Jay and I have been pretty short on cash lately. This isn’t our fault; it’s because for quite a few months of last year, I worked for someone who *ahem* did not pay me. Not an illegal action; I was a contractor, and I took the job knowing that the company had cash-flow problems and that they might continue. But let’s just say that as the weeks passed, I inadvertently took on much more of the company’s risk than I intended to. At times, we spent as if we expected to collect that money really soon (well, we did… naive? who, us?) and as a result, we stretched our credit limits pretty far.
All this week, I have been trying to deal with a consequence of this: our bank overdraft was straining its limit. We didn’t have cash to cover it, but we did have various credit-card transfer offers on hand, from the credit cards that weren’t near their limits. So last Friday, I got on the phone with Citicard and ordered a balance transfer to pay down the overdraft. I know that Citi does everything electronically, so I figured it wouldn’t take long.
But surprise, surprise, even in the Check 21 age, when consumer checks have NO float, BANKS STILL HAVE LOOPHOLES TO MAKE THEIR PAYMENTS FLOAT. Citicard posted the transfer and started charging me interest on Monday, but as of today, Friday, TDBank still doesn’t know anything about the transfer. I talked to a banking customer-service representative at the TDBank call center: nothing. I called Citicard, for the second time this week, and got confirmation that the transfer had been made (and confirmed) on Monday. But what did “confirmed” mean? Apparently, it wasn’t a confirmation by TDBank. I still don’t know what it does mean. I finally made a three-way call and had a TDBank rep (from the loan center, no less, in Lewiston, Maine) talk to a Citicard rep. The previous Citi rep had told me that the payment was a “wire transfer”, a name which normally refers to a Fedwire, the only type of financial instrument that has NO float. But this one said that it was an “electronic transfer” or “EFT.” The two reps seemed to be speaking a secret language to each other, and having exchanged secret handshakes, they told me together that the transfer could take, oh, four? five? eight? business days to post.
So once again, the consumer (that’s me) gets screwed. I get a whole week (at least!) of paying interest to both banks for the same money. Furthermore, I am still not safe from maxing out my overdraft and bouncing every purchase that we make this weekend. (Because nowadays, it doesn’t matter what’s cleared; your available balance is reduced by all your pending transactions, and your available balance has to be at or above zero at the end of the day.) So I went down to the branch of TDBank with my checkbook from the credit union where we keep a few extra bucks socked away. I went to the counter to write and deposit a check, but realized at the last minute that it wouldn’t help, because TDBank, when it is clearing a check, puts a positive AND a negative into the pending-transactions list. So what would I do? I offered to go to the ATM and take out cash from my credit union, then give it to the teller. “Hang on a second,” he said, “maybe there’s something we can do.” He turned to the branch manager and described the situation, and she told him to cash the check, then deposit the cash. WHEW. I’m in good shape now. We have some cash to spend on the weekend (not much, but enough).
And it brought home to me something I once knew, but forgot: the only people you can trust in a bank are the people who work at a local branch. Thanks, TDBank of Richmond, Vermont.