If you’ve ever read the Bible, you’ll notice that there were only two groups of people Jesus really seemed to have a problem with: the Pharisees [dogmatic, narrow-minded management-drone types] and the moneylenders. That says a lot, doesn’t it? It gives me a warm feeling to know I have so much in common with the Son of God. We seem to get pissed off by some of the same people.
Now, I’m not even going to start about Pharisees, because it’s too wide of a group, encompassing compulsive rule followers, sycophants, middle management types, corporate drones, neatniks, defense lawyers, and all your “letter of the law” type of personalities. If I were to attempt to start on that topic, there is no way I could get this article finished before, say, November.
But let’s take a look at the moneylenders, the modern-day Sheriffs of Nottingham. Banks run television ads pretending to be benevolent, community-minded businesses, interested in helping the little guy to get ahead, but if you earn less than $50,000 a year, you can be assured that all they really want to do is rob you absolutely blind. If you doubt me, go broke at some point and see how deep a hole you can get yourself into without even trying.
First of all, how can it possibly take the bank $25.00 to cover an overdraft? I remember seeing a report on 48 Hours that said that it really only costs the bank eight dollars to cover an overdraft, and that’s including some profit. I must assume that they jacked up the overdraft charges in order to take advantage of all the broke and math-impaired people out there.
It isn’t just the math-impaired who get overdrafts. The bank took care of that. They invented the “check card,” and now those among us who actually know how to balance a checkbook can still accrue upwards of $100 per year in overdraft charges. The reason? When they give you the card, they sell it to you as something that will automatically debit from your checking account when you use it, so you can’t overspend.
This is good so far, but what they don’t tell you is that some charges don’t come out right away. The merchant can take as long as a month in some cases to charge your account for the debit.
Let me give you an example. Back in November, I was stuck at the airport for a while, trying to make contact with my ride. I made two phone calls using my VISA check card. One of the calls came to $1.95, the other came to $2.29. I mentally subtracted the amount from my account and went about my business as usual.
Six weeks later, I received a statement from the bank. They had just debited the phone calls two days before and, as it happened to be the day before payday and I had about $1.00 in my account, both of the debits bounced.
At $25.00 per bounce, they managed to turn my $4.24 debit into a $54.24 bill. It took me three calls to the bank before I got that straightened out. I have had several situations like that arise and every time, I learn something new about how debit cards don’t work.
The bank also likes to keep you away from your money. The reasoning must be that, if they let you touch your newly deposited money, you’ll just go spend it on something stupid like food or rent. When you deposit a check into an ATM, as I have to unless I want to be charged $3.00 for speaking to a human, they only release $100.00 to you for the first day that you deposit the check. Sometimes you don’t even get that.
Recently, I had some cash that I didn’t want to carry around, because I was going out that night. It was the day before payday and I didn’t have much money left in my account, so I deposited the cash in the ATM to keep it safe until the next day. I think that deposit was made about three minutes after five in the evening.
The next day, I got my paycheck and had to pay a large bill the same day. Not wanting to have to pay the teller for the privilege of watching her cash my check, I deposited my check in the ATM, expecting to see my $100.00 available to me immediately.
Imagine how stunned I was to see my balance remain exactly as it was the day before. I called the “service line,” which I was required to do before I could talk to a teller, and the man in the service center told me that I had already made a deposit that day, and therefore my money would not be available to me for two more days.
I puzzled over that one for quite a while. Finally, the man at the service center told me that the deposit I had made the previous evening actually counted as “today,” and the $100 available from deposits made could only be drawn out of the first deposit of the day. So my paycheck sat in my account, completely useless, for two days, and I was left to pay my $60.00 bill with the $18.00 cash I had deposited the night before.
The thing that really aggravated me was that the guy on the phone acted like I was supposed to know that the bank had rearranged time to make a “day” start at 5 p.m. How was I supposed to know about the “second deposits don’t count” thing?
He angrily told me that it was “in my service contract,” which I remember as being a very dense, unreadable document I received four years ago when I first opened the account. I can only conclude that the weird deposit rules are just another ploy to get customers to draw more overdrafts at $25.00 a pop.
By far the most important lesson that I have learned about banks to date is this: never, ever, get close to the credit limit on your credit card. I have a card that I closed two years ago and am still paying off. The reason? The bank charges a $50.00 over-limit fee to your account if you are over your credit limit on the last day of your billing cycle. Then they turn around and charge another $50.00 over-limit fee if you are over limit on the first day of your billing cycle.
So, unless you can manage to pay your bill during the 24-hour time frame that is in between the first and last day of your billing cycle [which probably starts at 5 p.m.] you end up owing the bank an additional $100.00 on your credit card, pushing you even further over limit, so they can charge you another $100.00 the following month.
Yes, they would have you believe that they want to help you succeed in life. Succeed at being broke, maybe. If you are on the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder, rest assured that you are what makes the economy go ’round. Your overdraft fees and over-limit charges and astronomical interest charges on your maxed-out credit cards are funding the banks of the future, so they can afford to pay good interest to wealthy depositors.
Truly, we all play a valuable part in the drama that is our technological, postmodern economy. I, for one, am thinking seriously about dropping out of the play.