Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The trials and tribulations of banking for the poor

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The trials and tribulations of banking for the poor

I have a friend who is handicapped slightly physically and slightly mentally. She's a good person but she has to have someone serve as her "Designated Payee" for her disability payments.

So they asked me to help.

She set up her own account at TCF Bank on Archer Avenue. It's close to where she lives and uses an ATM card to access funds. That makes life a little bit easier for her to buy food and other necessities each month.

As the Designated Payee, I have to receive the checks, put them in an account set up for her benefit and then manage the funds each month so she doesn't give the money away or lose the money. She's done that before.

One time I took her to Jewel to buy groceries. We were at the cashier's register and she was with the basket of bagged food as I was busy paying for it. When I looked over, Is aw that she was giving food from her basket that we just purchased to another homeless man. She was helping him shove the food into his coat jacket.

I asked her, "What are you doing with your food?"

She turned to me and said, "Ray, he doesn't have any money and he needs food."

I told her, "You don't have any money and you need food."

The handicapped, homeless, the poor and the disabled are always very generous, but I had to make the point what she has, she needs.

That's why it's good to have a designated payee.

To make life easier, I figured in this world of computer technology, I would set up an account at TCF Bank and then connect it online to her bank account to help expedite the movement of money. For the poor and disabled, getting their money and disability checks efficiently makes their lives more comfortable and easier.

When they have no money, they just don't eat. I've seen her where she looked malnourished and scrawny. I'd go get her some chicken sandwiches from White Castles or Wendys -- these fast food restaurants are not the most nourishable places, but you just don't have much choice. Good restaurants are just too expensive and they take forever to make food. She already eats all the time at Subway.

So, I went to TCF Bank and opened an account to have her Social Security Disability checks deposited there under the Designated Payee name given to me by the Government.

Seemed simple. I could have the checks automatically deposited in the account, now that it is set up, and then go online when she needs money and transfer funds so she can get food if she runs out of money before I can see her.

They told me I could connect the new accounts to her accounts, once everything was set up.

It sounded great in theory. TCF Bank boosts that it gives you free checking. I set up a checking account and a savings account for her deposits.

The next day, I went online to transfer funds. Of course, it didn't work. I waited a few days and tried it again. Again, it wouldn't work.

Turns out I can't connect the accounts I set up with her accounts, unless I give her access. That defeats the purpose of a designated payee. She would just take out all the money and give it to people she thinks are needier than her, and she would starve to death.

Then i discovered the most disturbing part of banking at TCF Bank.

The employees are all courteous and good people. So nice. Believe me. This isn't about them. But their system sucks. TCF Bank requires an 18 day hold on all deposits into the Savings Account.

Now you tell me!

So for the past 18 days, I have been paying her rent and her food bills from my pocket because once we deposited the Disability check into the new account, we couldn't touch it for 18 days. We did it on the 5th, so the bank said I probably have to wait until Sept. 23 to access the funds.

They'd let me take a little.


That's NOT a solution It's NOT helpful.

I was at the bank and saw all these poor people bringing in cans of coins they were processing through the coin counters int he lobby and wondered how much the bank must charge to convert their pennies, nickels and dimes into dollar bills. It made me feel sad.

I drove to Harris Bank and within a few minutes, set up a new account so the disability checks can be deposited automatically when they are issued on the 3rd of each month.

Guess what? Harris bank said the money would be accessible ON THE SAME DAY it is deposited. And they gave me a free overdraft policy to cover any overdrafts.

Last month she over drafted a check for $2 and had to pay a $37 fee to TCF Bank. Yikes! That's why I have to help her. And then she told me each time she withdraws money using her ATM card, she has to pay a fee, too.

That's what needy people need. They need it right away. There is no 401 K savings, or stock market investments or long term CDs with high interest rates for them. They don't have any money. They need to be able to use what little they have to cover their expenses and put food in their mouths.

The past month has been insufferable as I wait for the disability money to become available so she can use it to cover her expenses. It's been so frustrating, I had to share this experience.

I'm not mad at TCF Bank. But clearly, they really don't understand the people they service, especially those who live on accounts measured in pennies, nickels and dimes.

Later this week, I will be able to start depositing money into her account, to manage it so she spends it properly and doesn't feel at one moment like she has so much she can give it away to other needy people. I divide it by each week of the month so she will only have that portion she needs after her rent is paid. (The rent payment check for last month bounced because TCF Bank said the money wasn't available yet.)

Understanding the people you serve is important.

But I think society needs to do more and start thinking about the people out there who are poor and on limited, fixed incomes. They should have to pay $37 when they overdraw their account by a few dollars. That's immoral.

We need to help the poor. Banks should give them free accounts and make the money available immediately, not make them wait weeks.

And they should eliminate fees for ATMs on designated accounts belonging to the poor and indigent.

It just seems like the right thing to do.


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