I recently saw a bank commercial on television that was staged in a coffee shop. The idea behind the advertisement were two guys in the coffee shop, with one guy standing at the purchase counter, while the other one sat at a table manning his laptop computer. The guy at the purchase counter was showing his friend with the laptop how "cool" it was to track purchases in the coffee shop being instantly debited and recorded in Mr. Laptop's online bank account.
The guy with the laptop became somewhat confused when he could not find his drink transaction showing up in the account, so his friend rushed over to prove that indeed the purchase had been instantly pulled from his checking account after all. Once Mr. Laptop saw how fast his money was being sucked up by the coffee shop, he sent his friend back to the purchase counter to buy a donut so he could watch his account being tapped again by that purchase.
The commercial tried to leave the viewer with the impression that the idea of no float transactions through the bank was a fascinating, captivating, and must-have kind of experience. The bank wanted you to think everyone will be rushing out to get this disservice for the pure fun of watching your hard earned money disappear instantly from your account with every purchase. What's wrong with this picture? Well, when it can take up to three days of bank float time to get your deposits credited to your account, while having all your automatic bill payments and purchases instantly subtracted, it doesn't take much of a genius to look forward to a day when paycheck to paycheck living will catch up with you in terms of overdrafts, fees, and bad credit ratings due to this "cool" new perspective of service that is all for them, and none for you.
To the typical consumer, never fall for the idea that bankers are your biggest buddies. All their services are designed to lure you into allowing them to get their mits on your money, and offer you as little as possible in return for allowing them to use your funds to enrich themselves. When banks get their hands on enough money from depositors, the magical services start to disappear, or develop the sudden fee syndrome. Am I advocating that people do not use banks for their money? The answer to this question is no. Banks are a necessary part of good money management, but when a bank starts down the road of taking more from you than they give, start hollering loudly, or find a bank that is hungry enough to give you something back for using them, (which is rapidly becoming a more rare experience, thanks to interstate banking laws.) If they can figure out a way to instantly drain your funds from your account, they can sure as heck also find ways to do better at making sure you get faster credit for your deposits.
If you think these new "services" are recent ideas to make life easier, think again. Banks have had the idea of debit cards, no float transactions, interstate banking, automatic deposits, and automatic payments for decades. The reason they did not come into being before now was that the government and consumers would not let banks implement these ideas, because of the perceived threat these services represent. If you think that sticking with old fashioned checks is the way to go, the banks and merchants are a step ahead of you. Many stores have the capability of instantly debiting your account for the amount of a paper check, and handing you back your check instantly as your "receipt" for the transaction.
What's the big deal here? Well, you will certainly find out what problems these procedures present when somebody makes a mistake, intentionally abuses the system, or your control over your money is less than perfectly timed. If someone in authority suddenly decides you no longer have the money you think you have, your burden to correct the trouble can be a real nightmare. If you find yourself in financial trouble, fast and automatic are not a good combination when it comes time for you to try to decide which creditors get paid, and which ones will just have to wait. Mr. Banker, I think I'll just stay the hell out of that coffee shop.
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