Thursday, October 28, 2010

Banking woes

Oh hi. I'm tired. I feel like I spent all day yesterday on the phone with Wachovia. I didn't, really--I actually managed to do work, too--but the emotional toll of dealing with a bank who can mess with your finances without, apparently, leaving a paper trail explaining their actions? It's pretty high. And I don't really feel like coping.

The short version is, I deposited a check last Friday. I checked our bank balance online every day and watched it process until they released the funds and the full amount of the check was included in the available balance, which happened on Tuesday. Then I mailed checks to pay several bills. Yesterday I logged into our bank account only to see that the balance had been "adjusted" to remove the exact amount of the check.

I called Wachovia. They transferred me to their disputes and claims department. Disputes and claims could tell me nothing. They were able to look at the image of the check and see that it was properly made out, signed, endorsed, etc. They could see no reason why the check had been rejected. There was a note along with the rejection, but apparently it was written in gibberish because it meant nothing to everyone who looked at it. The ATM department also knew nothing about the situation. All I could do was file a dispute and wait 5-7 business days for it to be resolved. Which is great, given that I mailed these checks yesterday. How should I pay my mortgage, I asked. And was advised to "make other arrangements." Oh, sure. I'll just send my mortgage company a whole bunch of invisible cash to make up for the check that's about to bounce. No problem. Thanks!

I called the main Wachovia line. The woman I spoke to put me on hold for 20 minutes while she tried to figure it out. Then she told me it was more complicated than she'd realized and she'd have to call me back. Three hours later, she called me back. She'd spent the last three hours looking into the situation, contacting every department that could possibly be involved in the issue, working with her supervisor. And she had learned... nothing. Nobody knew who had rejected the check, or even what department they were in. Nobody knew why the check had been rejected. Nobody knew what the note associated with the rejection meant. There was nothing she could do for me except suggest that I wait five to seven days for the dispute to be resolved and see what happens then.

I called the branch of Wells Fargo where I deposited the check. (Wachovia has already switched over to Wells Fargo in Colorado, but not in DC, where the account was opened, so our account is still technically Wachovia but we do our banking at Wells Fargo.) I thought maybe the note associated with the rejection was from Wells Fargo, and the Wachovia people weren't familiar with the terminology used. I know from experience that the two banks' ability to access each other's systems is severely limited. The guy from Wells Fargo was very nice, but could tell me nothing. He didn't know what the note meant either, and it wasn't anyone at his branch who rejected the check. He's still trying to look into the issue for me, but I am not hopeful that there is anything he can do to find out what happened.

I called the issuer of the check. They are happy to issue another check. However, since the original check is still in limbo, the new check can't be issued until the problem with the current one is resolved. Since it's possible that the dispute I filed will be resolved in my favor, i.e. the funds will be credited back to our account and the check will clear, the risk with issuing a new check is that they both will end up getting cashed. So we are going to hold off on issuing a new check until the dispute is resolved.

I understand that Wachovia didn't actually take anyone's money. The check didn't get cashed so nobody is out for the amount it was written for. Apparently banks have the right to refuse to cash checks if they wish, since they are partially liable for bad checks. That's fine; I get that. But is it really possible that one random person within the enormous Wachovia corporation has the ability to reverse payment on a check that has already been credited to an account, without any sort of paper trail?

How is it possible that four different people spent many hours yesterday looking into this, and weren't able to find out so much as what department was responsible for rejecting the check? Shouldn't anyone who makes any sort of adjustment on somebody's bank account have to enter their employee ID into a computer system to make it traceable, at the very least? Not to mention possibly adding some kind of drop-down menu of standardized reasons they could select for doing so, in order to avoid the situation where they type gibberish into the notes box that nobody else at the entire company is able to interpret? I mean, the way the system is set up (not that I actually think this is what happened, just that it seems like a potential liability), somebody could be in a bad mood and just arbitrarily decide that they felt like messing with someone else's finances, and there would be zero accountability for their decision to do this. Nobody would be able to find out who did it or why. That's a lot of power for a bunch of random bank employees.

I'm thinking it might be time to switch to a local bank. The small kind, with a finite number of employees, so that if something like this happened, at least somebody would be able to claim personal accountability.


  1. oh GOD i'm getting hives just READING this. there is never, ever, a good resolution to Banking Institution Woes, because even if you WIN and get everything you originally wanted, your SOUL HAS BEEN DRAINED in the effort. (can you tell i've been through a similar experience..??)

  2. Ugh. What a mess! I would highly recommend switching to a local credit union. Ours has an agreement with someone so that we can use all US Bank ATMs for free, and I assume other credit unions are the same way. Also, they are generally smaller and have better rates (since they are not for profit).
    In the meantime, I hope you get it figured out.
    Ugh. I completely agree with Alice; even if this is resolved in your favor you lose because your soul has been drained by the experience.

  3. Oh, God - I'm with Alice. Reading this gave me hives. I hope you get some resolution TODAY.

    This is what I went through with our stupid mortgage company; they somehow "erased" three months of payments, which meant we got a certified letter that said, "Pay us $3,000 in the next 30 days or we will foreclose on your house." That was a bad, bad day. Plus, it took about 6 months to get everything finally squared away.

  4. Also, switch to online banking and bill pay. I find the error rate there to be much less than humans. Ask the issuer to put a stop payment on the check and issue you a new one ASAP. Also, put stop payments on the checks you mailed out and write new ones (after you hopefully get a new check ASAP from the issuer). If not possible, ask Wachovia/Wells to waive the NSF fees you will incur. And lastly, keep enough in your checking account to cover at least 3 months of mortgage, so you don't fall short due to human error! I know people who transfer from savings to checking all the time to fund their checking accounts to pay bills, but if you don't slightly over-fund it, you may run into overdraws due to human(BANK!!) error.

