Anyone who knows me knows one thing is for sure.... I don't like to admit to mistakes, especially ones that show financial irresponsibility, but I feel like this is important information to pass along, and I hope you all help me in getting the word out, because it was something I just didn't know could happen, and I am sure I am not alone.
My husband and I have always prided ourselves on making sure that the bills were paid on time. We never had a late car, rent or mortgage payment in our lives. We worked hard to protect our credit, to keep the lights, phone and gas on, and to keep our family fed and clothed. It isn't easy with four kids, but somehow we always managed to hold it together, even if we ran right to the deadline, exhausted the grace period and brought our checking account to 14 cents we were pleased that we kept the balls in the air.
For the past two years we have banked exclusively with credit unions, and currently have two credit union accounts, one in St. Louis that offers us fantastic service and great interest rates, and one here in New Mexico for State Employees, like Charles. Recently we decided that we should have a traditional checking account, don't ask me why, because now I couldn't begin to tell you our reasons. So we opened a checking and savings account with Wells Fargo. Our personal banker was very nice, and we transferred the bulk of our direct deposit from Charles's checks over to that account.
Now, in an effort to always be on time with my bills and keep things like lights and phone on, I sit down most Tuesdays before payday and write the checks for the bills and stuff the envelopes, to be sent out in anticipation of the direct deposit arriving on Friday. They are sent off, and arrive at the vendors usually Wednesday or Thursday, at the earliest, but often days later, are processed through their systems and credited, then hit the vendor's banks, and then ours. I have never had a problem with the timing, everything was fine.
Well last week was no different. I got the payments in by the deadline, and on Friday I checked the account at 8 am and made sure that the deposit went in and nothing had gone through. Our previous balance was about $20, according to the system, and our deposit from Charles's check was in, fully credited. (Normally I wouldn't divulge such personal information but I feel it is important to the story.) I checked to make sure that all the balances matched up, and inspected the spending report, and everything was in good shape. I went about my day, and when I returned home in the afternoon after picking up the girls and buying a few things we needed at Walgreen's, I had a panicked message from Charles saying "Check the account, there are major problems."
I went back to the online banking system and couldn't believe my eyes. The account balance was just over $200, the deposit was marked "pending" and the previous day's balance was -$954!
Of course at this time it was end of business on Friday, so we had to wait until Saturday to hit the bank, which we did first thing. We sat down with a branch manager, who explained to us a little known law that had been passed a couple of years ago, called Check 21. What is boils down to is now a bank can look at the date a check is written, go back to that date in the account it was written from, look at the balance, and if the money wasn't there on THAT day they can bounce the check and exact huge fees. He said that it was slowly being implemented, and that they had just started enforcing it recently, initially giving credit to customers to get them used to the system. We had been with credit unions, who are loathe to enforce this on their customers, because they are customer owned and never knew of this. Of course, the information was provided to us when we opened our account, in the form of fine print in a thick book of banking information that came with stacks of papers, cards, fliers, and other things in our folder when we opened the account, in other words buried where we would never see it.
Now, the bank manager was very kind, sat with us for well over an hour, went through the account and reversed some of the fees, but not all. He said to sit on the account for a week, don't touch a dime of it, and let the dust settle and they would judge our discipline basically and make a decision about restoring more of those fees. Now, not only have we had our account pilliaged by the bank, our remaining funds are sitting there on hold. This is tremendously frustrating.
I write this not for sympathy, but to warn others. I know many people are accustomed to doing things like I am, but the times have changed and there are no more float times, no more leniencies, and no more leeways. I feel, personally, like all the laws now protect the corporations, and consumer protection is a thing of the past. I don't feel that this information is properly disclosed. I firmly believe that this is a great scheme by the bank to extract hundreds of dollars at a clip (in the form of $25 bounced check fees, $33 overdraft fees and sales taxes on both) on customers, whom are then scorned with the title "check kiters".
With no small amount of embarrassment over this situation I have decided to go public with it in the hopes of preventing it from happening to others. Pass the information along, it will save someone the aggravation and frustration that we are experiencing.