September 23, 2008 9:24 PM   Subscribe

Wells Fargo just royally screwed me during one of the most difficult financial weeks of my life, putting me in a position where I won't even have food money or enough gas money to get to work -- until next TUESDAY! I'm spitting mad. My questions are twofold: 1) I want to know if there's anything I can do to turn this situation around now or do I have to just wait; 2) My money problems are temporary and I'll be in the red within a year. Is it possible to complain or make a statement about this episode with Wells Fargo that would ever be heard? Should I just bitterly move on and take my business elsewhere, feeling like a victim? 3) Do you have a bank that you recommend doing business with instead -- one that treats customers with actual respect?

Here's the sitch... like many people, I've had a bad year and found myself unemployed for a bit (have work now -- things are gradually looking up). Unfortunately, I owed some back taxes and without income I couldn't pay them yet. I talked to the IRS, and they told me they weren't going to levy.... but they lied. Suddenly one day I discovered that they took everything I had in the bank, leaving me not a penny. I had just written a bunch of small checks, and they all bounced -- something I haven't had happen to me since my twenties.

I got most of the check fees reversed and have been working my ass off to earn money to put back into my account so I can move beyond my hard times. I had $200 in my account as of last week and on Friday I went to the bank to deposit a $3000 check. The bank was CRAZY busy when I got there and I only had a half hour to spend... but 25 minutes in, the line hadn't moved and I had to get back to work. I asked a bank employee at a desk if there would be a hold put on a deposit if I put it through the ATM vs. the teller and they assured me if there wasn't a hold on similar checks in the past there would be no reason to worry about that. I've deposited from this company before and there was no hold put on the check then, so I went ahead.

Well, then I went about my life, paying for stuff. When I went to pay my mechanic this morning they said it was declined. I called the bank and they told me the check would be on hold FOR SEVEN DAYS because I'd bounced checks when the IRS did the levy I wasn't expecting. I worked hard to put money in there so I would be in the clear, and now I've bounced five more checks and they told me they couldn't lift the hold, wouldn't lift the hold.

Meanwhile, I hadn't gotten any cash back on the check... and I only have $10 on me. My gas tank had inconveniently just hit empty, as did my refrigerator... I was going to to go the market tonight. I was supposed to drive to visit a dying parent this weekend and now I don't have the gas to do that either. Needless to say, it's really upsetting.

A bit ironic... now I'm bouncing MORE checks, again unexpectedly... because they're punishing me for bouncing checks unexpectedly. I worked hard to get that $3000 check rushed to me and if I'd KNOWN they were going to hold it FOR A WEEK I would've gotten cash back or cashed it at the bank that issued it. I would never have put it through the ATM and then written checks! I'M not STUPID!!!!

I went to my bank and the "manager" there, a young latino girl, didn't want to give me the time of day to help me. She barely looked up from counting checks. I explained that I only went to the ATM because the branch was too busy on Friday. She basically responded "No it wasn't. It was dead." I told her I was there at 3pm and there was a line all the way down the hall. She said, "Well, I was at lunch then but I find that hard to believe. And I can't help you with anything through the ATM. Call customer service." When I told her I did, she just shrugged.

1.) Am I just plain screwed until Tuesday? I really needed to visit my parent and... oh... eat.

2.) Within a year, I will have at least six figures in the bank due to a property sale, and my tax problems will be over. When I do HAVE money, I don't intend to forgive Wells Fargo for how they've treated me when I DIDN'T have money. I definitely want to take my account elsewhere... but is there any way I can do so and also complain or make a statement that anyone would listen to? Would I be wasting my time to try to be heard that this is an unacceptable way to treat people.

3.) Good banks? Know of any?

posted by anonymous to Work & Money (35 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Isn't your main beef with the IRS? They're the ones who took the money from your account after saying they wouldn't. The teller told you there wouldn't be a hold on the check you were depositing without knowing you had recently bounced checks.

I assume you don't have a credit card you can use (and then pay off at the end of the month) for incidental expenses -- food and gas -- until Tuesday. So you probably need to find someone to borrow money from for a week, or not visit your parent. Asking to borrow money sucks, but maybe not as bad as not seeing your parent.
posted by Airhen at 9:36 PM on September 23, 2008

1. I thought banks had to clear checks within a certain number of days (less than a week). If you can find out for sure, you might be able to get them to release the money sooner. Otherwise, don't you have a friend or family you can bum some money from for a week?

