I’ve been a member of the Provident Central Credit Union for ten years. Provident used to be a teachers’-only credit union, and as the son of a teacher, I got a pretty awesome set of accounts with nice interest on them. Amazingly so, this above-average interest on my savings account does not balance out the travesty of customer service I encountered yesterday when I attempted to correct what I thought was an error…

This really all began on January 20th, when my checking account went negative. As with most debit/check-carded accounts, it happens from time to time, no biggie. However, as with most check card accounts, once you’re negative, that’s it. All future transactions will be met with the DECLINED response on the ol’ credit card machine. I’m used to that, and in fact, I’ve come to rely on it over the three years since the check card system began. Imagine my surprise when last week I received a letter from the credit union, stating that not only was I negative, but I was actually $231 in the red with them, and that if I didn’t bring the balance positive, they’d close the account and report me to Chexsystems. Well, I didn’t want that, and in spite of the fact that I did not have the money, I borrowed it from my mother against my unemployment check. On Tuesday, she deposited the amount plus 8 bucks. On Wedesday, I noticed my check card had not been reinstated, so I called them to ask what was up… and they responded with the statement that my check card privileges were permanently revoked based on abuse.

After I picked my jaw off the floor, I asked to speak to a manager, and I got transferred to voicemail. I left a polite message, asking for contact before close of business that day. When the phone rang two hours later, I got a rather rude woman on the other end of the line and she said, “I am returning that call you demanded from me.” So, right away this call was not going to be pleasant. I explained the information I received, and she replied stating that because of the massive abuse on my card, that my check card privileges were suspended until further notice. Well, I happen to rely on my check card for bill payments and the like… so I wanted to know what constituted abuse. She said, “In spite of your account being negative, you continued to charge on the card until the amount was over two hundred dollars.”

I said, “Okay, but my question is, why in hell did you guys continue to allow the charges to go through? And then on top of that, you kept charging me five bucks each time you did it?”

She said, “It’s a courtesy we extend to you. All of the charges were low-dollar amounts.”

I said, “Define low-dollar.”

She said, “Under twenty.”

Now I’m mad. I’m looking at my checking account record for the last 60 days, and I’m counting off a whole mess of charges, “$21.99, $49.99, $24.99… these are not under twenty dollars.”

“No, those aren’t.” Nothing more on that subject. “You have to understand that we extended that courtesy and you took advantage of it.”

“What I don’t understand is why you waited until the balance reached over two hundred dollars before you took action. Why did you let those charges go through?”

“That is how our system is programmed.”

“But you see, you let all of this go through and then piled on the fees on top of it. I’m not questioning the practice, merely trying to see how this can be called abuse when these are all automatic payments and have been for quite a while.”

“Our fees are clearly stated in the use policy.”

“Okay… I know this. I don’t think it’s abuse when you consider that my account was negative to begin with.” She didn’t reply to that, so I asked, “When can I get my card reinstated?”

“Well, that depends…”

“Listen, I’ve been a member in good standing for ten years. This is the first time this account has experienced this kind of activity and I did make good on the balance when I was properly notified. I need a check card to pay my bills.”

“Why don’t you just write checks?”

“Lady, I don’t like writing checks.. if you think /this/ is abuse, watch me write checks.” I happen to have this little problem with check-writing. I have to (read: HAVE TO) know that the money is gone and not in my account. I like static balances, and I hate pending balances with a passion. I don’t know why, but it’s the reason I use the check card. Pay the bill, boom, money gone from the account with a little note. I’m a happy camper.

A snort. “Well, I don’t see how that’s my concern…”

“How soon can I get a check card?”

“Well, first I need to see positive activity on the account…”

“How soon?”

“Ninety days.”

“Oh, that is so unacceptable. I need like five days,” I had a car payment due next Tuesday. This got fixed later, but at the time, it was important.

“After ninety days, we will reevalute your account and determine if we can trust you with a check card.”

“Okay, then I’m going to take my business to another financial institution.”

“You do that.” She hung up on me.

Oh. My. God. Needless to say, I was pissed, but some details had to be taken care of. I was alllll ready to go down to my branch, violently pull my cash from their bank and go shopping for another bank. But, I called Toyota first to let them know I was going to be late, and the guy misunderstood me and asked me when I was getting paid. I had my unemployment check in hand, but I was going to be damned if I was going to give Provident the money to hold onto any longer. The Toyota guy (for the life of me, I can’t remember his name) actually calmed me down when I explained about the bank situation. He suggested I deposit the money in the account, enter in the bank info into the web site and leave the money there for them to get on time. Then empty the account of the other monies I had in cash, and take it to the new bank. While the new bank held me in new account status for however long, I could use the old bank to cash checks and then take the money over to the new bank to deposit in cash. Cash is cash; there’s no hold period on it. If I cashed checks on the new account at the new bank, he said, there’s a 14-60 day hold on the check before I could touch it, depending on the bank I chose. I wouldn’t be able to pay bills, rent, car, nothing… so I did exactly as he suggested, and thanked him. I was already a Toyota fan, but this pretty much clinches it for me. He suggested Washington Mutual, by the way, and two other people I know sing their praises, so I’ll be going to the WaMu branch across the street from Westgate to open an account with the cash I withdrew.

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