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At My Bank, NSF = Non-Sufficient Friendliness - Comments

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The problem is when an honest mistake gets ballooned by either stupidity, pig-headedness, or both.

I recall when I first started getting my paycheck at my new bank (and my employer required that I use direct deposit rather than opt for checks.) My wife and I sat down to pay bills, checked the online balance and found . . . twenty four dollars!? When there should have been over $2,400.

Turns out that even though I am Nathaniel Matthews Lee, that bank had a Nathaniel Lee Matthews on its customer list. And they used my account as a training session for their newest employee. When Miss Wet-Behind-the-Ears set up my account to receive DD, she used his account number and entered my personal information (mailing addy and so on) over top of his.

It gets better: Turns out Mister Matthews was a wee bit behind on his financial affairs. In fact, his account had been closed down and he owed over a thousand dollars to various people and businesses. When my paycheck hit his account, his branch up in Maryland immediately wired payment to his creditors and sent him a check for the remainder (which he had promptly turned into cash at one of those sketchy checks-for-cash kiosks), which meant my money wasn't even in his account for them to retrieve for me.

Luckily, they were very apologetic and credited my account the money from their coffers while they spent weeks tracking down all the bits and pieces of my scattered paycheck to even out the imbalances. The goof was fixed within fifteen minutes of its discovery, and that was enough for me to forgive them an admittedly severe but understandable lapse. I still use that bank, and we haven't had any more little "mixups," but we check our statements veerrrrry carefully.

It seems that banks are bad the world over. We run a business here in New Zealand, and last year our main customer (a government department) sent us a fax saying that a payment that was due that night would be delayed by a computer glitch. Fine except we had payroll going out that night.

We went along to the bank, and had a chat to the manager who was very sympathetic and who would arrange an overdraft but that it would take 3 days. However we could borrow the money on a personal credit card immediately. So up to the counter we went with the Manager, and on my credit card withdrew the necessary funds and put it into our business account. It was necessary to take the funds as a cash advance otherwise the funds would not clear in time to meet the payroll, and he did tell us we would have to pay a cash advance fee and also the interest on the funds but hey it worked.

Next day we got paid, put the funds back into the credit card and every thing was fine. Until we got our bank statement which showed a $200 fee for 'counting'. I went into the bank for an explanation. It was a fee they charged for counting the cash. What cash? The cash that was deposited to our account. "You remember it was for the wages". I went to see the Manager. I pointed out to him that he knew it was an electronic transaction from the card to the account as he was there. It was tagged cash advance so it would clear but there was never any cash involved. We had already paid the cash advance fee on the card, but did not see why we should pay to count the cash that never was.

He refused to waive the fee, the area manager refused, the corporate customer service person refused, so we took our business elsewhere. The new bank gives us better service cheaper, and they ring us up if they think there may be a problem they can help us with. So don't be afraid to change. It was not nearly as difficult as we thought it was going to be.

I second the praises others sing about Credit Unions. I even had a merchant take 10 minutes to rave about my CU when she saw my debit card.

Back in the days before ATMs, I had an account at Wells Fargo. There were no online or phone services in these prehistoric days, so I had to check my balance by going into the branch. Being a cash-strapped college student, I did the "bank race" (which gets to the bank first, the check I wrote or the deposit?) more than I should have.

So, one Monday morning I checked my balance, and there was an additional $1000 there! HUGE money for those days. But when I checked my account that afternoon, the money was no longer there. Interesting.

Over the next few weeks I noticed a steady ebb and flow of cash in and out of my accounts, both savings and checking. It almost looked as if money was being laundered. The amounts were always between $1000 and $5000.

I was going to be moving and knew I was going to close my WF accounts, so I waited a month for all my checks to clear, then walked into the bank one morning. Lo and behold, my balance was $2500 more than the day before! I told them I wanted to close my account, that there were no outstanding checks, thank you, have a nice day. They gave me $2534.19, and I went on my way. They never contacted me about the money either.

And don't EVER mention WaMu in my presence ...

I've had a full complement of the 'usual niggles' dealing with banks - debits taken out before deposits, the ATM telling me I have funds and then the bank statement saying no, I didn't, that sort of thing -- which is why I now bank with the credit union attached to my work. My friend banks there too, despite not working at the same place; they were happy to take her money and treat her nicely!

