No One at AmTrust Bank Seems to Know Jack About Their Minimum Balance Policy

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.

Charging A Hormonal Woman to Cash a Check Spells Trouble

Some things just piss me off. There are some charges/policies that should be outlawed. They are just not fair. And when I come across something like this at certain times of the month the level of pissed-offedness increases exponentially.

Today I needed to go to the bank to deposit the checks from our renters (I’m thrilled that not only was it on time, it was a week early!). Since we are going out of town and their bank is right down the street from mine, I thought I’d stop by and get the checks cashed and just deposit cash into my own account, avoiding the hold-time for deposits of local checks.

Son and I stopped into Regions Bank and were immediately greeted by a teller. I handed her the checks (two because they pay it out of two separate accounts) and she asked me if I was cashing them. After answering yes, she asked if I have an account with them. When I replied in the negative she said, “No? Then there will be a charge per check of…” and frankly, that’s all I heard. Apparently this bank is one of THOSE banks that charges a fee if you cash a check and don’t have an account with them. Even though it is DRAWN ON THEIR BANK

I find this practice reprehensible, and have ever since I heard that Bank of America started the trend several years ago. If someone is nice enough to accept a check from me (for whatever services rendered) I expect that part of the service I get in exchange for letting the bank use my money (to make themselves heaploads more money!) is to CASH the damn CHECK. Whether the payee chooses to deposit it in an account of their own or go to my bank to get some cold, hard cash should make not one iota of difference. Not. One. Iota.

Regions Bank was instantly added to the list titled “Banks With Which I Will Never Do Business”.

As steam started coming out of my ears I took back my checks, replied that there is no way I would ever do business with a bank who would charge such a usurious charge, took Son’s hand and started to walk out of the bank.

Son pulled me towards the restroom, as he is on a quest to visit every restroom within an ever-constant 100 yard radius. I told him, loudly, “Sorry, not today. They’d probably charge you to see it, anyway.”

Posted in rants. Tags: , , , . 2 Comments »

What you Can Expect From The New A La Carte Airlines

I wrote a few days ago about how To Explore the New World of Airline Travel You Need More Than a Map. Today I received an e-mail that shows I certainly am NOT the only one completely ever being nickel and dimed by the airlines:
NEW AIRLINE RULES

Attendant: Welcome aboard Ala Carte Air, sir. May I see your ticket?

Passenger: Sure.

Attendant: You’re in seat 12B. That will be $5, please!

Passenger: What for?

Attendant: For telling you where to sit.

Passenger: But I already knew where to sit.

Attendant: Nevertheless, we are now charging a seat locator fee of $5. It’s the airline’s new policy.

Passenger: That’s the craziest thing I ever heard. I won’t pay it.

Attendant: Sir, do you want a seat on this flight, or not?

Passenger: Yes, yes. All right, I’ll pay. But the airline is going to hear about this.

Attendant: Thank you. My goodness, your carry-on bag looks heavy. Would you like me to stow it in the overhead compartment for you?

Passenger: That would be swell, thanks.

Attendant: No problem. Up we go, and done! That will be $10, please.

Passenger: What?

Attendant: The airline now charges a $10 carry-on assistance fee.

Passenger: This is extortion. I won’t stand for it.

Attendant: Actually, you’re right, you can’t stand. You need to sit, and fasten your seat belt. We’re about to push back from the gate. But, first I need that $10.

Passenger: No way!

Attendant: Sir, if you don’t comply, I will be forced to call the air marshal. And you really don’t want me to do that.

Funny, to be sure. And I don’t really think we’re that farr off from that. Delta just announced they will be charging up to $50 per ticket as a fuel surcharge on frequent flyer award tickets.

Priceless…

To Explore the New World of Airline Travel You Need More Than a Map

Am I the only one who’d rather not be nickel and dimed by the airlines?

Even the most seasoned travelers feel like traveling neophytes as they try to keep track of all of the changing rules, regulations and fees the airline industry imposes on daily basis.

It’s a new world, folks, and things are changing minute to minute. Between fees for baggage and food and breathing their oxygen (well, not yet – but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s coming!), it’s increasingly more confusing to do what once required no more thought than whether to bring the black shoes, the brown shoes or both.

Last week Husband drove son and I to the airport for our trip to New England, and before he got Son’s carseat out of the car I’d already experienced a problem.

I had read that Delta was not (yet) charging for a first checked bag. I had checked in online and told them we were checking two bags – 1 large suitcase and the carseat. Apparently I didn’t research enough because I thought the weight limit was 75 lbs, and I’d weighed it at home to make sure it was within limits. They weighed it right at the curb and came up with the same 54 lbs I’d gotten at home, and told me the weight limit was 50 lbs.

Greaaaaaaaaaaat.

Okay, I thought. How much is it for an oversize bag? For $15- $20, I might have just paid it. But no – they wanted to charge me $80 for four extra pounds!

As if. So, I opened the bag and took out a few things. One was my blow dryer, as I can borrow from my sister if I really need to. And it’s summer, so most days I just pull it back in a ponytail or barrette and my fifteen second hairdo is done.

