It hasn’t been a fun week. Actually, it’s been a terrible week. I’m going to write this story as a warning to all of you graduate students out there who know the value of stretching every penny, and how much it can sting when you lose some of those funds. The lesson here should be stated before, during and after my little story that follows: watch your bank accounts. Check them everyday at least twice: once in the morning and once after the business day ends. I cannot stress this enough. Now I’m sure many of you are very careful with your money. I believe that I am (at least I did). But if you’re not the kind of person that watches the flow of every dollar through your account then I can say quite honestly that you need to be, because you never know when a mistake can occur or how hard you’ll have to pay for that mistake.
This past Monday, I looked up my checking account online as I typically do once or twice throughout the week and found that my available balance was in the negative. Actually, $120 in the negative to be exact. Concerned, I called my bank’s customer service hotline and asked them to look into it for me. It didn’t make sense to me, because I had just been paid the week before and made two large deposits on top of that. So when the customer service representative spoke to me, he told me that it was showing as negative because a couple of online bill payments I had made over the weekend were posting to the account and the deposits had not fully cleared. I then asked him if there was anything I should be concerned about, to which he replied no and the funds should all clear by Tuesday, bringing me back above zero. Relieved, I said thank you and hung up.
So after this conversation, I merely went about my week. Finishing up my reading from my Problems and Methods class on Tuesday, getting my Turkish work done, and making sure that I put in a decent amount of time at my job were all my concerns. My bank account was not. I didn’t take a single moment to check it all week.
So on Friday morning I decided to finally look into my account and see what the balance was. To my awful surprise, I found that I was not only still in the negative, but I was now hundreds of dollars below zero. I went immediately to my bank to find out what had happened. In a nutshell, that negative balance from Monday never went away. My charges from the weekend cleared before my deposits ever did, resulting in overdraft fees. Overdraft fees: for any of you that have had experience of ever receiving these little gems, you’ll know they’re roughly the monetary equivalent of your bank slapping you across the face. But that’s not all. Most of the time, at least in my experience, you may over draft your account with one or two charges and have to pay one or two typically $35.00 fees. But due to my negligence and my ignorance of what my exact account balance was all week, every single charge I made from Monday to Friday accrued its own $35.00 fee. How many charges did you make this week, Matt? I’ll tell you: fourteen. Fourteen separate charges and fourteen separate fees. That’s right: $490 in banking fees just because I wasn’t smart enough to check on my account all week.
It started with the first couple of overdraft fees from Monday when my account was in the negative which were able to keep my balance low enough when the deposits cleared to have subsequent charges bring the account back down below zero. And that resulted in further fees. And from then on, every time I bought a two dollar cup of coffee, it was actually $37. Every time a check I had written someone was deposited, that amount was compounded with another fee. And on and on it went for five days. I had taken the customer service rep I had spoken to on Monday at face value, and I believed on Tuesday that my account would be fine and I’d have nothing to worry about. That was not a good decision.
The first few bank people I appealed to were unsympathetic, stating that despite what I was told on the phone, watching my account was my responsibility and therefore any fees accrued were also my responsibility. Fortunately, the third person I spoke to was different and saw that my banking record prior to this event was flawless, having never overdrawn even once. As a courtesy for that record, I was forgiven for half of my over all charges, but that still left me out almost $250. The funny part is that none of my charges were in excess of my deposits. The total amounts matched up. I never actually over-drew of my own doing, but when the first few charges came in ahead of my deposits fully clearing, it started a chain reaction of fees that destroyed my balance.
Watch your bank accounts, boys and girls. Check on them every day when you have a couple of extra minutes. There are a dozen different ways to do this without even leaving your room, from text alerts to online banking and so on. Believe me, it’s critically important that you watch every dollar because inevitably there will be some error. If I had been watching, I could have caught this on Tuesday and saved myself literally hundreds of dollars in fees. But I was distracted. Look, I understand we each have a million things to finish and half of them should have been done yesterday, but we cannot get complacent when it comes to the important aspects of our lives outside of academia and/or work. I say watch your accounts, but what I really mean is take the time to watch everything in your life. If you become too consumed with your work, things will always be missed. How you will end up paying for those mistakes will vary, but you should never find yourself in that position to begin with. It’s very easy to get into trouble. Take it from me, because I’ll never let anything go overlooked again no matter how busy I am.