Too Poor to Bank

Periodically, I receive forcible reminders that the economy still sucks. I read the paper and listen to the radio, and I hear stories about the Europeans working hard to handle their debt crisis and US consumers spending well as we hit the holiday shopping season, and I want to believe things are getting better.

But then my bank hits me with a $12 service charge, and I’m reminded that any improvement we’re seeing is incremental at best.

You read that right. My bank charged me 12 bucks in a single service fee. Why? Because I’m too poor.

I had an interest-bearing account. (Of course, the interest is so low, it’s laughable, but forget that part for a moment.) However, to have such a privilege, you have to maintain a minimum balance, and I evidently fell under it.

Now, I do understand banks placing restrictions on premium accounts. Business is a two-way street. But 12 bucks? That’s outrageous! They want to charge me $12 a month for the privilege of investing my money. I have to pay them because I don’t have enough money for them to make enough money off me.

So, naturally, being unemployed at the moment, I asked to be switched to a different kind of account where this won’t happen. That’s when the real trouble began. The next best account has no fees — as long as you maintain at least $1500 or have at least one direct deposit of $500 or more a month.

Problem: I’m unemployed. Thus, maintaining any minimum amount is difficult, and the state issues unemployment insurance on a debit card, not via direct deposit. So to get this account, I’d have to let the bank take $8 of my meager sums each month. Again, just for the privilege of them being able to invest it and make a profit.

The only other option I was offered was an account that was free as long as I did all of my transactions electronically. Now, I do pay most of my bills online (one of the reasons it irritates me the state issues unemployment insurance to a debit card). But there are a few, like my rent, that require paper checks. If I write a check against this new account, they charge me $2 per check. So, to access my own money, I have to pay the bank.

This is insane! It’s my money. I’m allowing the bank to hold it, so they can invest it to make a profit. I shouldn’t have to pay them to get it back.

How can bank executives look at this situation and not understand why people are outraged? How can they have been bailed out by the government and not comprehend why people are mad about it? How can they look at the Occupy Wall Street movement and be confused about what’s driving these people?

I was a 20-year customer of Commerce Bank, and had a relationship with the branch manager and the tellers. But when I lost my job, none of them could help me. They were bound by the rules of their corporate headquarters in Kansas City, which isn’t concerned about me or any of its other poorer customers.

So I left Commerce Bank. I found a credit union that will not charge me any fees to access my own money. They have no problem with me writing paper checks or with the fact that I’m struggling to find a job at the moment. As long as I can put $25 total into a savings account, they’ll let me bank with them without any penalties.

I’m really sorry about leaving an institution I enjoyed doing business with for 20 years. But evidently, I’m just too poor for them to value that relationship.

When my finances turn around this year, someone else is going to profit.

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