Christy is an ex-US citizen now living in Australia, and still receives some payments from America, usually cheques. Some of them are made out to her previous surname, some are made out to her current married surname, and some get really creative and hyphenate the two. This caused problems with her previous bank, since the poor dear tellers were overheating their tiny brains trying to understand the concept, and Christy got tired of carrying around her passport and marriage certificate to use as ID when she wanted to make a deposit. So, she phoned them and asked if she could get all three versions of her surname linked to the account somehow, so that cheques would be easy to deposit no matter what name they were made out to. Sure, no problem, just bring in the marriage certificate etc one last time, she was told.

We walked into the bank with all the documents, asked what forms needed to be filled out, and were told "Oh, no, you can't put multiple names on one account. You'll have to open a new account for each name." But... that's not what we were told on the phone. "Well I don't know who told you that, but they were wrong." The manager was called and repeated the same line; multiple names for one person on the same account couldn't be done.

We walked out of there and went to my credit union. Sure, no problem, Christy could open an account under whichever surname she preferred, and the other two would be listed as 'alternates'. No, it didn't matter that she didn't work for the government department the credit union served. Nice people there -- oh, and no account keeping fees either!

I'm feeling very special right now, as I seem to be the only one to have had nothing but good experiences with Washington Mutual! I have been with them for going on ten years now, and that includes time spent overseas in the military and dealing with them long-distance over the phone. As a matter of fact, I no longer live in a state with a WaMu branch, but I still keep them and do all my banking over the internet. They've never played the debits-before-deposits game on me. As a matter of fact, they have even called me to tell me that they are holding payment on a transaction until the next day, when their records show my bi-monthly deposit was due! They take any check I present at any branch and cash it, incorrect NSF charges were cleared without hassle, and no surprise fees have ever shown up on my accounts. I'm not even being charged by them to use other banks' ATMs!

The local bank I use now for depositing checks I receive from my eBay business... now that's a different kettle of fish. Branch Bank & Trust (BB&T) in North Carolina has been a major pain in the tuckus. Deposit cut off times are at 2 pm (WaMu was at 5 pm); all out-of-state checks are held at least three days (whether they clear immediately or not) and anything over $100 is held for 11 days! I deposited a cashier's check from my mortgage company for $9970, and they "graciously" cleared $100 right away, cleared $400 more after three days, but wouldn't release the rest for 11 BUSINESS days, and that was with the 4th of July weekend smack in the middle! They have also tried to charge me for services that my checking account contract said were free ("Well, internet banking will be free starting next month... just ignore the previous charges." Yeah, right.) ATM fee charges? $2.50 added to the other bank's fees every time I use someone else's machine, and BB&T has precious few of their machines around town.

Oh yes, and their password security isn't up to industry standards. When I brought this to their attention, they told me that it wasn't that big a deal, since if someone did hack their/my password, they would only be able to see my account information, not actually transfer any money from it. Clearly these people have not been kept up to date on the latest identity theft and hacker tactics. There's nothing I hate more than a business that is complacent about my money's security. If it wouldn't take so long, I'd send a check to my WaMu account every time I got more than $100 in my BB&T account.

So, the search is on here to find a better bank. From what I'm seeing here, it's going to be like questing for the Holy Grail!

Mellon Bank. When I first moved to Pittsburgh, not knowing any better, I went with a friend to a local branch. Even though I was starting a new job and had my first paycheck with me, they refused to open an account at first because one of my deposits was my last unemployment check. It wasn't until they noticed that my paycheck was drawn on another Mellon branch that they decided I was a worthy risk. (I should mention that this was the early 1980's when this started.)

Fast forward a couple of years. My fiance and I were invited to my parents house in SNJ for Thanksgiving, but we didn't have enough spare shekels for plane fare at the last minute. My father wired it to us. His bank confirmed that the wire went through. Mellon confirmed that the wire went through. So I went to withdraw the money to pay for the tickets... and was told that I couldn't withdraw the money for 3 more days until it "cleared." (I was later told that this was not bank policy, but who knows?) And that I shouldn't have been told that the money was in the account... even though the other bank had already been debited for the funds. Of course, if I wanted to open a credit card account... fortunately a bank manager intervened and freed up the money, but only after I threatened to call the police for theft.

When I finally tried to close the account, they refused unless I waited 30 days in case there were any outstanding checks. 30 days later? Same story. Another 30 days? Seems that the token funds left in the account were gone. Low balance fees, you know. Another 30 days? I got a statement with a negative balance... for not closing the account. I never did pay those fees.

