By Mordechai Schmutter
If you think it’s a hassle to open a bank account, just try closing one. We did. It takes forever.
Opening an account takes forever too. First of all, they have, not one, but two chairs on your side of the desk. That’s how you know it’s going to be a while. “This is going to be a while. Perhaps you’d better sit down.” Then they make you sign thousands of little pieces of paper, one at a time, and after you sign each one, the guy runs to the back and comes back with another one.
They sit at their desk and set up accounts all day, but they don’t have everything they need right there? They have to keep going to the boss?
“He wants to open an account,” they say in a hushed whisper. “What do I do?”
“How about doing what you do every day?”
“Okay, I’ll try. See you in a minute.”
To be honest, I want to have an account with whatever bank takes the quickest to set up accounts. If I walk into a bank to set up an account, and it takes two hours when all I want to do is hand them money and say, “I’m leaving this with you. Do whatever you want with it until I get back,” then there’s no way anything else with them is going to be easy. But usually, we pick banks based on location, so that we can occasionally go and visit our money. It’s not a lot of money. It gets lonely.
Okay, so that’s not the only factor. We also pick banks based on the various features that they offer, which is why my wife dragged me out this morning to close our old business account.
We’d opened the account a few years ago, around the time I started my freelance writing business, the logic being that we wanted to have separate personal and business accounts so we could send ourselves paychecks. You’d think that if we already had the money, why would we have to send it to ourselves? But the answer is that we need the paper trail. Basically, there are times that we have to officially prove to other people how much money we make.
“We make x.”
“OK, look at this stub. See? Every once in a while we receive all this money! From ourselves!”
But at some point, we got sick of this particular bank’s policies, so we opened a new account somewhere else, stopped depositing money in this bank, and used whatever was in there to pay bills, until eventually we’d whittled our balance down to $1.52, which was too small to pay any of our bills, but not quite worth it to spend an hour at the bank to close the account. And we haven’t touched that account since. We’ve just had our $1.52 sitting in there, earning interest. In a couple of years, we figured, we’d have $1.53.
But then recently, the bank sent out letters, which they figured no one would read, that they were going to start charging people who had less than a certain amount in the bank. If you had less than $2,000, it would cost you $15 a month. So my wife dragged me over to the bank this morning. There’s no way we’re going to pay a bank 15 bucks to hold on to our $1.52 that our kids would hold on to for free.
But yeah. Apparently, the bank charges us money for not having money. Like that’s our fault. Okay, so maybe it’s partially our fault, but it’s also partially their fault, because they’re charging us. They’re not part of the solution here.
Why are you charging me for not having money? How do you suppose I’m going to pay this bill?
Also, if you have to leave $2,000 in there that you’re not allowed to touch, ever, isn’t that like you’re paying them $2,000?
Sure, you can eventually take it out when you close the account. But there’s no way they’re going to make it easy for you to close it, especially if you’re the type of customer who has over $2,000 with them. Even when we tried to close our account of $1.52 they didn’t make it easy. For one thing, the woman helping us kept getting up and disappearing into the back.
“Sir, they want to close their account. What do I do?”
The bank is like a shoe store. Everything’s in the back. They keep their money in the back; they keep their manager in the back. He’s just sitting on a pile of money, holding a scepter.
We eventually got our $1.52, which covered the cost of parking. We were parked for quite a while.
“I have to run out to the meter. Do you have any quarters?”
“No, we don’t have quarters.”
“You’re a bank; you have quarters.”
“Let me get one from the back.”
At some point, while we were waiting for our $1.52 to get in from another planet, I asked my wife, “Why not just let the bank keep it?” And my wife said, “Because they’re not going to take it; it’s not theirs. They’ll just roll it over and start charging us for the fact that it’s not $2,000.” It turns out that the bank’s very honest about not pocketing your $1.52 if it means they can charge you $15.
We’re not giving up bank accounts altogether, though. We do have other bank accounts. There are definitely benefits to having money in a bank. For example, they keep your money safe. Though I’m not sure how it’s safe. Doesn’t every criminal already know that banks have money in them? Maybe the person they’re actually keeping it safe from is you.
And anyway, the bank doesn’t actually keep your money there. They lend it out. It’s like if you leave your car with a valet, and then, while you’re at the chasunah, he rents it out to people for joy rides.
See, this is why you need banks. They can lend out your money. You can’t lend out your money, because (a) You’re not actually supposed to charge interest, so you’re basically lending it out for free, and (b) You can’t just advertise in the paper, “Looking to lend out money. Here’s my address.” That’s not going to end well.
But banks are much better at finding people to lend money to. They don’t lend money to anyone unless they’re 100% sure they can pay it back. They only lend it to people who have money, but for some reason need your money because they can’t access their own, because, for example, it’s tied up in a bank account that will charge them a fee if they try to remove it.
So why is the bank charging you? Your money isn’t even there. It’s not like it’s renting a room in the back. They lend it out. You’re not “keeping money in the bank.” They call it that to make it sound like they’re doing you a huge favor. “Oh, your money’s too heavy? We’ll hold it for you.”
No, you’re lending the bank money. Only the bank doesn’t need your money. They’re a bank. Those tellers are bringing home thousands of dollars a week. So they take your money and lend it out to people you don’t even know, and charge them interest. (Quite possibly, they’re actually lending people their own money.)
And then the bank hopes that those people pay them back sometime before you come back to ask for your money. Maybe that’s what’s taking so long. They’re in the back, making frantic phone calls: “He wants his $1.52 back. Can you come by and drop it off? I’ll stall him.”
Though I don’t really know if that’s how they lend it out—using your exact money. Is it like buying puppies in a window? Are they like, “Do you want to borrow this guy’s money? It’s $2,500. Or do you want to borrow this guy’s money? It comes from a good home, non-smoking, but it’s $1.52.”
That’s not how it works. They just lump your money in with everyone else’s, until you can’t really tell whose money is whose anymore. But who cares, right? All money is the same. So the money you see later is not necessarily the same money you gave them. It’s like if you drop two kids off at a babysitter, and then, at the end of the day, she gives you two back.
“Um, these aren’t my kids.”
“They’re the same age. It’s good enough. Look, maybe these are better! This one’s a girl.”
No, they don’t do it, because you’re attached to your kids. So I’m saying it’s probably best not to get attached to your money.
But the point is that if it’s one lump sum anyway, why on earth do they care that less of it is mine?
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of four books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.