Banking on the Bust

About ten years ago, the bank in which I deposited my first savings as a kid and that had served me reasonably well for a couple of decades, US National Bank of Oregon, was purchased by a Minnesota concern, which immediately raised fees, created a cryptic system of posting deposits and debits that left me always wondering what my balance was, and fired everyone in my branch and replaced them with teenagers.  After just a few months, I fled to what appeared to be a “different” bank, one with progressive hiring and partnership polices, both in employment and lending, and an endearingly iconoclastic attitude relentlessly plugged in its advertising…  I thought it would be a good fit.

Eight or so years later, the same thing happened again, when Chase bought my bank, Washington Mutual, and the same shenanigans immediately happened again.  It started out small.  Even as they revamped the physical appearance of the banks, bringing in both teenage employees and snazzy paint, carpet, and signage, the ATM machines seemed to have been replaced by something left over from the former Soviet Union.  Every time I deposited a check, the balance bore no relationship to reality; hundreds more or less than it ought to be, no indication of what portion of the deposit had been posted, if any, and I got the distinct feeling I was tossing money into a mysterious maelstrom, far beyond the mighty “too big too fail” Chase’s ability to discern, much less share with its putative owner.  WaMu had never had a problem keeping track of the current balance, and even though I’m embarrassingly cavalier about balancing my checkbook, only in times of extreme hardship of slow payments did I ever have any trouble; maybe three times in all those years I got a charge or, well,  five.  That idyll was not to last when WaMu was deemed insolvent and handed over to the politically better-connected Chase.  Things, however, changed even more rapidly than last time, this time.

It all started when I submitted an invoice to a client and got paid a week later than specified….  ordinarily this wouldn’t be a big deal, but I had had a terrible summer, revenue-wise, out for three weeks with a mysterious flu that probably was of the swine variety, and my reserves, small as they ever were, were now nonexistent.  I paid a pile of bills based on receiving this payment, and grew increasingly frantic that it didn’t arrive.  I envisioned $40 newspapers and $50 sixpacks littering my next statement when I finally raced to Chase with the check.  ”No problem,” the teenagers asserted, not only had everything been cleared, but the problem about which I questioned them most closely, that is, whether the rent on CHNN Headquarters got bounced, thereby incurring even more fees, had, I was confidently assured, been paid.  Because I had been promised by the client that he would cover any such fees, I asked for a printout showing all account “activity” for the previous week, for reimbursement purposes, which they provided.  Damn glad I did, in retrospect.

You see, everything they told me was a lie.  Not only had they not paid the large check and returned it, they waited five days to finally pay it…  Instant payment is, you know, designed to make a big fee off your latte; bounce the rent check, and where she stops, nobody knows.  They call this “overdraft protection,” which in retrospect is not as much of a misnomer as it sounds like.  The Chase policy seems to be, although no one present was knowledgeable enough to articulate it, is to “protect” Chase, and get as much money as possible out of the customer.  That’s capitalism, Silly.

At any rate, when I tried to buy some paint today and my debit was refused, I knew something really extraordinary was afoot…  I even told the clerk that I couldn’t possibly be overdrawn, because then they would eagerly put the debit through, to then make more money off me.  She agreed, and had enough confidence in this assertion based on her own experience to go ahead and let me take my paint on credit because of my longtime relationship with her company and, I guess, honest face.

I, however, having already spent $204 on overdraft charges just twelve days ago, had a sinking feeling, and upon arrival at work, immediately called telephone banking to find that the same voice that had confidently told me I still had about nine hundred dollars in the account less than a week ago, told me I was overdrawn over twelve hundred dollars.  During this time I had spent on that account, tops, $300.  I couldn’t believe my ears.  It was difficult to concentrate on painting, grouting tile, and dealing with the floor guys all day with that knowledge, so rumpled printout in hand, I marched into Chase after leaving work a bit early, to find out what was up.  Identity theft?  A computer meltdown?  I had to find out (and avoid further embarrassment with my vendors..).

Well, Chase was able to patiently show me that the earlier printout was in error, and that the large check didn’t go through until (miracles!) there was enough money to cover it, but, too bad for me, nothing to cover everything else.  Thus $748 in overdraft fees had been charged to my account in the last six days (more tonight, I’m sure…) and, well, that’s the way the cookie crumbles.  Flabbergasted, and anticipating large payments both from the finished project and the one about to start, I said, “If you were me, wouldn’t you walk out of here right now, open a new bank account, and let you guys whistle Dixie?”  ”I’m supposed to pay $952 a month to walk on your carpet?”  This perturbed her, and probably wasn’t necessarily the right course if I wanted to straighten this out.  Honey, vinegar, and all that.  But the branch was so deserted since Chase took over and smarter customers had fled that I tried a different tack when she offered me the number of the manager of the branch where they’d blithely told me, “We paid that.”