2. As you have found out, most banks do not give a shit about their customers, particularly the huge ones. I don't think even Jed Clampett would get good service at most banks these days. If you want to complain, look into filing a complaint with your state's banking commission.

3. It would help to know where you are located. If you are anywhere near central Pennsylvania, I highly recommend Commerce Bank. I believe the same company runs banks in New Jersey, too.
posted by MegoSteve at 9:43 PM on September 23, 2008

All I can say is -- try to call customer service, ask, escalate to a manager, and explain the situation. Repeat if you can't. Generous managers will sometimes try to let this work out.
posted by suedehead at 9:52 PM on September 23, 2008

the "manager" there, a young latino girl

what do her age or race or sex have to do with whether she's a manager or "manager"?
posted by lia at 10:02 PM on September 23, 2008 [25 favorites]

2nd suedehead's advice.

For the future, you might want a credit union next time - on average they give better customer service.
posted by metahawk at 10:04 PM on September 23, 2008

If the local bank manager won't help you, ask for the regional managers mailing address and write a letter.
posted by iamabot at 10:06 PM on September 23, 2008

I also found that distracting to the main story. Do you not have a credit card?
posted by dcjd at 10:07 PM on September 23, 2008

1) If you have the title to your car you can get a payday loan. They are horribly expensive and exploitative, but you get to eat.

2) Sorta. But you are going to find tellers who make a mistake (about the hold) and managers that don't want to deal with irate customers anywhere.

3) Credit Unions are better.
posted by Bonzai at 10:25 PM on September 23, 2008

After getting hit with $200 in fees from 5/3rd due to they way the process deposits I closed my account and joined a credit union. I will never hold accounts at commercial banks again. That's probably about as close as you or I can get to sweet revenge against a bank.
posted by 517 at 11:01 PM on September 23, 2008

From the bank's perspective you're someone who doesn't pay your taxes and can't balance your checkbook. From your question it seems that the ATM deposit wasn't the reason they are holding the check; they are holding the check because you have a history of bouncing checks.

I empathize with the fact that you've had a tough year financially and the IRS levy was a surprise. If you approach the bank manager with that, then the bank manager will probably empathize also. Go in to the bank and ask for help. They may be able to shorten the hold. But do yourself a favor and leave the chip you're carrying on your shoulder at home. The "young latina", "won't forgive Wells Fargo" isn't helping. You're frustrated and this a difficult time, but anger isn't helping you reach your goals.

In the meantime - carpool, borrow from friends if you can, clean out your cupboards of whatever food is available.
posted by 26.2 at 11:29 PM on September 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

I left Wells Fargo when they took 6 days to clear one of their own checks.

Smaller blanks are better. Try a credit union or a local specialty bank. I left for a bank that does primarily business banking and get wonderful service. They (My local branh) even called be before I was going to bounce a check. They then took me at my word that I would cover it before the end of the day, covered the check themselves in the meantime and didn't charage me a fee.

You'll need to talk to an expert about the IRS's deeds, though in my experience they generally over document everything rather than do something without telling you. You're probably SOL on the fees, but a professional can see what recourse you have.

Call up your branch manager when you are calm and politely explain the situation. And stay calm. No mater what they say. If you go all CapsLock on them they'll tell you to take a hike, because frankly, they got you by the short curlies and are frankly in the right according to the banking agreement you signed with them. For that mater the IRS probably is too.

You should be going around looking for forgiveness, not revenge.

In the short term: sell some shit on Craigslist or sell some used CDs, DVDs or video games. It'll be enough for ramen until Tuesday.
posted by Ookseer at 11:30 PM on September 23, 2008 [3 favorites]

Escalate the issue. It'll get passed off to someone else (like me, in my old position at WF), but you should be able to get the hold removed as long as they can verify the funds have cleared the originating bank.
posted by logic vs love at 12:03 AM on September 24, 2008

You need to stop writing cheques, they don't work for you. The solution to your painful week is just to live through it. Borrow cash off a friend, sell something quickly, whatever.

