Dear Bank: I’m Breaking Up With You

Dear Marie:

It was with mixed emotions that I read your letter, in which you wrote that Liberty Bank values its relationship with me. I must confess to some serious misgivings concerning that relationship and the bank’s true feelings.

Do you recall an incident from about a year ago, when someone from the bank called me to tell me the security of my account had been compromised and I had to open a new account and move my money over to it? It was springtime, I think—a warmer spring than this cold, dreary simulacrum of the season that we’re suffering through now. I trusted the bank then, so I changed accounts as requested, and all was well, barring the annoyance and paperwork, and having to wait two weeks for new checks. (Do you understand how much I hate paperwork? So much.)

But shortly thereafter, I found out that actually, my account wasn’t compromised. It was just that my ex-wife deposited one of those credit card checks, and someone at the bank somehow concluded that this check, which had her name on it (we never even had the same last name!) was a forgery of one of my checks because it had an address on it where I used to live (because we used to be married!). How do you even make that mistake? It didn’t have my name on it! No matter—there was no harm done, aside from the fact that my ex-wife’s confidential account information was somehow shared with me in the process, which was really no big deal because she and I are on good terms. (The kids are doing OK with the divorce too, in case you were wondering. It’s a work in progress.)

And do you remember this past summer, when I contacted the bank because two of my checks had bounced even though I had sufficient funds? I talked to some very nice folks at the Middletown branch, and even showed them the letter I got from the Department of Motor Vehicles, indicating the date when the check had bounced and the fact that I had to pay a $35 fee. I also told them about a check I wrote to my ex-wife, which also bounced within a week of the DMV check. After an investigation, they told me that they couldn’t figure out what had happened, so Liberty Bank wouldn’t refund my $35 unless I could provide a specific letter from the DMV giving more information and get the canceled check back from the DMV, which, ha ha, right. Do you even understand what it would entail to get that letter? Have you ever called the DMV?

I could kind of understand the bank’s unwillingness to take responsibility if it were just one bounced check – I mean, maybe it was the DMV’s mistake, right? (Or maybe you thought I was working some complicated hustle to squeeze Liberty Bank for an extra $35?) But two in the span of a week? And my ex-wife has an account at Liberty too, so my check bounced when she tried to deposit it IN YOUR BANK. How could this not be your fault?

More importantly, why wouldn’t you just refund me the $35 as a matter of good customer service? I mean, how long had we been together at that point? Years. But you didn’t. In fact, when the lady who investigated the problem called to tell me she couldn’t figure out what had happened, she asked if I wanted to write a separate letter to some higher-up in the bank’s administration. When I said I was too fed up to waste any more energy on $35 and would be closing my account, she didn’t even transfer me to some kind of customer retention specialist or anything. She just said, “I’m sorry you feel that way,” and hung up. Is that how you treat a valued relationship? It felt like that Spanish girl I dated in my freshman year of college—I mean, the one I thought I was dating, until she unceremoniously said to me, “What, this? Between us? This isn’t anything.” (Except, of course, she said it in her marvelous, smoky voice, and in her Galician Spanish with its slinky sibilance, which made the whole thing hurt even more.)

So I resolved to leave Liberty Bank. Of course, changing banks is a process even more onerous than changing accounts within a bank (a fact I know thanks to the aforementioned Liberty Bank mistake), so I left my Liberty account open while I switched over my direct deposit and changed all my automatic bill paying and got my new checks. By now, I thought I’d switched everything over to my new bank, but the dry cleaners, whom I visited for the first time in a while two weeks ago, had my old debit card on file and charged it without consulting with me, and I guess it went through.