    What a pain and never fun to deal with. Good luck and hope you get a satisfactory resolution without too much more headache.

  5. This is SO INFURIATING. What an unbelievably PRIMITIVE system for something as important as a BANK.

  6. Oh. I would be PISSED to have mailed checks that could now not be covered! The bank better be willing to cover the fees that are about to incur from the bouncing. What a huge pain in the a$$!

  7. I just had a panic attack reading your post, seriously. I would be UNHINGED at this point. If you incur any fees, they had better be COVERED. SO ridiculous!

    I totally recommend a local credit union rather than a bank. Mine is AWESOME - I love it. I get a person who, most of the time, I know whenever I call or go in; it's really reassuring.

  8. Banks are like cell phone companies - they all suck! This situation would make me livid. If you incur any late fees that the bank won't cover, small claims court is your friend (and it's easy to do). In my experience, credit unions are no better. I left mine after the 3rd screw up. They are a pain if you travel too, since they are usually only local. Keep us posted on how this story ends!

  9. If you have ANY military connection, go to USAA. I think it's enough to have a dad or so who was in the military to get in. Fantastic bank. Fantastic customer service. Adore them.

  10. Very frustrating that they don't know why the check was canceled. The reason why it went through initially is that it has to be made available to you by federal law w/i a certain period of time, but then if they discover the check is bad, they can remove those funds and hold you liable. (It's a terrible system and one that leads a lot of vulnerable people into fraud. IE - a scammer will pay for something or some "service" with a bad check, say $5,000; you remove that money from your account thinking, "sweet easy 5K" and then once the two banks - yours and the one it was issued from - figure out that it is a bad check, they give you a negative $5,000 on your balance sheet, plus fees of course.)

  11. Ugh I can't believe that you are having to deal with this. I had an issue with Bank of America and it took at least 3-4 hours to resolve it. Right now CP and I are too lazy to switch to smaller local bank, but would have no problems doing it in the future if another problem arose....

  12. This is why I avoid checks like the plague. I haven't used a check in at least 5 years. They are too unreliable and can be denied for anything. I worked in a bank and every bank handles every situation differently. You should definitely look into online banking. I have yet to have an issue with it in the last 5 years of using it.

    As for a credit union, I'm stuck on an account with an ex because the credit union will not "remove members". He had to go through the hassle of switching to an entirely different account which involved his mortgage and everything because I have unlimited access to the other one. My name has since changed and I don't even live in the state and they still won't allow me to take my name off the account. I would have to open another solely in my name that I have no use or access to.

  13. Holy crap that is totally unacceptable! I hope it gets resolved ASAP and the meantime you are able to find "alternative means" of paying your bills. WTF?

  14. So what about your mortgage payment?

    This is such a horrid situation. I love that one woman spent 3 hours on your behalf. That's impressive. Not so impressive is that there is no better solution than wait the 5-7 days. That's BS. & definitely reason to be bank shopping in Denver.

  15. This is making me panicky by proxy.

    When I was straight out of college and living on my own I had some fraudulent charges on my checking account. I called the bank and they set to work taking care of the charges, however in the mean time I had NO MONEY. My mom, being a saint, went to the bank and deposited cash, not a check, directly into my account and THEY FROZE IT. CASH. Multiple sobbing phone calls later and I had the cash in hand. And I didn't even have a mortgage to pay - just multiple packages of Top Ramen to buy.

  16. Oh, JESUS.

    This, is uh, horrible. I am terrified and whimpery for you.

  17. Oh, yeah. I'd suggest a local credit union.

  18. This is INSANE, Jess! Have you received any updates since?

    Hope it gets resolved ASAP and they pay whatever fees necessary to correct the goof. And send you flowers. And brownies.


    And yeah, credit unions rock!

  19. I was actually the customer service person in this situation once, and it really sucks all around.
    What I eventually figured out had happened to the customer I was trying to help was that the check had been rejected midway through the process. You know how when you cash a check, more number salad gets printed on top? When checks are cashed between banks, the image goes to a federal clearinghouse, something like this:
    1.) Your bank: Jess gave us a check. Let's give her the money, then go get our funds from the bank who wrote the check.
    2.) Your bank: We have printed all of the information necessary for the clearinghouse to give the funds to us after getting them from the bank who wrote the check. Now we wait.
    3.) At the clearinghouse, a random computer or person decides that a number in the salad is missing or wrong. Could be damage, the way the image scanned, the way the number were printed on the check...who knows?
    4.) Federal clearinghouse replies back to your bank: Sorry, no money for you. Reason: blah, blah, blah. Diligent computer / bank employee transcribes the message on the transaction ledger and yanks the funds from your account.
    5.) You call customer service: WTF?
    6.) Customer service: WTF?!?!?!?!? How do we not know what happened? I wish they hadn't outsourced all of the people who used to work in check cashing, or we could just walk across the hall and find out.

    In the situation I handled, I didn't find out until the end of the day, when I took a printout of the check to the assistant vice president of something check-related and she immediately said, "Oh, that 9 looks a bit like an 8, there on our printed numbers. They probably read the number wrong and didn't get the funds to us."

    Maybe this happened to you, maybe something entirely different. But this is one way that perfectly good checks go to die. I used to work at Wachovia, in the same enormous building as the people you were talking to, so I know it could easily have happened like this (therefore the anonymous posting).

    I'm so sorry this happened to you.