Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Power to the People, Part I

(or, Holy Shit, That's A Lot Of Linkage!)

So. Let's talk banks. Specifically, let's talk bank fees.


As a young adult,

{Insert pause for hysterical laughter at the idea of an 18 year old being an adult}

I opened my very first checking account with Wells Fargo. I don't really remember why I chose them; knowing me, it was probably because their ATM was the closest one to my house. I must say that I lucked out; Wells Fargo treated me well over the years. I didn't always have a ton of money in my account ... I clearly remember being anal about balancing my checkbook each month due to the fact that I occasionally had a total of 12 cents left by the 31st. And every once in awhile, I took one too many trips to Barnes & Noble that ended up in a stack of shiny new books and that 12 cents turned into a big red minus sign on my account balance. But in all honestly, Wells Fargo charged reasonable overdraft fees and hey, I deserved them. In over 10 years, I never had a problem with them that wasn't solved on the first phone call.

Sadly, the East Coast has not yet reached the enlightened plane required to enjoy the privilege of patronizing certain West Coast businesses, Wells Fargo being one of them. (Claim Jumper and Del Taco being two more, for which I am rendered completely and hopelessly bitter. But my food addictions are another post entirely.) When we hit the road, we were forced to choose a new bank. Since N moved here ahead of me, by default (ha!) he was stuck with the thankless task of finding the financial institution most qualified to handle our complicated banking needs.

{Insert pause for hysterical laughter at the thought of us having banking needs beyond, "Here's our [ridiculously small amount of] money. Don't lose it."}

Surprisingly, he learned there are only two banks that do business on both the East and West Coasts - Bank of America and Washington Mutual.

Okay, I admit, I took his word for it. I sure as hell wasn't going to be doing the legwork myself. If he lied his ass off pulled a fast one on me is mistaken, please, refrain from letting me know about it, m'kay?

Washington Mutual, affectionately if somewhat nauseatingly referred to by customers as WaMu, has a good reputation. But even though they do exist here in Virginia, they are somewhat few and far between. There are a total of 5 within 20 miles of my house. On the other hand, Bank of America (shortened to BofA and pronounced "boffah" if you're lazy) (like me) has more than ten times that many. Dude. BofA had a bad rep back in the day for completely shitty customer service. So completely shitty that the thought of leaving my beloved Wells Fargo for the Big Bad Nasty made me cringe. And whine. And complain. And kick. And scream. And bitch. And moan.

Well, you get the picture.

But in the end, N convinced me to give them a try. He had heard rumors that BofA was turning things around and really working to regain a good rep in the banking world, plus the convenience factor was undeniable. So I gave in agreed and we stepped over to the Dark Side. That was two and a half years ago.

Up until last week, I have actually been quite content banking in the Land of the Dark Lords. There are ATMs all over the freaking place (including at my work, which is handy for those indulgent emergency lunch purchases) and the banking centers have pretty decent hours for us working peeps. The new ATMs are high tech yet user- and eco-friendly; no more cursing up a storm screaming in the drive though lane being SOL due to the lack of available deposit envelopes! The online banking options are a god-send to those of us who are time-challenged and/or due-date-challenged. And we have yet to suffer from buyer's remorse over any of the BofA products we've been suckered into purchased after careful consideration.


We learned our lesson early on that one does not want to overdraw one's checking account, lest one feels so inclined to pay through the nose in o/d fees. Awhile back, during which time I was lazy and forgetful suffering from Mommy Brain, I let the checkbook-balancing routine fall a wee bit behind and well, let's just say the results weren't pretty.

After recovering from my minor fee-induced heart attack, I swiftly took steps to ensure it would nevah. happen. again. ! No, I did not purchase money-managing software to effortlessly whip our budget into shape. No, I did not enroll in financial success workshops to release my family from the burden of debt. No, I did not sign up for online banking. No, I did not push myself to stay on top of all things monetary.

Oh no.

I got a credit card, baby! Woohoo!

Now now, before you go all postal on me, let me reassure you that I did not go charging up the card with frivolous purchases. Not a single one of my purchases were frivolous!

I kid, I kid. The card came with a zero balance, and still has a zero balance. The point of the card was to link it as a backup for our checking account, in case we were to overdraw. See, BofA automatically links your savings account to your checking account as your backup. In theory, this default works just fine ... you o/d your checking, they dip into your savings and transfer the needed funds to cover your oopsie(s). You are charged a relatively small $10 transfer fee and o/d fees are a thing of the past.

In theory.

However, when your savings account has all of $3.42 in it on any given day, this theory gets shot all to hell.

The fun part is when BofA takes your entire savings balance and puts it in your checking, since everyone knows when you o/d, $3.42 is gonna cover it every time.


So you get a $10 transfer fee and then, surprise! You still get o/d fees when (shockingly) your savings transfer didn't quite cover your o/d transactions. Nice. Hence the need to a nice, shiny new credit card with {gasp} thousands of dollars of available credit just sitting there, waiting to fly to the rescue should one be so stupid careless unlucky as to accidentally o/d in the future.

Like, um, me.

Now in my defense, I will say that while I used to be the accountant in our little family, my sucker loving husband took over those duties from me awhile back. I was a bit overwhelmed with my SAHM duties (we really don't need to go there again, do we?) and things like, oh I don't know ... coughbillpayingcough ... were getting neglected. N had sizable chunks of downtime at his old job and he nicely offered to get us back on track. Yes, he's a saint. Yes, I'm a lazy bitch. What, you didn't know this already?

So N did his spreadsheet-tracking, online-bill-paying, actually-looking-at-the-mail magic. And for a long time, it worked quite nicely. Bills were paid, money was flowing in and out (mostly out) without a hitch, the hate mail overdue notices quit arriving in the mailbox. N was overworked happy, I was happy, life was good. Then, due to circumstances beyond our control, N was forced to get a new job. And as everyone knows, when you are a shiny brand-new employee it takes awhile before your direct deposit kicks in. For the first few paychecks, one is forced to actually retrieve said paycheck from one's employer and physically take it to the bank. Oh, the horrors.

And when one forgets to deposit said paycheck on payday yet one's bills are on autopay, one is most likely up shit creek without a paddle. (Thanks, Mom, for teaching me that sweet little idiom. It's one of my very favorites.)

Over the course of one horrific weekend, we incurred approximately $175 in overdraft fees.

One hundred. And seventy five. American dollars.


That's like five thousand dollars in Madness money. Seriously. Just looking at the negatives on the computer screen made me hyperventilate. After my initial breakdown, I promptly proceeded to kick my sainted husband's ass nicely ask N to call the bank and see what the hell happened. After all, I had this lovely credit card sitting there with a zero balance. We should have had a (relatively) small $10 charge and then moved on with our no-direct-deposit lives. Why, then, had the minions of Satan BofA system pulled the $3.42 balance from our savings and then, when we (shockingly) came up short, gleefully charged us over and over?

I was incensed, to say the least. Yet I reigned in my initial reaction because really, this was all just a stupid simple error and could easily be corrected. Right?

To be continued when my brain recovers from the over-linkage shock