ATM Fees and Overdraft Charges In The Bank Of Life

I observed an interaction between a couple using the line “if you do this for me, I’ll make it worth your while tonight…” and delivered (and received) with a smile. The idea of the Emotional Bank account (a nice summary explanation is at was explained by Steven Covey (I took the “7 habits” workshop provided by my employer late in the ’90s). ) We start all relationships with a neutral (think empty or zero balance) account with others and our interactions make deposits and withdrawals in our “account.” The higher our balance, the better our relationship is and the more room we have to make “errors” without permanently damaging our line of credit.

Reflecting on this image from long ago, I think the idea remains valid, but is incomplete. I don’t remember being told (or reading while going through other of his writings on my own) about the regular “service fees” and additional charges that might occur, most importantly the “foreign ATM use” charge.

It is (depressingly) common today for banks to charge a “nominal” monthly service fee, whether you actually use your account or not. Time was, banks were local institutions where your actions with the staff might allow you to talk to the same teller for decades. My dad was able to go in to the bank and get a car loan without filling out any paperwork (he had been a customer over 30 years and knew the loan officer well). A home mortgage was slightly more complicated, but not the federal interrogation required to get a loan today.

Over time, the local bank was purchased by a state, regional, then national bank, changing names and personnel each time. Worse than the lack of personal contact with people you knew, the larger companies had less competition so they were able to increase rates without fear of competition. Pay more to people that cared less. So free checking and savings accounts became $9.99 per month and a $5.00 fee if you “made more than” / “didn’t make at least” n transactions in a period (having both a checking and savings account with the same institution could trigger both penalties as each account was considered separately). Now to avoid charges you need  to maintain a really large balance or incur the wrath of the financial gods.

In the bank of life, a similar event occurs for relationships. If you go a long(ish) time without interacting with a person, your effective balance is lower than you might have assumed (based on what you remembered it was at your last meeting). Your best practice would be to always start any relationship transaction with a deposit (in case you missed a fee or so). Nice dress/hat/hair/shoes/car/spouse/tattoo/[insert appropriate item here].

I think by far the more hazardous fee (especially if you are involved in a long-term relationship…or want to be in one) comes from the “foreign ATM” charges. This principle is where you use a machine from another bank than the one your card is from. When you make a deposit in a foreign account in the presence of your usual bank, WOW! You can be hit with massive service charges when you get home (or to the car, followed by either a cold and silent ride home or a heated “discussion” along the way). Even if innocent, the transaction causes fees that need additional deposits and payments that will accrue interest until covered.

The best way to keep from declaring bankruptcy is to be intentional about making deposits in every transaction you face. Be nice, say thanks, open doors and let traffic in. Life is too short to find overdraft notices in your mailbox daily.

Oh, and a final suggestion is to cut up the credit cards from the Bank of Life…the interest charge rate is too high for the usefulness of withdrawing funds you haven’t got, and hope to make up by the end of the month. Even on the fifth, the end of the month is too close…


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