Understandably, I received a respectful hearing, and in the unlikely event that anyone ever admits to telling me a large, returned check had been “paid,” I expect to have some of the charges reversed, especially since I faxed her a copy of the printout which shows the returned copy of the check as a debit, and nowhere indicates it was but fairy dust that wouldn’t drift to earth until five days later.  But natch, the “manager,” who is the only one equipped to reverse such enormous charges, wasn’t in, and once again the teenagers were in charge.  They say they’ll call me tomorrow.

Meanwhile, I will be once again escaping to another “bank.”   And never again will Chase see a dime of my money; they’ve already enjoyed so many of them.  I think I was just “trickled down” upon, and it didn’t go over.

38 Comments

  1. bystander says:

    Welcome to the wonderful world of modern banking. And, Chase has to be the armpit of them all. A long while back we fled to regional bank and pray nightly that one of the big ones doesn’t decide to come along and eat it.

    Amazing to recall, that once upon a time, in this part of the West, branch banks weren’t allowed. And, there was a pitched battle for awhile whether, once we had branch banking, whether we’d allow branches for banks that were not based in the state.

    I hate the SOBs with a blood red, wild eyed, passion. It has been a standing rule in the house since the 70s that I do not enter a bank unless I have to sign something in person and have it notarized. And, I go in pen in hand, duct tape over my mouth, and am immediately excused to go sit in the car after I have signed whatever needs signing. It works out best for all concerned.

    • Jim White says:

      I’ve been agitating to move to a credit union, but since I do nothing more serious financially than writing a check to the farrier, my vote doesn’t count for much. I can’t even tell you which bank we are with. My checks still say Wachovia, but the Wells Fargo name is slowly starting to emerge…

    • cocktailhag says:

      Admittedly, I had a bit of difficulty keeping my composure today, especially since the place was empty the whole time, and witnesses were few. Little Beirut hasn’t taken to Chase, as evidenced by the empty branches, where one used to have to wait in a queue that rivaled a Soviet breadline.
      I can’t believe that this is what “change” looks like.

  2. Jim Montague says:

    I really should have called my sister and had her post something about this, I know few people who have so many damn stories about banking than she does. She spent 15 years at the Federal Reserve, another 10 at Systematics, which was a central clearinghouse for all banks, and has at least four Oregon banks under her belt due to collapse, merger, or buyout.
    She told me a story one time about a mistake that her bank had made that had everyone from the Chairman on down holding their breath. Seems that a minor keystroke error deposited over 2 million into the account of a complete stranger, and sat there for almost ten days before anyone noticed.
    The bank put an immediate hold on the account, and asked the account holder to come in to transfer funds back into the original holders account. The next day a slightly built older lady showed up, and the branch manager attempted to push her around by telling her that she could have been arrested for fraud, and should have reported the windfall immediately.
    Well, the bank managers rant didn’t affect the old lady at all, she looked him square in the eye and said, if you hand me the proper paperwork I’ll sign everything necessary, just make sure that the interest on 2 million dollars for those ten days stays in my account.
    My sister said that the bank manager’s face was so red she thought he was going to have a stroke, but there wasn’t a thing he could do about it. The interest was the property of the old lady even though it was earned in error, the bank had no choice but to absorb the loss.
    Before you ask, my sister never did know the interest amount paid by the bank, seems that they gave the little old lady a little extra to buy her silence.

    • cocktailhag says:

      Well, I think that they’ve since consolidated enough power to make things like that a thing of the past; there’s probably a whole new law and everything. Still, I think that the customer flight from Chase might make them more willing to deal, but I’m not holding my breath. It really is striking, the emptiness of the once-mobbed branches. I could have made a scene, but it hardly seemed worth it… if a tree falls in the forest……

  3. Karen M says:

    Yikes, CH!

    I gave up on the bigger banks awhile ago. I do have a credit union account, but P and I also have separate checking accounts and one joint account. Keeps it all cleaner that way.

    I moved to Commerce before he did (now TD Bank), but with both of us there, we can do some stuff online. No ATM fees. If I lose my ATM/debit card, I can get a replacement on the spot. No waiting.

