Thursday, April 16, 2009

Afternoon and the Kids are Sleeping

It's just after 5 PM this fantastic Thursday afternoon and Madeleina is sleeping on the couch behind me, the one I generally sleep on at night. I went to talk to Italo, who'd been doing college homework a little while ago, to discover him fast asleep on one of his open books. And then I went to ask Marco if steak with baked potatoes and broccoli and a salad would be okay for dinner and found him sleeping with his video game control held tightly in his hands.
So all of the kids are sleeping and I am happy. I love seeing them sleep. Somehow it makes me feel they're comfortable: Dad's back from his meeting and now we don't have to be on the lookout. He's the lookout and we're off duty. Or something like that. Anyway, it makes me so satisfied to hear them breathing, like they're kids again and they've finally slowed down enough that you can put them down and know they'll be dreaming.
Bet some of you know what I'm talking about.
But then there's this other thing, which is why I went to talk to Italo to begin with. When Marco came back from wherever he was this afternoon, he came to me and said that Italo had tried to use his bank card to fill his gas tank--Italo's used Marco's car for a couple of days as his old Lincoln is under repair. "Italo tried to use my card to fill the tank even though I had half-a-tank. So now I owe another $35 to the bank for overdraft."
Earlier in the week Marco had been surprised when he discovered his direct deposit check had gone in a day late and he'd used his card 4 times in that day, leaving him owing not just for what he'd bought but for $35 for each over draft use: $140. And now Italo tried to use it, and despite it not working, Marco was charged another $35 for trying to use it.
So there went more than half his weekly paycheck.
I had gone to Italo's room to let him know that you can never use anyone else's card because places like gas stations momentarily charge you $75 or $100 when you swipe it, and if you don't have that, it causes an overdraft charge. You might only buy $5 in gas, but the card reserves the other money just in case you use more.
So here was Italo, trying to be cool and fill the tank with Marco's card--I guess he didn't have any money with him--and it cost Marco $35.
It doesn't seem like much but this is an issue I've been fighting for years now. How the Feds let the banks get away with it I'll never know. But I got interested when I myself was stuck with several overdraft charges by Wells Fargo years ago. I'd run down to near nothing, maybe $90 in the checking account, and then needed to shop for food. I used a few bucks. Then I needed smokes. A few bucks. Then a bottle of wine for me and Chepa, another few bucks. Then animal feed, another few bucks. Then something else, another few bucks. Maybe $60 altogether. And then a check I'd given the water company for $100 went through. I saw it on the computer and silently cursed that a deposit hadn't gone through and knew I'd be nailed for the $33 (at my bank) overdraft for the check. But no, the bank put the check through first, making me overdrawn, then each of the other things went through, each with a charge, so that I was left with six overcharges--$200, plus what I actually spent.
I went to the bank to ask what happened. They clearly and coldly explained that they always put through the largest charge first so that if you were overdrawn you'd be stuck paying the highest possible number of charges. I couldn't believe it. I said, "I made those purchases in one hour this morning. The check didn't arrive at the bank till after working hours. How is it that it went through first?"
"It's how we do it. We put the largest thing through first. So we put the check though first, making you overdrawn, and then we put through the other five charges, not in the order they arrived but in the order of size, and, turns out you owe us $198 for overcharges." The teller, a lovely, beaming young woman smiled as she explained it to me. "It's how we make money," she added.
"But why didn't they go through in the order I paid for things. If that was the case everything would have gone through except the check, and I honestly thought my deposit would cover that."
"Yes, well, your deposit was made at 2:05 PM, and that means it won't register till tomorrow. And, as I said, by putting the biggest charge through first we get a lot, and I mean a lot of overdrafts. And since we're in business to make money, well, I'm sure you understand..."
I understood enough to write the State's Attorney General, who said he'd look into the practice.
Then I wrote a cover story for my weekly about the practice that won prizes statewide. Then I wrote more stories about it.
And it turned out the Attorney General thought it was a fine practice. I forget the exact wording of the note but it was something along the lines of "Tough luck. Bankers need to make money and this is a primary source of it," or somesuch.
And now Marco has fallen prey to it because his company direct deposited his paycheck a couple of hours late so it didn't register till the next day. And for that he loses $200. I don't like it. If I were a banker who knew of this practice I'd fight to change it. It's a practice the mob money lenders would frown on in Brooklyn, New York. It's unfair and just another way to prey on people who live paycheck to paycheck.
Marco went to his company to find out why his money was deposited late and it turned out they'd paid the bank before 1 PM. But the bank's computers were down and so it didn't register till after 2 PM. But there was nothing the company can do about it and the bank's response was: "We're not responsible for getting your money here on time. Sending it at a certain hour doesn't count. It's when we receive it. And if our computers were down, well, we still didn't receive it before 2 PM, and so you just have to live with that. It's not really our problem. Perhaps you shouldn't depend on your direct deposit being credited on time."
I would love a few minutes with the person who told Marco that, and then a few minutes more with his boss and his/her boss and finally the CEO who probably took home several million last year, knowing that much of that bonus was made off overdraft charges manufactured by banking policies that the Feds deem okay but which would embarrass a loan shark.
So I'll explain it to Italo about the card later when he wakes up. And I'll chip in to help Marco ease his pain. In the meanwhile, I'll just revel in knowing they're all sleeping in the late afternoon, tired, beat up, upset, but finally okay. It's a mean world out there, kids. Better you learn it on $200 than some other, even harsher, way.


Serhio said...

Peter, I've got some more stories which could be added, but i really want to free myself somehow from their(banks) influencing.
From my experience. You have to pay for your slip ups all the time, and what do they do with their own 'mistakes'?.. they tend to say: Sorry...

They say: 'We want help you'; but it looks like they just want get you.

Gritter said...

OK so I was having a nice Monday morning at work and then I read this blog. Now I pissed off at the world again. I HATE banks, big government, and mean people - not necessarily in that order. Anyway, now I am going to spend the day cursing and thrashing about because I am pissed all over again about "standard procedure" kinds of answers from the morons these institutions hire to work for them.............................................................OK I'm over it now.

Unknown said...

A deposit (check from another person) bounced and I didn't realize it till a day or so later. I had $193 in withdrawals go through, some of that total were things I'd bought that were $11 or $15 in some cases. Each time, I was charged $35 overdraft. On a $193 shortage, they charged me $280. After I complained, they refunded $98, but said that I had signed an agreement that allowed them to do that. Yeah, I did, but it's not like they'd let me modify that agreement and still allow me to bank there.

So I'm in the process of transferring my business.

Peter Gorman said...

Was it my check that bounced? Hope not!
Peter G