• Posts Tagged ‘financial infidelity’

    Taking a Break from Monogamy

    by  • May 19, 2010 • Tagged: ,  • Comments

    chaseatms.jpg

    photo: TheTruthAbout…

    It started, like all dalliances do, because I was having problems with my partner. My needs weren’t being met. My list of little dissatisfactions was growing longer — an irritation there, an annoyance there, and suddenly my eye started wandering off toward other options.

    Then Charles showed up. "Talk to me," he campaigned. It was tempting.

    So I did it. I snuck some money out of my bank account and handled it over. And it was great! So I kept doing it, on the sly, and suddenly there I was, months in, turning into someone I never thought I’d be: A two-bank-account gal.

    OK, I’m being melodramatic, but it’s also fairly true. Monogamy is our cultural default for marriage, and it was always my default for banking relationships. I like simplicity, and my financial situation is pretty straightforward: One income-generating job with biweekly paychecks, some scant savings, basic retirement accounts, and small bits of occasional freelance income. I don’t have investment accounts, multiple revenue streams, trust funds or any of the exotic complexities that would require more complicated arrangements.

    So it literally never occurred to me that I could split my everyday checking account up and store parts of it at two different banks. Until I accidentally did it.

    I’m a serial monogamist with banks: I go all-in with one and love it to bits until the inevitable smash-up. Things always end badly. Since college, I’ve opened accounts with three different banks. Two were shut down by the FDIC; one got bought by a rival and shut down. When my last bank, WaMu, got whacked, I was tossed to the wolves at Chase.

    I tried to make things work with Chase. I was tired of account-hopping. Chase can’t get shut down by the FDIC, I figured — I’m pretty sure that right before Armageddon it’ll be having a steel-cage match with Bank of America for dominion over the American economy. I liked having an ATM on every street corner. (Literally! Chase has ATMs in every Duane Reade drugstore in NYC, and there is a Duane Reade on the same street as every office or apartment I’ve inhabited.)

    And for a few months, Chase put on its best manners for us WaMu refugees. It was in full suitor mode, keeping our account terms the same and offering incentives to stay put.

    But then the fees started. And the half-truths. Just months after promising not to charge for outside ATM withdrawls — WaMu’s entire raison d’être for many customers — Chase slipped an "oh actually we’re gonna charge ATM fees" line into the itty-bitty fine print of my monthly statement.

    When I found out, I started planning the divorce. I always said I wouldn’t stay on those terms — I have an irrational hatred of ATM fees.

    So I went looking for someone who would treat me right, who wouldn’t charge fees, and Charles Schwab ended up on my short list. I decided to give it a whirl, and opened an account. My plan was always to get things set up at Schwab and then give Chase the boot. It would be cathartic, like showing up with the U-Haul and clearing out.

    But there was one tiny complication: My soon-to-be-ex had a few addictive qualities I kept wanting to take advantage of just one last time. Like those 14,000 ATMs Chase has plastering the U.S. ATMs that don’t even need deposit envelopes when they suck in your checks! And branches — branches every 200 feet!w

    "I won’t make the switch until we finish buying the apartment," I told myself. "I’ll keep two accounts open just a tad bit longer …"

    And then, like a lightening bolt, it hit me: I could keep both. As long as I wanted.

    Sophisticated money managers will laugh at this, I know. There are personal finance-bloggers who play bank-account arbitrage, strafing the landscape with new accounts to take advantage of minute differences in rates and terms. But I’ve never been like that; I like things simple, basic and traditional. So these past few months have been heady.

    Suddenly, I am a Sophisticated Financial Personage, with two accounts. I have choices. If I want to wire money, or withdraw cash, or even just talk to a teller, I can pick where I want to go.

    Here’s the practical details. (That’s how it always seems to be when you take the scary leap from monogamy to polyamory — first, there’s the big rush of excitement; then your life gets consumed by logistics.) This approach only works because of an unusual quirk: Like most banks, Chase charges monthly maintenance fees unless you maintain a set minimum balance or have direct paycheck deposits, but unlike most banks, Schwab doesn’t. So I can keep my Schwab account alive, for free, no matter how little activity it has.

    I’ve kept my biweekly paychecks going to Chase, but I siphoned off a few hundred dollars to keep parked at Schwab. That means anytime I want to withdraw cash from a non-Chase ATM, I can use my Schwab card to do it, fee-free. I’ve essentially turned my Schwab account into a savings account. I’m using it to isolate cash I’d like to keep stashed, and when I withdraw cash, I transfer money out of my Chase account to replenish the Schwab balance (free, but it typically takes 2-3 days to clear).