    They used to call themselves America’s most convenient bank, but that may have changed when they became TDBank. If anything made me leave there, I’d probably try Citizen next. Failing that, I’d try to set up something more permanent with the credit union, but they seem to prefer to deal mostly in loans and such, and prefer not to deal with checking accounts.

    What happens if you just walk away from Chase? Can you do that? Sounds tempting to me…

    • cocktailhag says:

      Not much, it turns out. I spoke to a friend of mine, who was in an even worse situation with the “new” US Bank, and the first thing the lawyer told her to do was get a new bank, which she did. She has never paid them a dime, nor have they successfully recouped anything. Apparently the lobbyists missed that loophole. We’ll see tomorrow.

  4. Jim Montague says:

    There was an internet story floating around just this week about a woman who kept a credit balance of two to three thousand with BofA, and paid 12.99% interest without ever missing a payment. BofA raised her interest rate to 30% and the woman tried to get the bank to drop down the interest without success. The woman made a youtube and announced that she would not make a payment again until they relented. To make a long story short, after 245,000 hits on youtube, the bank backed off, told her that they have readjusted her rate to 16.99. The woman told them absolutely not, and BofA finally gave her her old rate of 12.99 back.
    I don’t know if a youtube is your answer, but small claims certainly is if you don’t get anywhere with these people.

    • cocktailhag says:

      I was thinking of just fleeing, and letting them do the small claims. They haven’t a speck of leverage, given that my “credit” is basically nonexistent, and I don’t particularly care. Let ‘em come after me…..

  5. bystander says:

    Once upon a time you could take a complaint to the state banking commission since all banks were regulated by the states. With inter-state banking, it’s the Feds who have oversight of nationally chartered banks, which I’m sure Chase must be. Still, for the price of a phone call, or a sternly worded letter, it might be worth contacting the OCC. Have an attorney friend who might be willing to put his/her esq on the letter?

    Ann Minch is the woman of YouTube fame who re-negotiated her credit card rate.

    • cocktailhag says:

      I’m going to wait and see what the obviously stretched-thin “manager” says tomorrow before I act, but my inclination is to bail out and let them come after me. I know how to evade creditors… Or rather, I have a friend who does.

  6. Jim Montague says:

    No, you misunderstood me. You need to go after them, from what you told us you have a reasonable chance of success. Let me tell you, a judgment is EVERYTHING, how would you feel if they got a judgment against you and later asked the court to seize your tools for satisfaction?
    Not likely, but depending on the person handling the collections, possible. The best advice I can give you, is if this proceeds to collection, spend 25 bucks and ask an attorney for advice. Once your comfortable with the law you can head in the right direction, and you won’t feel like you’re carrying a burden.

    • cocktailhag says:

      You’re right, of course. Had they told me the honest state of my account when I asked, I could have worked some long days and the weekend, and covered the whole thing easily. The work, and the funds, were there, but I didn’t see the urgency. (That, and I have a blog to write, people… Don’t you know who I am???) I just talked to my friend again about her bank thing, and she said she’d ask her lawyer what I should do next.

  7. bystander says:

    I’m pretty much with Jim Montague. And, (via Atrios) it looks like they’re getting ready to “reform” some of those practices, anyway.

    Bank of America, JPMorgan Overhaul Overdraft Fees

    JPMorgan is JPMorgan Chase

    • cocktailhag says:

      Well, they’re only doing so because tumbleweeds outnumber customers in their banks. Like most Wall Streeters, they’ve had the “smoke ‘em if you got ‘em” attitude until now. I liked their new standards… under $5… Wow. The only charge I had that was greater than their fee was the rent check, and they bounced it, charged, and then put it through, and charged again. Nice work if you can get it.

  8. Karen M says:

    Apparently, both BoA and Chase are backpedaling on their overdraft fees. I found this at HuffPost.

    • cocktailhag says:

      This is not out of the goodness of their hearts; they muscled into new markets by buying banks, but are finding customers aren’t putting up with it. As I said, even the most crowded former WaMu branches are now desolate, albeit snappily redecorated.

  9. Karen M says:

    And… just to make your day, a little bit more karmic retribution in the area of mortgages!

    • cocktailhag says:

      Mortgages were the death of WaMu; they actually scored pretty well as a commercial bank. The sloppiness doesn’t surprise me one bit; the fact that the Chase bank employees couldn’t read an internally-generated document, and thus gave me crucial false information, is what started this mess, and what provides me a pretty airtight complaint that the charges were unfair.

