Covered in bank fees with no way out

Question: I recently gave my property management company a check for a deposit on a new apartment my daughter and I were moving into. Usually, they’d wait until the lease was signed to deposit the check and after discussing it with the property caretaker, I concluded that it would be the same this time.

Not so. In fact, they took the check out a couple of days before payday — a week earlier than I expected.

My bank, Wells Fargo, has a nifty little policy of waiting two to three days before emailing their customers about an overdraft. I check my bank account perhaps twice on a normal week, or before I go and spend money at the store. When the email came through to say I was overdrawn, I was surprised and pretty horrified, since it was almost moving day.

I went online and noticed, to my utter dismay, that they had not only applied a fee to the overdraft caused by the check, but then of course, three or four more fees for checks that had been written, and for which there were insufficient funds.

All of a sudden I was about $120 in the hole. Wells Fargo covered three more authorized debits before they stopped paying and charging fees. Before I could do much of anything else, a couple of companies had asked for their monthly payments, which Wells Fargo had refused, but then charged me a $35 fee.

It was moving week and I was covered in bank fees!

I called Wells Fargo and asked them to freeze the account. A representative said they couldn’t do that. I called around and tried to make as many changes to the payment options on existing accounts coming out of the Wells Fargo bank account that I could.

Some companies were helpful and understanding; others said that they could not change without an alternative payment method, or that they had already put the payment through for the month. Two days later, a bank rep called me again to let me know I was even more overdrawn — all bank fees.

Again, I asked if the account could be frozen. And again, I was told “no” and that they couldn’t do that.

I can understand a fee as punishment for an overdraft. But at this stage, the fees total $805. That’s a pretty big punishment for a situation I tried to resolve from the get-go. Can you help me? — Jeanne Bower, Rochester, Minn.

Answer: Wells Fargo should have helped you escape from this fee trap when you phoned it the first time. Instead, it stood by and watched the surcharges pile up.

There’s a reason for that. Fees are a significant source of revenue for banks, something that as a Wells Fargo customer myself, I can attest to firsthand. You have to keep a close watch on your bank account to make sure you’re not getting hit by an unexpected surcharge. But you already know that.

Here are a few other things you probably know by now, but which merit repeating: It’s your responsibility to make sure there’s enough money in your account to cover purchases. Automatic payments are agreements between you and another business, and according to Wells Fargo, it isn’t aware of the transaction until it happens – so it can’t arbitrarily end an automatic payment to another company.

Wells Fargo also offers several free tools that will help you monitor your account by sending you account alerts when your balance falls below a threshold. That might have prevented your bank account from turning into a fee-for-all.

I contacted Wells Fargo on your behalf, and a representative told me that the other option you considered – freezing your account – wasn’t allowed. “Putting a block on an account is done to help prevent additional fraud,” a spokeswoman said. “It’s not to be used as a financial management tool.”

Still, the bank’s initial response could have been more helpful. Seems to me that if you’re going to stop customers from freezing their accounts, you should offer some way of editing their autopay options.

After I asked about your account trouble, a manager called you, apologized for what he called a “complex” situation, and refunded all $805 in bank fees. Wells Fargo also froze your account and has allowed you to open a new one, giving you a fresh start.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • sirwired

    Let this be a lesson: never, ever, write a check you cannot cover. (Technically, it’s illegal to cut a check for which funds are not immediately available.) You should always assume that whomever you give the check to is going to cash it immediately. (There are multiple ways to do so these days…)

    And if you are playing your finances so close that one (admittedly large) check getting cashed three days early tosses you into overdraft, then you should use bank-originated online payments, not ACH debits, to cover your bills. This gives you more control over which payments go out when.

  • john4868

    Seriously? You wrote a check that you couldn’t cover and its the bank’s fault? How about accepting some personal responsibilty for your actions. As @sirwired:disqus noted, you knew that you couldn’t cover the check when you wrote it and in most states, that is a crime.

  • Kathleen Proud Keyte

    couldn’t have said it better myself. No sympathy.

  • BillCCC

    The OP is very fortunate that the bank refunded her fees. I could not answer the question since I don’t think it is up to the bank to stop automatic payments, that is an issue between the company and the client.