(Anyone suggesting credit cards as a solution to this person's problems needs their head read.)
posted by The Monkey at 12:24 AM on September 24, 2008

Also, for future references:

...money problems are temporary and I'll be in the red within a year.

You're currently in the red... You'll (hopefully) be in the black within a year.
posted by benzo8 at 1:03 AM on September 24, 2008

Banks are companies. They have customers, and they have shareholders. It's the business of the bank to divert as much of their customers' money to their shareholders as they possibly can without actually losing those customers.

Credit unions are mutuals. The customers are the shareholders. That means credit union management does not have two different groups of people to satisfy whose interests are fundamentally at odds, which means that management is not driven insane. Credit unions generally look after their customers and their staff better than banks do.

I've done all my banking with my credit union for the last twenty years. Dealing with the credit union is actually pleasant. I wouldn't use a bank again.
posted by flabdablet at 1:20 AM on September 24, 2008

Oh Wells Fargo. I spent a summer in CA a couple of years ago (I'm from Ireland) and at the end of the summer went in to a branch to withdraw money and close a temporary account I had created with Wells. It went fine, the teller asked for my passport, looked at it, my account details and my face, gave me the (substantial amount of) money, and closed my account.

It wasn't until I left that I opened my passport and realised she had ID'd me using my friend's passport. Who unsurprisingly has a different name and face, and indeed hair colour to me.

So yeah. Wells Fargo.
posted by unbearablylight at 3:48 AM on September 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

On the IRS--my own limited experience calling them is:
They are informative and helpful about what YOU should do.
The information about what THEY will do is not trustworthy. At all.
posted by hexatron at 4:57 AM on September 24, 2008

Do banks really need to hold checks for so long?

The legislation mentioned in that article appears to have died in committee. Regulation CC lets a bank hold fund for up to 5 days if they want, longer in some situations, for example if there's a history of the account being overdrawn.

The length of those holds (note that they can be up to 11 days in some cases) is still controversial. Bank critics have claimed that arbitrary hold on customer funds are simply ways to increase bad check charges on customers, and that the length of the hold is a lot longer than what is actually necessary to confirm that the funds are good. Given the attention that the finance industry in general is getting right now, I wouldn't be surprised if Congress takes another attempt at tightening the regulations.

So, if you end up writing letters, remember to include your representatives in Congress.
posted by gimonca at 5:11 AM on September 24, 2008

(Couple of bits of speculation: if they put a hold on the deposit because of previous history on your account, using the ATM versus going to a teller window might not have made any difference--the hold would have happened anyway. Also, we don't know all the details here, but my understanding is that if the check was from outside the area serviced by your Federal Reserve, and you have a history of bad checks, they could have held the funds for up to 11 days...that's well into October, if you count that as 11 working days.)
posted by gimonca at 5:22 AM on September 24, 2008

Get a cash advance on your credit card to get you through until next Tuesday.

Do the paperwork. Write a letter to Wells Fargo explaining in as low-key and matter-of-fact way as possible what has happened and explaining that you will be coming into money at the end of the year and, at this point, intend to take your business elsewhere. Look into the possibility of registered complaints with the official bodies. Work on getting your bounced cheque penalties reversed, and make absolutely sure the money is in your account before you write any more.

And repeat after me, "As frustrating as this is, it's just a big inconvenience rather than a real problem, and it will pass."
posted by orange swan at 6:02 AM on September 24, 2008


You need an emergency (savings) fund. So if anything happens you can pay for food, gas, rent and your car repair without having to worry about a check clearing or being placed on hold when a bout of unemployment occurs. I think that is the lesson to be learned here.
posted by Asherah at 6:02 AM on September 24, 2008

Fuck banks. Go with a credit union.
posted by caution live frogs at 6:26 AM on September 24, 2008

The ATM usually only adds 24 hours of hold time over a teller. The diff is that a teller can get the manager to clear the hold on the spot.
posted by BrotherCaine at 6:28 AM on September 24, 2008

People... speaking from personal experience, some folks develop tax problems when they are independent contractors and don't have a good accountant. Unemployment on top of a tax bill is awful... and I'm saying that because yes, I've been there. Having tax problems doesn't necessarily mean someone is Wesley Snipes and arrogantly doing it on purpose or to shirk their duty. Sometimes it's because someone is simply kinda clueless with taxes. Yeah, it sucks and you take responsibility for it and learn your lesson.