      • Karen M says:

        Both of those stories should give you some ammunition with the bank, if you print and take them with you. That is, they should reverse all of those charges. Immediately.

        Still, I think the whole mess is worth changing banks over.

        • cocktailhag says:

          I am changing banks, needless to say, but I’m going to soft-pedal that aspect of this until I see what they do about reversing the charges. Bottom line: Chase simply can’t be trusted; they, and the other largest banks, have turned overdraft “protection” into a huge profit center at the expense of their customers.

  10. Amanda Whittier says:

    Good News! I just read that Chase has announced that it will no longer charge overdraft fees to its customers … who overdraw their accounts by $5 or less. Generous concession, indeed.

    • cocktailhag says:

      Well, some college kid overdrew his account by eleven bucks and was charged $240. This sort of thing is bad PR, you know. Famous quotes in history, “I wish I had a checking account so I could write a bad check….”

      • Amanda Whittier says:

        $240 for an $11 overdraft? That sounds about right. I’d tell them they could have that $240 when they pry it from my cold, dead hands.

  11. cocktailhag says:

    “you’ll get yer money when ya get it!”

  12. Don’t blame the banks; scumbaggery taking what’s not theirs is what they do. Blame their wholly-owned subsidiary, the Congress.

    If I only had so much rope, and you offered me a choice of Henry Paulson, or either of my two senators, McCain and Kyl, I’d honestly have to consult with a whole host of revolutionary subcommittees before deciding.

    And then, of course, we’d have to choose a lamp post. Back in the town I used to live in, the road up to the top of the mesa which dominated the western edge of town was illuminated by a hundred or so of those marvelous antique cast-iron lamp standards — the ones with fluted stanchions and grape-leaf decorated arms ending in clusters of frosted globes. They would have been aesthetically well-suited to the justice I often contemplate, especially since they could be clearly seen by the citizens in the plain below, whether it was day or night.

  13. avelna says:

    Thank-you for this info! My friend and I have a joint account with BofA; she just got screwed over by them on overdraft fees and we were thinking of switching to Chase. I guess we won’t now!

    • cocktailhag says:

      For the love of god, please don’t go to Chase; it would be out of the frying pan, into the fire. I’m looking at two different credit unions and one bank, but I’m leaning toward the credit union route, because they’re less likely to be bought by yet another thieving behemoth. Making deposits will be a little less convenient, but it would be nice to know that nobody’s actively shceming to take your money when you deposit it.

  14. retzilian says:

    I had a VISA with WaMu and when Chase bought the bank, they raised the interest rates to 28.24% from 14.99; prior to that it was 7.99 or something.

    Anyway, I mentioned this awhile back and said that if it’s the last thing I do, I’m going to pay off that Chase VISA and never, ever give them another dime. My bank was bought by PNC (Pittsburgh?) and so far they haven’t forked up my account. My next windfall is going to pay off that card.

    I have no real money, but it’s the principle of the thing.

    I wouldn’t give BoA or Chase another bloody dime.

    • cocktailhag says:

      Smart of you. The Chase manager, whom I was assured would call me yesterday, never called.
      What a surprise. They don’t want to talk to someone from whom they pilfered almost $1000 in two weeks. They can whistle Dixie, as far as I’m concerned.

  15. retzilian says:

    However, my mother, who does have real money, is one of those people who can walk in a bank, withdraw all her money to close her account, and the bank manager will be called to try and talk her out of it. One time, years ago in the late 80s, when I was trying to get a mortgage for a house (and I had a good job with a good salary; but I was a single mother and this was 1987), I filled out an application for a loan from one of the big banks in Cleveland (not National City), and even with 20% down, they turned me away, after taking my $150 of course. My mother happened to have recommended that bank to me, and she had a considerable amount of money it it.

    When the bank rejected my mortgage application, she waltzed in there and took out all her money and told them why. The bank manager said he’d look into it, but she told them tough luck! I wish I had been there to see it. She told me this guy about fainted.

  16. retzilian says:

    If enough people pull their money out of Chase and BofA, you have to think they will suffer greatly, not just because of the cash asset situation but because they loan money based on cash assets – I think it’s 30:1 now, I’ll have to look it up. It used to be 8:1, then it was 10:1, now I think it’s 30:1. For every actual dollar in deposit, the bank can loan 30.

    So, every dollar you take out of there costs them 30 plus all the interest they lose not being able to loan.

    Go for it!!

  17. Leslie Hill says:

    With all the stuff I am getting confused at the moment.