What upsets me, in addition to, you know, everything, is that the only time you can be bothered to sit down and tell me how much you value our relationship is now that I’m overdrawn by $21.74. When you guys made me change my account and my checks and all my payment information because of your screw-up, there was no apology, no free toaster, nothing. (Do you remember when banks gave away toasters to encourage people to open accounts? I used to see those ads when I was a kid and I think, “Man, you could open the no-fee account with fifty bucks, get the toaster, then withdraw the money, close the account, AND SELL THE TOASTER!” I guess that just goes to show you that children don’t understand the relative values of time and money. But I digress.) And when you somehow wouldn’t honor the checks I was writing, it was worse, not only because I ended up having to pay the DMV an extra $35, but because it happened when I was just getting my finances in order after a long period of instability and legitimately bounced checks. There was something particularly painful about the fact that even with $1,500 in checking, I was somehow bouncing $200 checks—as if I were destined to to be insolvent no matter what, a fiscal Job. The bank couldn’t have known that, of course, but still, an apology would have gone a long way, or maybe a free home telephone shaped like a football. (Remember when Sports Illustrated gave those out with subscriptions? I really wanted one when I was eight.)

I expect that all of this will fall on deaf ears. If I’m lucky, you’ll reply with some letter in which you explain the bureaucratic impossibility of refunding my $35 bounced check fee without proof that the bank was responsible, and tell me how that incident has no bearing on my current debt to you of $21.74, a debt legitimately incurred by me. You’ll reiterate how much the bank values its relationship with me, but warn me that if I refuse to pay the $21.74, you’ll be forced to refer the matter to an outside collection agency. I will read your letter wistfully and be reminded of the letter I got from the General Mills cereal company when I was 11. I had written them to complain about the Kix slogan, “Kid Tested, Mother Approved,” and how it was sexist and didn’t reflect my reality as a child being raised by a single father. General Mills responded with two pages of convoluted business-speak about target demographics and daytime advertising markets, which made my 11-year-old eyes glaze over. Of course, they never changed the slogan, but at least they had the good graces to include a couple coupons for free boxes of cereal.

So, Marie, it is with some sadness that I must tell you that I no longer value my relationship with Liberty. I liked the bank a lot. The customer service, especially at the West Hartford branch, was always top notch. I also liked that the flame logo on the checks looked like the Wu Tang symbol when I turned it upside-down. But I’ve moved on. You may close my account and refer the $21.74 debt to a collection agency, at which time I will pay it, savoring the small modicum of satisfaction that comes from knowing that Liberty Bank will receive only a fraction of the money.

Regretfully, I remain,

Josh Michtom

 

Josh Michtom is a public defender in Hartford, Connecticut. He spends way too much of his spare time decorating his children’s school lunch bags.

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13 Comments / Post A Comment

thegirlieshow (#5,285)

Right on. Fight the power, etc. etc.

MollyAuden (#6,292)

Josh, this is fantastic. General Mills was by far the best part. By the way, pardon the novice question, but doesn’t your credit score suffer if debts are referred to a collection agency? Or does it take more than that?

@MollyAuden Oh, it does suffer, but I’m at a point in my life where I’ve pretty much given up on my credit score. I already tried and greatly disliked home ownership and regular credit card use (although I do need to get one again so I can rent a car once in a while). But you’ve put your finger on what is truly the greatest injustice here: when the bank screws me, I can complain and then shut up. When I screw the bank (something ordinarily people get the chance to do with vanishing rarity), the bank can easily screw me harder.

Being a consumer at odds with a corporation is, I find, a lot like being a criminal defense lawyer: you know you’re almost always going to lose, so you must savor even the small victories. Thus, when a judge sustains one of my objections or excludes evidence that the state thought it would be able to introduce, I go home happy, even though I probably won’t win the case. That’s how I feel about obliging the bank to employ a collection agency to get $21.74 from me.

erinep (#4,236)

I was abused by Chase Bank for far too long and gave them too much in fees before I switched to the Credit Union. I had also phased out and switched over all of my autopays, and had about $15 (I thought) in my checking. I went to check my balance one day, and my One Thing that week was to literally walk across the street from work and close it, and they had taken $8 from me! For not using my debit card more than three times in a month!

I went over there, and said loudly to the guy sitting at a desk on the way to a teller that was trying to hijack me to sell me more of their crap that I wanted to close my account and that I wanted my $8 back. He said sure, if you keep your account open. I was just so pissed. And I got louder and may have said something along the lines of “THAT BULLSH*T IS WHY I’M CLOSING MY ACCOUNT HERE”. Sorry guy who probably hates trying to upsell Chase’s predatory services all day, but I felt so completely antagonized. They gave my the remaining $7.22, and I informed them that I was walking next door to the Credit Union and depositing it into my new account there. Which I did and it was awesome.

