My Bank Stole My Grocery Money
Dear Wainwright Bank,
You appear to have stolen my grocery money.
I was surprised and alarmed to see, when I checked my bank balance this morning, that I had been charged $92.97 in overdraft fees. My statement clearly shows that no overdraft took place.
I showed my bank statements to a manager at your Davis Sq branch and asked her to explain what had happened. Her explanation was long and convoluted. Ultimately she gave me to understand that:
- my bank statement is not an accurate reflection of the transactions on my account
- you don’t process any transactions from the weekend until Monday
- which I knew, and was sort of counting on when I raced to the bank Monday morning to deposit my paycheck
- which cleared on Monday, according to your records, before any of the debits were processed
- but you charged me an entire week’s grocery money in overdraft fees anyway
- for one overdrawn check and — I love this — two ATM withdrawals made on Saturday.
This last part is really the kicker. On Saturday, there was over $500 in my bank account. My husband took out $20 to buy groceries and later $10 to pay for parking and tolls to get his son to the airport. Leaving, let’s be clear, over $500 in our account.
On Sunday evening, my student loan payment posted. That payment, along with a transfer scheduled for Monday, would have overdrafted my account. Which I knew. See also: so I raced to the bank on Monday morning to deposit the check I received in Saturday’s mail.
Yes, I was cutting this pretty close. A Real Grown-up would keep a bigger cash buffer in her checking account, and always balance her checkbook perfectly. Fail. I thought I might get dinged one overdraft fee for depositing the check on the same business day you were processing my loan payment.
But charging me an additional $64 in overdrafts for taking CASH out of my account? When there was money in it?
I had to ask the bank manager twice if that really happened. When she assured me it was bank policy, I had some stern words for her.
They started with, “How can you sleep at night?” and ended with, “This company makes me sick.”
Here is the gist of what I said between those sentiments:
I want to know how you as an organization dare to present yourselves as a community bank invested in social justice. This draconian banking practice perpetuates cycles of poverty for your most vulnerable customers.
For me, this was a rare bad break. It’s also a problem easily solved: I just took my business down the street to Citizen’s Bank. They offered me an overdraft line of credit with no fees (only paying interest on overdrafts), a better savings rate, and an incentive program for using “green banking” features like paperless statements and online bill pay. On top of that, they’re giving me a $100 bonus for opening an account with them. So I’ll be getting my grocery money back — from your competitor.
For people with less stellar credit or reliable income, however, your practice can be ruinous, trapping them in a cycle of debt they can’t get ahead of. That’s why new regulations make it illegal. Those regulations haven’t taken effect yet, but I would have hoped a “progressive” bank would be ahead of the curve on Not Screwing Over Its Poorest Customers.
Let’s talk a bit about your malicious accounting process, shall we? It’s no accident that you processed my transactions the way you did — debits before credits, with the largest debit deducted first even though it came in last. As one of my colleagues here at Wise Bread reported last week, banks use this shifty accounting to screw customers for excessive fees. It’s not just me being irresponsible once in awhile; it’s a system designed to rob people exactly at the moment their finances are least resilient. You’re making a killing on this. Overall, banks are expected to make over $38 billion on overdraft fees this year.
Again, this practice targets the weakest links in your system. You like to advertise yourself as helping the poor in the communities you “serve,” but even most big conglomerates have clued in and are starting to scale back their overdraft rackets. You’re not an alternative to the big bad banks. You are the bad guys.
It is a genuinely sad thing for me to finally sever this relationship. I’ve stuck by you for nearly a decade, feeling a loyalty to your stated mission that led me to excuse your high fees and poor communication skills. I really want my money to be handled by a bank that cares deeply about the community it does business in. A bank that puts social justice, human values and environmental stewardship on par with profit motive.
Sadly, you are not presently that bank. You’re a wolf in progressive clothing, preying on the neighborhoods you pretend to serve. I hope you will look seriously at reforming these practices and become the bank you pretend to be.
In the meantime, I look forward to doing business with Citizen’s, where I expect that my family and my money will be treated with respect.
EDIT: Since writing this post, Wainwright has received several angry letters from other customers. A bank manager spoke with me today, refunded my grocery money and apologized, but explained again that this is bank policy and perfectly legal. It may be legal but it is still wrong. Thank you, Wainwright, for doing the right thing with me in this instance. Please reform your predatory banking practices for all your customers, not just the squeaky wheels.