I also slipped one thing into my carry-on bag, which I was loathe to do. My carry-ons were heavy enough. The one bag plus one personal item per person limits are being strictly enforced because of the new fees, so I usually have to finagle to pass muster. I have a large (but acceptable airline size) tote bag that I use so if needed I can put my handbag, laptop and camera equipment inside and still have room for more stuff. The downside is it gets heavy! I didn’t have to worry about finagling this time because there were two of us traveling, so we were allowed 4 items. But of course Son didn’t want to carry any of them…

So, adjust your travel budgets.  And try some of the following:

  1. Pack light. If you’re going somewhere you can do laundry you can really pare it down.  Mix and match wherever possible, be willing to wear your jeans twice, and use all of the space available (why not pack your socks inside your shoes?).
  2. Carry-on only. If you pack light you won’t even have to check a bag.  Just make sure the bag you take on board meets the airline’s size requirements, usually a total of 45 inches!
  3. Wear your bigger, heavier items. On this trip Son and I both wore our sneakers (even though it took an extra moment at security) and jeans and we each carried a sweater.  This makes more room in your carry-on or checked bag, and saves on the weight, too!
  4. Use lightweight luggage. My very good, sturdy suitcase weighs about ten pounds.  If I had a lighter suitcase I would have been able to bring everything I had to take out of my bag.  I’ll be looking for a large nylon duffel bag to use in the future.  And methinks luggage companies are going to be coming out with some nice new lightweight models!

It’s also good to know that they don’t count car seats,  strollers or wheelchairs as baggage for either checked baggage, and they don’t count and diaper bags as carry-on.  There are other exceptions, too, so check your airline’s baggage policy!

I also found this website, where a resourceful guy has promised to quickly update airline fees.

So today you probably won’t be able to bring both the black shoes and the brown shoes, especially if you’re going to need your sneakers, too. Choose one pair, and if the weight of y our bag isn’t a problem make them slip-ons. You’ll get through security quicker…

How Do They Sleep at Night? Part 4 – Banks and their Usurious Fees

My Dad went to Las Vegas last week and did a wee bit of winning. When he got back to his L.A. home he deposited the money, about $9000 (woo hoo!), into his business account there.

He was very surprised to discover that his bank had charged him a service fee. Apparently, he deposited too much money with them.

Yeah. See, they charge .30 per $100 for any deposit greater than $5000. Apparently “their exposure is greater.” Whatever that means.

A bank. That’s using his money to make money of their own. Charging him for the privilege of allowing them to do so.

Those are some pretty huge, green kahunas. And that got me thinking about other bank fees that really get my panties in a twist…

My husband walked into a branch to cash a check a friend had written to him. The teller told him there was a $5 charge to cash the check because he didn’t have an account there. “But this check is written on your bank! Why should you get my money to cash your own check?” After listening to the woman spew the company line he turned on his heel and left.

Another bank here charges you to talk to a teller. Indeed.

I’ve read that other banks are charging fees to deposit or withdraw from accounts and to transfer money between them. There are fees if you dip below a certain balance, and fees if you write too many checks. There are fees if you write too few checks.

I’ll bet some  have pay toilets.

They charge three times as much to order new checks for you than you’d pay yourself by ordering through a secondary vendor like www.checksunlimited.com.

Don’t  even get me started on credit card fees

I understand that banks are businesses. I don’t have a problem with every fee banks charge. I’m aware of and even support fees for bounced checks. We’re all responsible to know how much money we have in our accounts, and if we blunder we need to pay the price. At the same time, a $25 charge for a $3 overdraft just seems usurious.

I’m also not completely against banks charging fees when you use an ATM that isn’t in your network. You’re paying for the convenience of not having to travel far out of your way to find your own bank. Fine. You save money on gas, so it’s almost a wash.

Apparently, though, we’re supposed to understand that the banks are also victims of the sub-prime mortgage crisis. They must raise their fees to try to make up a portion of the money they don’t have since they lost their shirts making bad loans.

Boo-hoo.  My heart breaks for ya.

Like this post? Read the other posts in this series!

See the Stretch Your Dollar Page for other money-saving ideas.

How Do They Sleep at Night? Vol 3: The Credit Card Companies Part 1 – A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

This article is part of a series of posts about people who screw people, sometimes for a living. And, hopefully, lessons I’ve learned and want to pass on.

They’re going to start coming any day now. I just know it. The offers from my credit cards, wanting to help me at this wonderful time of year.

They’ll send me “convenience checks“, which I can use to get a cash advance. Isn’t that nice?

Of course they won’t mention the transaction fee, or the fact that I start accruing interest on the day I write the check. Or the fact that they can decline the check for any reason at all. Even though they sent it to me. Even though they could have checked my credit beforehand, instead of after I’ve remitted it to a merchant as my promise to pay.

They’re swell.

I’m so overcome with gratitude!

But that’s not all! No, my credit card companies are the best of the best.

They’ll offer to let me skip my December payment! They know I’ve overspent. Heck, they keep track of it better than I do! This will give me some breathing room. I’m all choked up.

So. Very. Thankful.

Who cares if my interest still accrues? I’ll avoid a late charge. What’s $30 compared to interest on the average American credit card debt of $8400, and growing? Have you seen the cost of a Wii?

I’ll worry about January in January. I mean, I could win the lottery before my payment is due in January!

It could happen!

Oh, thank you credit card companies! You put the reason in the season!

Where can I get that Wii? And can I borrow $2o for lottery tickets?

Like this post? Read the other posts in this series!

See the Stretch Your Dollar Page for other money-saving ideas.

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