    Right now, this approach is working brilliantly. I’d be happy to keep it up indefinitely.

    But I’m also on guard against Chase making yet more changes to its account terms, in ways that will irritate me further. Most Chase accounts charge a monthly fee unless you keep a minimum balance on hand. If they start pulling that, I’m gone. My little feathered Schwab nest is all ready to become my main account.

    Like most people with a bit on the side, I’m casting a pretty critical eye these days on my primary partner.

    Relationships and Finances: Please Give A Reader Advice!

    by  • October 31, 2008 • Tagged: , , ,  • Comments

    If there’s something I love about you, our dear readers, it is that you always give solid advice (even if we don’t agree with it). I once again ask for your wise words to help out another reader. He writes:

    Before we got married, I asked my wife how much debt she had. She was very vague, but after some push and pull I got a rough number of “about $15K,” not counting her student loans and car loan. That was quite a bit compared to the nearly zero debt I aim to maintain. But I figured that probably wasn’t too extreme since the two of us make over $50K/year in salary each.

    Well fast forward to after the wedding and move to a new city for both of us. It took her a while to find a job in the new city, but she did find an entry level position just to have SOMETHING. A few months working there and she finally found a job in her chosen field making about the same as what she made before we moved.

    During this time, she kept asking me for money to help pay her bills. I lovingly helped her because I see the marriage as a joint venture. What affects her affects me. She’s been working at this higher paying job now for about 5 months and she’s still asking me for money.

    After the attempted calm and rational conversation escalated to a LOT of pushing and pulling, and then to a full on screaming from her direction, I FINALLY discovered the truth. Counting her student loan and car loan and ALL of her credit cards, she has almost $100K of debt! Her MINIMUM monthly payments on her credit cards alone are more than $1,000/month. All 5 of her credit cards are maxed out. Her paychecks go toward minimum payments and then whatever she has left over go toward frivolous purchases like knick-knacks, new shoes, clothes, and purses.

    She doesn’t see anything wrong with what she’s doing not only to herself but to me and US! I’ve tried taking her credit cards away from her and sitting down with her to talk budget but she absolutely refuses. Now we are losing money left and right. We can still pay the bills, but BARELY. I’ve had to dip into my savings and I also had to use all of the inheritance I got from my late mother just to stay afloat. Her only reason for not talking with me is “my parents fought about money and that’s why they divorced.” I would think NOT talking about money is worse than arguing about it.

    I’ve been making all the payments on the mortgage and utilities. She hasn’t contributed toward them at all because she can’t afford to. If I had known the extent of her debt, I never would have bought this house. I’ve been looking at debt consolidation and even bankruptcy and other means of trying to lower her monthly payments but everything I’ve seen says we have to fall behind in those payments and not be able to even make the minimum payments before any of that will even apply to us.

    Do you have any advice for me? I’ve tried getting her to talk to me or even a financial planner but the financial planner seminar that is coming to town that she did agree to go to isn’t for another 6 months. We will be flat broke by then.

    Financial Infidelity

    by  • October 27, 2008 • Tagged:   • Comments

    This week I am broken-hearted because I learned that financial infidelity has struck my family.

    My brother is in the military and has spent the last few years deployed in very dangerous places. He has a wife and children, so he had prepared for the worst and left legal power of attorney documents for his wife, to be used in case of emergency. While he was away, his wife opened accounts in his name without his permission, ran up massive debts, and hid the entire problem from my brother. He did not learn of this until he returned to the U.S. and discovered that they were bankrupt and losing their home. The money he had sent home was used to make frivolous purchases.

    Because of the seriousness of the financial catastrophe, my brother and his family were unable to attend our wedding.

    My brother did not want us to worry about him or to spend our wedding money helping him out, so he did not tell us why they could not attend. He made up a story about having to work that weekend. It hurt me greatly not to have him there. I thought it was because he did not care.

    This week my brother called me to tell me the truth. He is a very private person but he shared his situation with me in the hopes that I would understand and know how much it saddened him not to be at our wedding. Of course, we understood completely. Our only concern is that he and his wife are able to recover from this disaster.

    It is a new experience for me to be directly affected by someone else’s financial infidelity. While I can never understand why this happened, I hope that it does not destroy their marriage. It is a sobering lesson for us, as we are in the process of completing our own legal documents giving each other power. We made it clear with each other that these documents are not ever to be misused, and that if a financial situation ever arises we have to tell each other the whole truth about it. It is a good life lesson for us, but one that comes at great expense to my family.

    Has financial infidelity ever been a problem in your relationships?