In the meantime, way to be nasty with someone who's going through a tough time and asking for advice. Think about it, maybe "manager" was in quotes because the OP, who is upset, was trying to make the point in describing that the woman didn't act like a manager... why assume it was due to racism? Yeah, maybe the OP should've left "latino" off but perhaps they were just purely describing someone that had just ticked them off. I really do hate that you can't even describe a person anymore without worrying about that hypersensitivity. And I say that as a latino woman / white girl.

Anyhooooo, I've heard the same about credit unions, although when I was with a credit union their rate of return wasn't very good on my savings compared to other banks so you should probably check that out. I hate my bank though so can't give any advice.
posted by miss lynnster at 6:47 AM on September 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

When you're comparing rates of return on savings and rates of interest on loans between credit unions and banks, it's often worth also looking at fees and charges.

Typically, credit unions will charge fees at lower rates, and for fewer things, than banks. This is because it's in the members' best interests for the operation of the CU to be simple, transparent and fair - unlike bank shareholders, who are far better served by attracting customers with bright shiny interest rate numbers in order to fleece them with fees and charges on everything.

That said, there are clearly credit unions and credit unions, and it always pays to shop around.
posted by flabdablet at 7:35 AM on September 24, 2008

Don't know if you saw this or not, but if you feel the need to escalate to the top of Wells Fargo, Consumerist posted how to contact the top people at Wells Fargo.
posted by lilkeith07 at 7:45 AM on September 24, 2008

Hold on a second, the bank didn't screw you - you screwed the bank. You are at fault, you were in the wrong. You owed back taxes and you were the one who didn't pay them. You were the one who created your financial situation and, althought it is tough, you are the one who created your situation. The more you blame the bank, the easier it is for you to complain rather than look for the solutions to you financial problem.

Again, take a look at yourself from the bank perspective - you, yourself, are not a good customer. You owe taxes, you wrote a bunch of bad checks, you overdrew and affected the banks ability to fund its own loans, etc. Stop making the assumption that you deserve special and decent treatment because, frankly, you don't.

If you don't have a credit card (which I'll be very surprised at and that would scream a million red flags to me), then you will need to borrow money from friends or family and you'll need to invest in ramen noodles. Next time don't write bad checks, receive all tax communication with the IRS in writing, talk to regional bank managers (or other managers) when problems arrive and don't be a racist twit when you talk about employees at the bank.
posted by Stynxno at 7:55 AM on September 24, 2008 [3 favorites]

I would call and calmly explain the situation. I've had many fees refunded by my bank simply by asking. Be nice and be honest, don't get hostile. Remember their name and use it while speaking to them. If that person can't help you, thank them and then ask if you can speak to someone who can.

"Thank you for your time, (their name), I understand you can't help me with this. Would you be able to connect me with someone else who might be in a position to help me clear up this situation?"

Remember, these people have jobs too and you are just another person to deal with. If it were you, would you want to deal with someone who is agitated and rude, or would you rather help someone who is sorry for the confusion and wants to work to clear things up in a calm and timely manner.

In the meantime, you might have to do some scrounging to eat. I've been there, it sucks. Just thinking about having to eat Ramen again makes me sick. I once ate peanut butter sandwiches for two straight weeks because of an oversight with my finances post college.

Stop writing checks until your account settles. Alert businesses you owe that you will pay them, but you are having problems with your account. Sometimes, they will ask you to give them a date when you can pay the money. Give them an honest date and then make sure you pay them on time.

Don't take a cash advance on your credit card if at all possible. Credit companies are just another entity that want to screw people with fees. Many times cash advances carry more than twice the standard percentage rate on the card.

Stay away from Paycheck Advancement places as well.

Do what you can to hunker down and weather this storm. Sit down and write out your finances so you can grasp what's going on. The less you can spend right now, the better off you'll be once this is cleared up.

