Bank of America Breakdown

Author: April 27th 2010 5:18 pm

I have a check written out to me from a local Nashville company, drawn on their Bank of America account. I no longer have a personal BOA account (thankfully) but I’ve never had a problem cashing a BOA check at a BOA branch, since that’s a pretty standard transaction. Regions is notorious in my mind for charging $5 per-check if you don’t have a Regions account, which they upped to $7 about a month ago. This whole concept of charging a fee to cash checks drawn on their customers’ accounts is fairly new, and many bank customers don’t understand that their own checks are potentially costing their payee money. I for one would be enraged if I found out my bank was stealing money intended for the person to whom I wrote a check, but that’s just me.

Back to my check situation: I walked into a BOA branch trying to cash this paycheck. This wasn’t my first rodeo so I immediately dropped my right thumbprint on the check front and slid my license under the glass. The teller asked if I had an account and I said no, but mentioned that I was thinking of getting an account somewhere soon (which was the case at that moment.) His eyes lit up at the opportunity to nab a new-account commission as he walked me through the amazing benefits of having my very own BOA accounts – personal AND business. After all, why should I be operating as a measly independent contractor/DBA/sole-proprietorship when I could become "a real business"? I thanked him for the advice, accepting the business card he on which he had written "BUSINESS CHECKING FREE!"

What was I there for again? Oh yeah – cashing checks. The teller punched some keys, waited, more keys, then let out a sigh. "We’re going to have to charge you $6 for non-relationship transactions" he regretted, obviously not understanding that I do in fact have a very long, rocky "relationship" with BOA. "We just started doing that, I’m sorry. It doesn’t seem right really." "No kidding" I added, "but I know Regions has been doing that for at least a few months." "We all do it now," he confirmed. In a hurry and not wanting to press my luck, I conceded, "… just take it out of the check."

More key punching and waiting went by, then he calmly walked over to a doorman’s bell sitting on a filing cabinet and rang it loudly. "What did I win?", I laughed. However slightly amused, he straightened his face and told me he needed to ask his superior about a problem with the signature. Apparently the signee (one of the partners of the business who wrote me the check) hadn’t signed any checks recently so they couldn’t compare the signature to anything. "He’s on the signatory list, but we can’t verify the signature so I can’t cash it." "Um… want me to get him on the phone?" I asked. "That won’t be necessary, my superior can override it." I stood there waiting, looking through my iPhone for the email messages from both partners (and signatories) of the company which clearly describe the details of the check transaction since I thought those might help eventually (spoiler alert: they didn’t.) Assuming everything was going well, the teller literally started counting out my money when we both seemed to notice the woman approaching him. They spoke briefly (and quietly) before she left and he turned back to me. "She denied the override," the teller lamented. "You see, we’re on a brand new system, and the requirements for this type of transaction are more strict now. But I do have an idea," he added. I was listening. His plan was to try to cash the check on the one remaining terminal which still used the legacy system. He handed me off to another woman who ran the check through her machine. "Ooooh, yeah I should probably call this in since we can’t verify the…" I cut her off, "SIGNATURE – yeah I know. Look I’ve got these emails right here from both signatories talking about this very check, can’t you just read those real fast and not have to bother these dudes?" She looked confused. "Nevermind, call him: (646) 262…" She stopped me and said they had to call the number on file. "Fine."

The phone rang, she explained that she was from BOA and there was someone trying to cash a check they had written. No surprise there! She asked the guy to verify the amount (noting that telling him the amount would be a major breach of security, right?) After she was satisfied with the legitimacy of the transaction, she began apologizing for having to call him, framing it as some kind of account security feature – not just a bullshit hassle or another example of the breakdown of trust between banks and actual people. She might as well have ended the conversation with "You’re welcome!"

Now that we were VERY SURE that I’m not a criminal trying to commit check fraud, they could fork over my cash – or so I thought. "Do you have a second form of identification on you?" she asked. I cringed. "A credit card or ATM card will be fine." "I don’t have those," I told her, mentioning the now-ironic bank account tips I had just received from the other guy. I offered my PADI scuba certification card (a photo ID which is NOT issued by a financial institution) but was rejected. Kroger plus cards are also not valid identification apparently. I let my passport expire last year after swearing off foreign travel for the foreseeable future because of a bad European trip, so basically I was shit out of luck. "Yeah, we’re just going to need to go ahead and get a second form of ID for this transaction. Our new policy is to get those for checks over $1000," she said, doing her best Bill Lumberg impression. Realizing then that I really wasn’t going to leave there with any cash in hand, I deadpanned "No it’s my fault – I’ll earn less money next time." "Well, we wouldn’t want to do that would we?" she laughed. "I’m actually really damn hungry right now lady, so yeah – we would want to do that. Give me my check back and I’ll just get my girlfriend to deposit it in her account." I snatched the check and walked out – one full hour and zero dollars later.

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