Tuesday, January 6, 2009

It's a New Year's Miracle, Erin Palette

Back in December, I found out that I'd managed to overdraw my bank account. This doesn't happen very often, because I don't make a lot of money and I tend to be careful with it. Still, I had gotten preoccupied with Thanksgiving and the annual Screwing Of The Schedules that the holiday season tends to inflict on people, and I wasn't watching my balance nearly as well as I should have been. My first hint that something was wrong was when I deposited my check and was informed I had a negative balance.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, over?

Anyone who has been in this situation knows exactly what a sickening feeling it is to realize that, in order to square things with your financial institution, you have to throw the money you need for such things as gas and food and car insurance into the yawning pit of Overdraft Fees.

Now, there are two ways to fix a situation like this. The first is to be responsible, and call or visit the local bank branch to work something out, perhaps getting some of those overdraft fees removed. The second is to panic, divorce all logical thought from the situation, and hope in vain that the situation will somehow magically resolve itself without any outside input on your part.

Guess which solution I chose?

Yes, I went with the Ostrich Solution, which is one reason I was a nervous wreck all month: I knew I had a problem, but was too scared to contemplate fixing it, so I didn't stop to think about what I could do to fix my problem. And, of course, during this time my problem only got worse. Ironically, I had money during this period, but I couldn't access it, because (again) I didn't want to just sacrifice my funds to Moloch.

I told no one of this because it had become My Secret Shame. I was guarding this information with all the diligence of a rape victim trying to preserve her reputation. About the only time I let on that something was wrong was when my subscription to City of Heroes ran out, and I had to email people that "Hey, my finances are fucked right now, dunno when I'll be back on, please take care of my Superbase during my absence."

(It should have been a major hint to me that asking for help was the required course of action, because within a few days of me mentioning my loss of Hero-connectedness, two people went out and bought me monthly game cards. I'd like to thank those two kind souls, Hyper-Man and LiQuiD, for helping me stay in touch with friends and maintain what little sanity I have.)

Eventually, when got to the point where my phone had been turned off and my car insurance was about to be revoked, I knew that Shit Was Bad and I needed to do something. I finally broke down -- pretty literally, I confess-- and I called Chris Bridges to detail the whole sordid story and ask, weepily, "What do I dooooooooo?"

It is to Mr. Bridges' credit that when he suggested the sensible solution mentioned earlier, he did not append a "Well, duhhhh" to it. In fact, he even went so far as to call the bank on my behalf, explain my dilemma in general terms, and receive assurances that, yes, the bank employees there would be happy to help me, and not tear me into little bitty pieces or publicly humiliate me.

So, finally, that takes us to the title of this piece. It was December 31, party because I love symbolism but mostly because I am slacktastic procrastinator, when I finally dragged my indebted posterior into my local bank. I got there at 4pm, knowing full well that the bank closed at 4:30, because I didn't want anyone else in the lobby to hear my tale of woe and, in their hearts, laugh at my incompetence. Because I'd know if they did. I wouldn't be able to hear them, you understand, but I'd still know.

No, I'm not paraniod. Who told you that?

So I get there, and the first thing I do when I get to the account-person's desk is say, "I need you to be very gentle with me," and then I explain my situation to her. She nods politely and sympathetically, and it's at this moment that I know for a certainty she has children of her own. Evil wench that I am, I seize upon this and act every bit like the "well-meaning but still immature twentysomething" for which I am occasionally mistaken, because I'm certain her kids are the same age.

She says that yes, she can help, and can she have my name and social security number? I give it. She taps on the computer. Information pops up. I am told that my account has been closed...


... and that I don't owe any money.

I enjoy the novel sensation of total vocabulary failure for several moments before asking, "Wait. I don't owe anything?"

"Not a thing," I'm told. "You didn't owe enough for this to go to collections, so we just charged it off. Best of all, we didn't report this to a credit agency, so this won't adversely affect your credit rating."

I openly boggle.

"Happy New Year," she explains.

I am reminded of an old Jewish tradition of forgiving unpaid debts at the end of the year. It is as if my financial sins have been wiped clean.

I decide to push my luck. "That's wonderful!" I exclaim. "But now I have the much smaller problem of not being able to deposit these checks without a bank account."

"You could open a new one," she says.

"Really?" I reply, cagily. "I would like that very much, because I've always been pleased with your service, and given how you've treated me today I'd very much like to continue being your customer, but I would think that you -- the bank -- would not want to take another risk on me."

"Well, let's just enter your information, and see if anything pops up saying that we can't give you another account," she says. "If so, you're no worse off."

Nothing pops up.

I open a new account with zero difficulty.

I don't typically use the word "miracle," because I think it's been terribly misused, but let me tell you: when I left that bank, I felt blessed. I felt forgiven. I felt gifted.

Thank you, Deity, for giving me the best present of all: the feeling that someone, somewhere, was looking out for me because I was loved.


  1. As Doug Henning would tell you, the true magic is love...

    But the true currency of this country is the dollar, you deadbeat! ;)

  2. Why, yes, Troy, that is spot-on...

    (er, sorry; I hate being the single response)

  3. Okay, first I have to ask, where are you banking? IBC has been jerking me around for weeks over some overdraft fees that were caused by a Paypal error (it was drawing backup funds from my checking account when it should have been using Buyer Credit). Everyone I asked for a courtesy refund said they had to ask someone higher up, and every time I asked to speak personally to that higher up person they were unavailable. A reasonable-seeming assistant manager gave me his card and promised to call me after he followed up with his boss, but that was a week ago and nada. And every day I try to call him and he's unavailable. I'm ready to say fuck 'em all and close my account, right after my husband goes down there and rips them a new one.

    So I'm open to suggestions for banks with actual customer service.

    But since this is not about me, allow me to say that I have felt your exact pain many times throughout my twenties, and I usually took the ostrich approach too (which was usually followed by the "crying in genuine hysterics to my mother over the phone" approach). I'd probably still be going that way if I wasn't married. That's a terrible, sickening position to be in. I'm so glad it worked out so well for you in the end.

    Sorry this is so gorram long.

  4. If you want a bank with actual customer assistance and one that will respect you, For The Love Of [insert your preferred deity here], Stay Away From Bank of America. They will hit you with fees left and right and claim it's all your fault.

    I have been trying to get my mother to leave them, one week, they held her paycheck for 10 days (never having done this before) and because of this, 6 checks bounced....so had 6 Fees from BoA, 6 from the people who were supposed to be paid, oh yeah, 6 more fee's from BoA as they tried to pull from the emptied saving account each time and failed. I don't recall exactly, but she lost somewhere between $300 and $500 from that fiasco.

  5. @Allura-Mike - Thanks for the warning, but alas and alack. My husband has been with BofA since before we were married, and I can't get him to close his account, despite the fees it's costing us to keep it open. Now he wants to close IBC and make BofA our primary account. Needless to say, I do not like this plan. I wish IBC would just pull their collective head out and make this right.

  6. @Jeanjeanie: I bank at SunTrust. Not sure if they have a branch in your area. If so, check them out!

    However, in the spirit of full disclosure I'd like to add that my (old, overdrawn) account was closed on Dec 26. This was perhaps the first time that hiding my head in the sand did me any good.

    I'm certain this has taught me the entirely wrong Life Lesson.

  7. Amazing what Eris can do for her acolytes eh? ;)

    a blessed confusion.


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