As far as your parent is concerned, ask a coworker if they can drive you or if you can borrow gas money. Or, put an ad on Cragislist asking for a ride. You never know, someone might be headed that way.
posted by studentbaker at 7:57 AM on September 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Also, remember that you don't always have to go up the chain of command when speaking to businesses. Sometimes, all it takes is calling back and getting a different person who is not having a bad day or just more compassionate.
posted by studentbaker at 8:09 AM on September 24, 2008

I went to my bank and the "manager" there, a young latino girl

Have you ever considered that the problem may not be the evil conspiring banks, but your own bad attitude?
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:14 AM on September 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

What happened to you isn't unusual or (apparently) illegal. WaMu did worse to my wife when we got married. I'll see if I can remember all this. She moved up to where I was, opened an account, got a job. A month after that she deposited a paycheck. Two weeks after that she wrote some checks. They bounced. According to WaMu, if your account is new (up to a month) they can put a hold on deposits (up to two weeks). So a day or so before the month was up she deposited a paycheck, which they held for two weeks. A day or so before that two weeks was up, she wrote checks. And they bounced.

Every experience I've had with WaMu has told me that they're a steaming pile of awfulness compared to Wells Fargo. If you've been watching the recent banking debacle, you may also have noted that WaMu is horribly mismanaged compared to Wells Fargo. So I'm sorry if you had trouble with WF, but make sure you don't jump somewhere much worse.
posted by madmethods at 9:04 AM on September 24, 2008

If you really have no money and no food that is exactly the sort of situation your local emergency food pantry can help with. Some of those places can also provide public transportation passes, so you could get away without buying gas for a little while as well.
posted by hydropsyche at 9:23 AM on September 24, 2008

On the food front $10 can stretch pretty far, especially if you aren't worried about nutrition just calories. First hit your local food bank. Then depending on what they give you supplement with your cash. $10 will buy 10-20 lbs of potatoes (an almost complete food all by themselves), a swack load of rice, several pounds of pasta, or even 10-15 loaves of bread at the discount place.

If you've got the time at least a few missions/churches in any town will allow you to "sing for you food" by trading lunch or dinner for sitting through a sermon.

On the gas front many supermarkets/department stores around here have both gas bars and immediate approval for in store cards. Considering you'll have the cash once your cheque clears this isn't a totally bad trade off, especially if you'll lose your job otherwise.
posted by Mitheral at 10:04 AM on September 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

3.) Good banks? Know of any?

No. A simple rule of thumb is: If it is a bank, it will screw you at every turn.
If you want banking without the pain, you are looking for a credit union.
posted by -harlequin- at 10:47 AM on September 24, 2008

Some of the same food banks and churches that can help with food also can provide gas vouchers. Probably not enough to visit your parent, I'm sorry to say, but enough to keep getting to a job and home. Maybe they'd help a little extra if you swallow some pride and explain your circumstances. I understand, really I do, that it's a hard thing to do when you've been working again and are proud to think you're back on your feet. These same folks may want to see what your rent is and your utility bills, etc. Please don't think they're being rude or intrusive. They just want to make sure they're helping someone who really needs it rather than someone who just didn't feel like paying for running their AC instead of leaving the windows open and sweating a little.

I'm not trying to be rude here, either. Just letting you know.

Going back to the bank is also a good idea. When you're upset, it's hard for the folks who you are talking to, as well as yourself. They can't tell if you're really stressed out or just some really aggressive person. They aren't trained for that, honestly. So the advice to go back and be calmer seems very good advice to me, regardless of who is manager in charge at the time. Just state your case as calmly as you can. If the manager can't help, calmly ask for the name of the supervisor and then make an appointment with that person. It's all a big pain, I know, but that's how this stuff works.

It's difficult to view our own financial stuff objectively, but that's what banks do. All they see is the numbers. I switched my own bank to a more local one after a mega-bank bought out my previous bank that I had 20 years of history with. The same mega-bank also nickled and dimed my very small savings account into nothingness with service fees that had never been charged previously. They had sent a notice, but by my own fault, I didn't catch the mention of service fees, so it was my fault in the end. Shop around.
posted by lilywing13 at 9:37 PM on September 24, 2008

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