Without being charged fees all the time and not having a minimum of $1000 to start a savings account, I’m in better financial shape than I EVER could have been if I stayed with them. I never had a savings account until the CU. Now I’ve grown my credit score 125 points in a year and will have enough for a nice down payment on a car once I get a new, secure job.

tl;dr credit unions rule, banks drool.

Ilu UWCU.

Stina (#686)

I went through an actual breakup conversation when I canceled a credit card.
CC company: “But whyyyyyy?
Me: Because I get points through my Credit Union card and it’s easier to have all my accounts in one place.
Them: But you’ve been with us so long.
Me: Um, yes but I still want to shut it down.
Them: But what if an emergency happens? Wouldn’t you just rather be safer and have us as an option?
Me: No
Them: Come on. Think about this.
Me: No, really I have thought about this. And I’d much rather just go with my Credit Union card.”

After I got married I’d assumed that I wouldn’t have to have a conversation like that ever again but….

LookUponMyWorks (#2,616)

Josh, you star.

OllyOlly (#669)

I recently had a bad experience with Capitol One, where I opened a checking account since I was traveling overseas, and called beforehand to check on my pin since I hadn’t received one. I was told very specifically that the pin was the same as my savings account and I would have NO PROBLEM with it being 6 digits.

Well, that was 100% wrong in that of course it has to be 4 digits, and I was getting a different pin in the mail. So I was unable to use my card my whole trip.

BUT to Capitol One’s credit they reviewed the telephone call and then offered to credit me all of the fees we paid on my boyfriend’s ATM card since we couldn’t use mine. This saved me from closing all my accounts with them.

nell (#4,295)

@OllyOlly I had a bad experience with Capital One abroad too…I had it as my main debit card while I was studying in Spain (because they really do have some of the lowest international fees) and I’d told them that I there, of course…then three months in they just froze the card without telling me, because apparently a travel alert expires after three months, even when you tell them the dates.

Liz the Lemur (#3,125)

My friend recently experienced some terrible bank juju. Withdrew a large-ish cash amount (he likes to do all of his money stuff in cash), and it withdrew twice. He didn’t realize it, and overdrafted, but the bank didn’t notify him because he had “overdraft protection” aka we are just going to take more money from you without telling you. A while goes by, and he overdrafts again because of the overdraft fees they’ve been charging him. So when he finally goes to the bank to get it sorted, they’re like, “Oh, you should have been paying more attention. We can’t do anything about it.”

They did (grudgingly) give back the ghost amount that had been withdrawn twice by accident. Refused point-blank to reimburse overdraft fees.

@fo (#839)

@lemur_niemer “They did (grudgingly) give back the ghost amount that had been withdrawn twice by accident. Refused point-blank to reimburse overdraft fees.”

The folks in the branch, and at least at the first tier of phone CS, must do that. Have to elevate. How and who depends on the bank.

I once–in the days before swipe ATMs–walked away from a ATM w/o retrieving my card. Realized my error the next morning and went into a branch cancel. The mook who helped me (while jawing the whole time with a coworker) managed to cancel my starter ATM card rather than my debit card. Next day debit card starts getting used. With a bit of hustle, I got to someone who waived any fee to me, and gave me all the $$ back *immediately*. I think it helped that I remembered the mook’s name, the date and time, and it was *over* 24 hours *before* anyone attempted to use the card.

And yes, this was a *big* bank, but it was 20 years ago, so even *big* was much. much smaller than now.

EmilyAnomaly (#4,238)

I am no expert, but I doubt the bank would waste the time/energy in referring this to a collection agency for $21. This was a delight to read.

Heather F G (#6,074)

@EmilyAnomaly Once, when I lived in Another City Than Where I Am Now, the library lost millions in funding and immediately sent me (and I assume many other people) a collections notice for $70 in late fees and a “lost” book I had turned in the week before… COLLECTIONS. FROM THE LIBRARY. Desperate times call for desperate measures, I suppose.

allnighter86 (#2,676)

The sad fact is that for big banks, retail customers like you just aren’t worth the time and money. Even if you regularly kept a large balance and used the account daily, you’re just not who they want to do business with.

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