Fast forward almost 20 years. Mellon has sold their retail branches to Citizen's Bank, but the same people are still running the show. 3 years ago, my wife came into some money, decided to open an account with Citizen's at the local supermarket for the sake of "convenience." Gets talked into a "free" separate checking account. First month's statements? Low balance fee on the "free" checking account. They promised to straighten it out. Never did. Over the next 3 months, that account we never really wanted in the first place gets wiped out. Citizen's refused to correct the problem. Savings account closed and transferred to our regular bank, PNC, where it is to this day. (They've had their moments too, but one bank at a time).

And it gets better. We start getting calls from Citizen's Bank customer service. How're they doing? So I tell them the story. Every time, we get promised someone will look into this. Most of the time, that's the last we heard of it. But the last time, I get a call from the branch manager. Seems I'm mistaken. There was no checking account. Never existed. Now we have statements, deposit slips, checks... but no, the checking account is a figment of my imagination. Right.

Guess they really needed that $25 back.

Oh yes... after we closed the savings account, once again, we started getting statements with negative balances. At least this time, they put a stop to it. Of course, a comment that we needed to talk to the state Attorney General's office, and maybe the Comptroller of the Treasury's office, might have had something to do with it.

I live in Australia, but began working on a casual basis for an American via the web. So, he sent me a paycheck, which took 7 days in the post, and then went into my bank where they charged me some ridiculous amount because it was an overseas cheque, and then held the funds for 15 working days! By the time I got the money I was due for another paycheck... So we looked at electronic solutions so I could get the money cheaper and quicker.

Bank to bank transfer - I got all the relevant details of account numbers etc, gave them to my boss who took them to his bank, filled out a mile of forms, was charged $30US and the money was on its way. Or so we thought. I contacted my bank. No, they didn't know anything about it, but it could take UP TO two weeks to reach them. What? I could talk with this man live on webcam but they couldn't get an electronic transfer in less than 14 days? So I waited the 14 days - still nothing. Got boss to check from his end - lo and behold, the money was back in his account. So we checked all the account numbers etc again, another $30 charge and tried again. 9 days later he rings to tell me the money is back in his account. We both get on the phone to see what is going on.

I finally talk to a Chase Manhattan employee in Sydney who explains that when they send the tapes of transfers over, sometimes, if they are too long, they just chop bits off. So my money was arriving with just my name on it, and no indication of which CU or branch or anything else to send it to - so they had no choice but to send it back!

It took nearly 3 months for me to get my second month's pay.

A couple of people have mentioned Compass Bank; I too have had an unpleasant experience with them. First off, when the person who set up my account asked why I was changing, I specifically said it was because I travelled around the state a lot and was tired of paying ATM fees. This person just smiled and said they got that a lot. Nothing else.

So when a month later I had about $14 in ATM fees, I called them up ... and that's when I was told I had to keep all my ATM receipts, send them in, and THEN in "six to eight weeks" (I think) I'd be refunded. Well, I let that go and didn't push the issue, figuring I should've asked.

Several months later, I ran into the situation of my debits being processed before a deposit, resulting in four $36 NSF charges. The kicker? The depost I had put in was enough for all checks, plus all the fees they charged me, which resulted in me still having a positive balance ... even though they'd just charged me four times in one day for NOT having a positive balance. Huh?

Naturally, they wouldn't correct it, telling me they weren't obligated to credit deposits first and never to count on it (which left me $144 short on my rent that month). After just three months, I returned to my old bank who has never caused me that kind of problem.

I think it would be very interesting to know how banks integrate their NSF charges into their business plan and what proportion of their revenue derives from NSF. My recent experience suggests branch managers are evaluated on their NSF revenues.

The most obnoxious thing about all these 10 day delays and the like is that under the new "Check 21" system, many checks will be paid in less than a day. And I expect that some banks will cheerfully pay your checks instantly -- while still making you wait on your deposits even though they are probably clearing just as fast. This is probably not legal, but how many comments are here showing how hard it can be to get banks to follow the law?

Everyone should know though: Under Check 21, which most banks are adopting, DO NOT rely on that "float" time you used to have for check processing! Don't write a check on Monday expecting to cover it with Tuesday's deposit. Processing has been getting faster anyway, but Check 21 will make it -- is already making it -- very fast.

Info on Check 21:
http://www.federalreserve.gov/paymentsystems/truncation/

By the way, so far my new bank, Commerce Bank, has been decent to deal with. For example, my old bank would take coins as long as I wrapped and counted them. My new bank won't take wrapped coins, but has a counting machine in the lobby which is free for account holders. And before I found out about the machine, I came in with a few dollars in change, wrapped, and the teller accepted it and just counted it himself. So, they get points for having the machine, and also for the teller being nice enough to take care of it rather than sending me to the machine and making me start all over again in line, which he could easily have done.

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