Get smarter about banking with tips from the financial services industry.
1. Just because you deposited a check today doesn't mean you can start living it up tomorrow. It takes us three days on average to post the money to your account. (And why should we hurry? If you bounce a check, we collect around $30.)
Why tell you about checking accounts with higher interest rates when you're already willing to sign up for an account that pays less?
2. Yes, we know the line is long and only one teller window is open, but no, the guy in the cubicle can't come over to help out. He may not be allowed to do a teller's job.
3. Call or visit in person to resolve a problem. Filling out online forms will usually get you the by-the-book reply, but a rep will often forgive a fee over the phone so we can all just get on with our lives.
4. Unless you're Wolfgang Puck, our loan officers have pretty much decided before you walk in that you're not getting a loan for your dream bistro. But they'll let you apply for one anyway. We're not crazy about lending to nonprofits and houses of worship either. We don't want the bad publicity when we go after them.
5. Our tellers routinely press you into opening new accounts because their jobs depend on it. Banks hire “mystery” customers who secretly test whether a teller is cross-selling services.
6. Don't blame us -- it's not our fault you can't control your spending. "The bank didn't make you swipe your card or write a check that you didn't have money for," says one teller in Akron, Ohio.
7. Postdating a check rarely works. With stacks of deposits to process, we look at account names, not dates. If the check bounces, you're liable.
8. Please don't haul in plastic bags of loose change. We really don't have the time or manpower to count it. Ask for free wrappers and bring in rolled coins next time.
9. Keep receipts for every ATM transaction -- and please don't feed cash directly into the machine without first putting it into an envelope (yes, people actually do this).
10. A consumer's brain registers an immediate "Ouch!" whenever he's hit with an itemized penalty, such as a bounced-check fee, so most people keep a much higher balance in their checking accounts than necessary, says personal-finance writer Jason Zweig. "Banks make a ton of money off this mental quirk since they would have to pay interest on the money if we left it in our savings accounts, where it belongs."
11. Banks don't always promote their checking accounts with the highest interest rate. Why tell you about those when you're already willing to sign up for an account that pays less?
12. A bank has the right to pay itself back out of your next deposit for any fees or overdraft loans that you owe.
13. Sorry, we can't afford to give out free toasters anymore to new customers. Business is brutal.
Interviews by Neena Samuel
Sources: David Bach, author of Fight for Your Money (spring 2009); Jason Zweig, author of Your Money & Your Brain (2007); Jean Ann Fox, director of financial services, Consumer Federation of America; anonymous bank employees in New York, Ohio, and Texas