    I hope that she learned the lesson that she should not write bad cheques but from the first paragraph this seems to be a regular occurrence.

  • Christopher Elliott

    No, she tried to stop the autopayments and switch back to paper bills, but Wells Fargo couldn’t help. Then she tried to freeze her account, but the bank wouldn’t do that. So the fees started to pile up.

  • Raven_Altosk

    So, she writes checks she knows can’t clear and then whines when hit with fees?

    Uh…grow up?

  • Edward Boston

    She brought this all on herself by writing the first check to begin with. If she had not done that, none of the other problems would have occurred. How is its the banks fault that she set up all those auto payments? Something a lot of financial advisers recommend against for just this reason. When a business does something wrong and tries to make the customer pay for it, we get all up in arms. But in this case were the customer does the wrong, they shouldn’t pay for it?

    She was very lucky that Wells Fargo forgave the fees. My experience with them in the past is they don’t give a crap about the customers.

  • Tanya

    You are nicer than I am going to be. I would say grow up and act like a responsible human.

    She committed fraud and then expects to not be charged a fee. Writing a check knowing there are not sufficient funds in the bank account to cover the amount written is what is known as fraud.

    I really have no sympathy for her, she should never have written the check. She should never have been refunded all the money. Could the bank have at least stopped any outgoing automatic bill payments so she would not be charged, possibly, but I know with my bank, there are lead times, sometimes 2 days, sometimes 5 that I have to edit or cancel the payment by the lead time or it goes through. While many payments on auto pay are done electronically, some are still done by the bank writing a check and sending it.

    For the ones that she set up through a third party, like student loan, cell phone, any ACH transaction, that is on her. The bank cannot stop something she has authorized. I agree with the bank not being able to freeze the account for her purpose.

    I think the 805 would have been a great life lesson to teach the OP some personal responsibility and to learn that you cannot ever assume when someone is going to cash a check now-a-days. I am sorry the bank actually refunded all of her fees. I don’t think it should have. When you write a check, you should have sufficient funds in your account at the moment you hand it over. If you do not, then the problems that follow are yours and yours alone.

  • William_Leeper

    A bank can legally charge a fee for processing overdraft items. Also it is important to note that FDIC regulations do not allow a bank to stop pay ACH items. FDIC also puts no limits on how many times a company can process an item if it is returned NSF. If a company wants to process that item 100 times, that is perfectly legal. The standard practice in the business is to process a returned item 3 times, but it does vary!

  • Rebecca

    For autopayments (assuming they are ACH),federal regulations require 3 days notice for stop payments. Having worked in the dept that “freezes” accounts, at more than one bank, I can say that no bank would freeze her account. This creates a while mess of problems, including returning the autopayments (which are now technically “frozen/blocked account,” which is a code used for accounts frozen by court order or for set-of, and no longer NSF).I couldn’t have said it better than the spokesperson did, it isn’t a tool for financial management. If customers could freeze and unfreeze accounts at will, you are opening up pandoras box, let alone a compliance nightmare.

    That being said, the amount of fees is excessive. Lesson here is don’t write checks you don’t have funds to cover. And a word to the wise, don’t postdate either, a bank can still pay on it, and once its presented you have no recourse.

  • Fly, Icarus, Fly


    The OP says she made a financial decision based on what the property caretaker told her. Really? That’s one step up from a handyman. Not a source of information. She basically won the lottery in getting the fees waived.

  • Annyka

    The failure here was the assumption that the property management company was going to do anything other than immediately deposit the check. Since there was a known deficiency, that should have been discussed outright with them for clarity. While it can be difficult to get out from under a cascade of fees, Wells Fargo has no obligation – nor ability – to somehow stop ACH debits from coming in – those are like leaving post-dated checks with businesses, allowing them to make the debit on the specified date. WF has no control over who you make those transactions with. An ACH transaction does not have an identifying number beforehand (such as a check number) that would allow a stop-payment to be processed – it is a risk of doing business in this manner.
    The customer should feel extremely lucky that all $805 in fees were refunded – that would be unlikely in most environments.

  • Edward Boston

    Twitter Post from Christopher Elliott ‏@elliottdotorg
    Shocked at the heartless responses to this reader’s @Wellsfargo #bank fee problem. Is it just me?

