Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee

The fish flies through the air and into a mouse-hole across the room...

The subject line above is a paraphrase from the puzzle about getting a Babel Fish out of the dispenser in the old Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy computer game. I reckon many of you reading this beat your head against this puzzle and know how frustrating it was. I faced a similar situation with my bank regarding attempting to close a checking account.

A few months ago, I opened a new checking account with my current bank. I wanted a no-fee checking account to replace the $10/month account I have had for many years and that I originally opened with my (now late) grandmother as co-signer in order to have the benefit of her check-guarantee status -- something that was much more important twenty years ago than it is now. In addition, I had some concern that my checking account may have been compromised by a fraud, although it appears that didn't actually happen.

From what the bank had on its web site, it appeared that the only way to get the no-fee account was to open the account online and do all interaction with the bank online. If I went into a branch to open the account, it would turn into a $3/month account. The offer applied only to new accounts, not existing ones. So I needed to open the new account and eventually close the old one.

This seemingly simple process turned out to be very time-consuming. Several bills are paid by automatic debit. It took me several months of making changes and then waiting until the next billing cycle to confirm that the changes actually took before I reached the point where I felt confident in trying to close the old account. At this point, there was about $90 left in the old account.

I went online and sent a message to customer service saying, "Please close the old account and transfer the remaining balance to the new account."

They replied, "You have a balance remaining in your old account. You must reduce your balance to zero before we can close the account."

Okay, I went back online and transferred the balance from the old account to the new account, then sent a message saying, "I've made the transfer. Please close the old account."

They replied, "We see that you have a pending transfer for $90 on the old account. Please wait until that transfer is complete and your balance is zero before attempting to close the account."

Okay, I waited two days for the transfer to complete, verified that the balance was zero, and sent a message saying, "My balance is now zero. There are no pending transactions. Please close my account."

They replied, "We're sorry you wish to close your account with us. Because this is a joint account, you must go into a branch to close it."

Argh! Why didn't you say that in the first place? This was like reaching the point in the HHGTTG game where the dispenser replies "Click," which, as some of you may recall, means the game is now unwinable and you might as well start over.

I was further concerned that I was going to end up going to the bank with the appropriate ID and be told, "You need the other joint account holder's permission to close the account," followed by, "You'll have to produce her death certificate to verify that you are the sole remaining account holder." As it happens, I could have done that this weekend as I'm going to go up to Sutter and visit my grandfather, but I really didn't want to have to go to his house, get the death certificate, and then drive in to Yuba City to deal with the branch there. As it happens, it would have been dealing with the actual branch where the account is domiciled.

With some trepidation, I walked up to the branch near my office today and asked the teller if she could deal with me closing an account. I produced my ID card and ran it through. To my relief, she said that she could close out the account, and I merely had to sigh a slip for it. She also told me that that if I'd come into the branch first, none of the earlier steps would have been necessary, because she could have done the final transfer-and-close transaction all at once.

So eventually I got the account closed, but it took a week longer than it should have done. So much for online banking saving time!
Tags: household

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