This post has a long prologue, so I can catch you up on things since I effectively stopped posting last year. It’s only a partial summary, but it helps to understand why I was asking about the Minimum Balance Policy in the first place. For those of you uninterested, skip to “Here’s the meat of the story:”.
I’ve written before about how much I hate bank fees. And I’ve written about how I use my bank accounts to manage my bills and save money.
A lot has happened since those posts were written, but you may be glad to know that I still use my bank accounts to manage my bills and save money, and I still hate bank fees. And have had no trouble with both.
But, the economy has affected us all. It’s been almost a year since pay cut #2. We’ve moved since then, rented out the townhouse, and are looking for ways for me to make some money to help our bottom line.
August was a particularly tight month, and things are only going to get tighter. We have a large property tax bill due in November, and there’s Christmas, too. Plus, in order to keep our wonderful, reliable tenants we had to reduce the rent $100 a month. Sigh.
As I was paying bills last month, I was very much afraid I’d have to take money out of our Money Market to meet our obligations. But after collecting some past due fees from a couple of clients, and getting paid $75 to taste butter in a focus group, I was pretty sure I’d make it. Just. But I’d likely have to “borrow” a few hundred dollars from the Money Market account, just to be safe.
Except for Husband’s paychecks (which are direct-deposited into checking, I deposit all money into our Statement Savings account. I don’t keep a great deal of money in there – it’s mostly used as a way station for money on it’s way to the checking account, our Money Market (which is our long-term liquid savings), or to pay our mortgage). I got in this habit years ago when I did keep more money in there so that I didn’t have to worry about check holds and could transfer cash into my checking account after depositing my dark-ages paper paycheck (no direct deposit for them!).
Here’s the meat of the story:
That Statement Savings account now has a $250 minimum balance, which is pretty standard in the industry. I’ve not given it much thought, but I’ve also been careful never to go below that threshold. But when paying bills last week I forgot to transfer the “loan” of the extra few hundred dollars from the Money Market to the Statement Savings. Luckily, I realized this on September 1st – the day my mortgage is deducted from the account, and the day that my balance would have fallen below the $250 threshold. And, luckily, it was around lunchtime, well before the end of the business day. And to make it even more lucky, I realized it when I was on my way to the bank to deposit the rent checks into that account, so it wasn’t in the least inconvenient to handle it.
I was handing the deposit to the teller when I realized I had a few questions. Would I get charged a service fee for going below the $250 threshold if I made a deposit before the close of that business day? In other words, if the automatic debit hit my account at 1:15 pm and I made a deposit bringing me over the $250 requirement at 1:20 pm, would I get hit with the charge? Or is it based on the balance at the end of the day? I was told that I COULD get charged the fee. There was no way to know, as it was automated. Really?
And, what if I deposit checks? Would the checks I deposited be counted as meeting the minimum balance requirement, even though they were as yet uncollected? Does the bank give the client the benefit of the doubt in the limited scope of meeting the account’s minimum balance requirement?
If the check deposit I was making would suffice, I wouldn’t need to transfer cash from the Money Market. But if I was required to keep an available balance of $250 – not simply a balance of $250, then the transfer would be necessary.
The teller, when asked, told me the balance had to be available. That didn’t make sense to me, as it would seem that the bank would say what they mean and mean what they say, and I was pretty sure the word “available” was nowhere in this particular part of their fee disclosures. I seemed to remember words that go something like “must maintain a minimum balance of $250…”, NOT “must maintain a minimum available balance of $250…”.
So, I asked very politely where it was written that we had to maintain the minimum available balance. I wanted to know not only so I could know whether or not I needed to transfer money, but also because I thought it very important that THEY should know.
The teller called the manager, who tried to be helpful, and recommended that I was “better safe than sorry.” She offered to deposit one of my checks without a hold, effectively removing the necessity for me to transfer any money.
Very nice of her, and completely unnecessary, because the answer was much more important that my particular situation – which would have been easily taken care of regardless. The offer of the one-time accommodation meant that the manager didn’t know the answer, either. And I was never shown the disclosure, even though I’d asked twice.
Both the manager and the teller seemed perplexed that I really, truly wanted an answer to these questions. I was not angry, I was not belligerent. I was quite pleasant as I explained that I felt it was important to get the answers, so I would know. And they would know.
Seeing a long line, I assured them that they didn’t need to find out right that second. I would welcome a phone call later, once they received an answer, most particularly to the question: Is it minimum balance of $250, or minimum available balance of $250?
I did receive a call back from the teller near the end of the day. She told me that it was available balance. I asked, again, to see where that was written. She hemmed and hawed for a few moments, and wound up telling me that she spoke to several people and they all indicated available balance, but they didn’t really know. And, frankly, didn’t seem all that eager to find out.
How can they not know?!?!?!? Someone must know!
So, now, I must find the answer. I am off to the Consumerist, and to try to find some bigwig AmTrust email addresses.
And I’m asking you, my dear, neglected friends. Do let me know if you know, if you know someone who knows, and/or if you agree with me that it’s important to know.