Thursday, February 22, 2007

My Bank of America Story 

Bank of America has been taking a lot of flak lately for its recently announced program of issuing credit cards to customers who don't have Social Security numbers (read, persons illegally in the US). Well, I don't think much of that plan, but assuming that BofA is correct in stating that they're doing nothing illegal, I think the onus is on Congress to change the law to prevent this kind of thing.

Our elected representatives should amend the law to prevent banks from aiding and abetting gate crashers and/or do something to ensure that US immigration laws are enforced to the greatest extent practicable. (By the way, I think our immigration laws are generally too restrictive as to numbers, on the one hand, and too lax as to security, on the other.) If Congress won't do that, then our remedy as citizens (non-citizens still don't have the right to vote in federal elections, last time I looked) is to exercise our franchise and turn the rascals out.

But pending any of that happening (look out for flying pigs), I'd like to share with you my experience with good ol' BofA:

It was 1968 and I was in my first job after graduating from college, working for an agency of the US Government. I opened an account with Bank of America and took advantage of the Government's direct paycheck deposit program. (Such programs were rare back then.) All went well for several months. Then, one day ...

I received my pay voucher on a Friday as usual, which indicated that my salary had been duly deposited in my BofA account. I wrote checks to pay various bills over the ensuing weekend, as was my habit, and on Friday evening I wrote a check to the local grocery store.

On Monday, my co-workers and I received a letter on Treasury Department letterhead stating that our paychecks had not in fact been deposited on Thursday night previous due to some glitch in the system, notwithstanding that vouchers had been issued stating that the deposits had been made. The letter went on to say that the deposits would be made that day, Monday. (Like many young people at the time I was living paycheck to paycheck, not having had much opportunity to save anything.)

When I got home that night, there was an envelope in my mailbox from Bank of America. Inside the envelope was a form letter saying that one of my checks had been returned NSF, and that my account had been charged an overdraft fee. The check that I had written to the grocery store on Friday overdrew my account by one cent! One. Cent! A penny!

Since I was a regular customer at the store, I went there and explained to them what had happened, showed them the letter from the Treasury Department and asked them to resubmit the check. All was well.

The next day, I had another letter from BofA, stating that at least one more check had bounced on Monday, the day the direct deposit was actually made (and of course, more overdraft charges were assessed). I went down to the bank and asked to speak with the manager. I explained what had happened, showed him the letter on Treasury Department letterhead, and then asked two questions: (1) Was the direct deposit in fact made on Monday? and (2) If so, why did the checks that were presented that day bounce?

The answers were: (1) Yes; and (2) It's the Bank's policy to post drafts against the account before crediting deposits to the account.

I was apoplectic!

I then asked the manager if he would at least recredit the overdraft charges since I had in good faith believed that I had sufficient funds in my account and that the problem was neither of my own doing nor was I aware of it until notified by the Government, as proved by the letter from the Treasury Department.

Answer: No, we don't reverse overdraft charges as a matter of policy.

I closed my account immediately and have not since done business with BofA, to this day. When BofA bought MBNA last year, I cut up my MBNA Mastercard. Neither have I learned anything about BofA's business practices that that indicates they have become more customer friendly (although I must admit that I haven't exerted any effort to find out). I have also told this story to hundreds of people over the years, and I sincerely hope it has influenced them not to deal with Bank of America.

I bet those people without Social Security numbers have no clue about the kind of business they're dealing with.

Then again, if BofA treats them the same way I was treated, it just might, over time, reduce the inflow of illegal immigrants.

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