rulings are limited to ACTUAL damages up to $2,500. This means NO injunctions, NO treble-damages, NO punitive damages.
  3. SCC has no rules of evidence but also no Discovery. This means you do your own research and the adjudication officer gets to decide if it proves your side of the case.
  4. One more thing. SCC rulings do not set precedent.

So you see, a party going to SCC knows that the worst they'll have to pay is what the Plaintiff is requesting, and at best nothing. If they move it to Justice Court then potentially they will have to pay what I'm asking, potentially punitive damages for holding onto my money without returning it, possibly it could be certified a class-action for all ex- DirecTV customers. Possibly it could establish a precedent barring them from doing it in the future. Furthermore the cost to prepare for a hearing in Justice Court at lawyers' hourly rates would far exceed the less than $500 I was seeking.

In other words, they had no upside to going to Justice Courts.

On the other hand in Small Claims Court a party which is a Corporation may be defended by its officers or a designatee *EXCEPT* that the designatee may not be a lawyer, and no officer whose job it is to be a lawyer for the company may represent it. It stands to reason the cost to fly out an Officer of the company would greatly exceed the amount requested.

If you think about that last option, you realize their "cheapest" and "least hassle" course of action wasn't to settle with me at all but rather let me go to court, [they would]not show up... maybe I'll convince the adjudication officer. Maybe I'll get awarded the entire amount I'm seeking. Maybe not. There seems to be NO downside for them --- except that they would then have lost a lawsuit, and others would learn of it.

Finally there is there is the option they chose -- settle with me for a More Than Generous amount (they know and I know that they don't have to buy back the receiver at more than market value, and she knew and I knew and she knew I knew that if she offered me $50 I would have said that was great.) However, in being generous, and in getting the case dismissed, both sides win.

The moral of the story is:
Don't prepay many months in advance to companies with complicated refund procedures.
Alternate moral: Stand up for yourself and don't let the Goliaths roll over on you. Small Claims Court is your friend -- not as good a friend as
google though.

This site hosted by Tucson Colocation