    WHAT?!?!?!? You are shocked at the heartless responses here? You actually felt that your readers would have sympathy for this? We have no sympathy for a business that does wrong. Why would we have any for a customer that does wrong? Honestly, I don’t understand why you took up this case in the first place.

    And what’s with the OVERCHARGED tag on the story? What was she over charged for? She was assessed fees she agreed to when she opened the account and then *KNOWINGLY* wrote a check without sufficient funds to cover it.

  • john4868

    Beat me to it!

  • Edward Boston

    I think the only reason they got the fees reversed was because WF did not want the bad publicity. They are already known as a heartless and unfeeling bank towards their customers. I think the OP used Chris in this case to get out of the fees she earned by her own actions.

  • Rebecca

    While I do age this is the customers own fault and she should be charged for it, the amount of fees is excessive. Over $800 is a mortgage payment in some parts of the country (from what I hear, I’m in Chicago!).

  • cjr001

    One would think many of you work for the airlines: a customer should never make a mistake – especially an honest mistake.

    Wells Fargo should have helped their customer out because this was just that: an honest mistake. It shows good will and real customer service. It shows that loyalty is rewarded when it’s needed most.

    Instead, as most companies do these days, they punted. The fees are excessive when they could have been mitigated, both by the customer beforehand and the bank while the situation was in progress, and many of the responses here are absurd.

  • Rebecca

    If you give 3 business days notice, a stop payment must be issued per federal regulations – fyi. Not defending the op, just getting the info out there.

  • Edward Boston

    It may be excessive but when she opened the account, she agreed to the fees and rightfully earned them when she knowingly wrote a check with insufficient funds. Maybe a better tag would be EXCESSIVE FEES.

  • Edward Boston

    Only problem here is this was *NOT* and honest mistake. The OP *KNEW* she did not have the funds to cover the check but wrote it anyways. I could understand if there had been an invalid/unauthorized withdraw from the account they didn’t know about, but that is not the case here.

  • Rebecca

    I once saw an ACH reprocessed over 20 times in about 2 months. It was one of those savings club scams you get signed up for buried in the fine print of some free trial offer.

  • john4868

    How is writing a bad check an honest mistake? She knowingly wrote a check that she couldn’t cover. That’s a crime not a mistake. She’s lucky she avoided talking with the DA. If the proximate cause (ie the root cause) was anything other than her own grossly irresponsible actions, I’d feel different but that’s just not the truth.

  • Christopher Elliott

    Yes, I’m shocked. This woman thought she had enough money in her account to cover the check, she tried to stop the automated payments. I know what it’s like to have no money in your bank account. She’s learned her lesson, but I don’t feel as if I’ve enabled any kind of irresponsible behavior by helping her. She would have avoided this if she could have.

  • Kairho

    Exactly. She wrote a bad check which is illegal. Although the bank acted properly, a bit of compassion could have been in order.

  • severnwatcher

    I haven’t read below, but am guessing about all of the other responses start this way – NEVER EVER write/date a check for a period when funds aren’t there. And, if someone tells you they are not going to cash/desposit a check until a certain date, then they really shoudln’t have a problem with you dating it for then, should they?
    I agree the the first few OD charges should be to OP’s responsibility (and an expensive lesson) but the bank could have been more understanding when she called to seek assistance.
    I myself will never bank with Wells Fargo (I call them Well Forget That!). I took a relative’s check into a branch to cash and they wanted my finegrprint! I asked why, and they said because I wasn’t a customer. I pointed out that the check was drawn on their bank, the funds were available, and I had ID (& mentioned, courtesy of my own background in banking that federal law requires any institution with federal insurance -i.e. NCUA, FDIC, etc.- to cash a check drawn on it if they can be satisfied that the transaction is not fraudulent). Bear in mind, that since they do not have access to AIFIS (the federal fingerprint DB) my fingerprint cannot prove who I am to them. I told them I was fairly sure it was illegal for them to REQUIRE my fingerprint to cash the check (they can ask, but not require), and after checking with the supervisor I demanded, they cashed the check without taking my fingerprint. The WF staff tried to explain that getting a fingerprint was ‘standard practice’ for non-customers, but even though I don’t frequent banks at which I do not have accounts, I knew of two others within a mile’s radius that require only a valid photo ID to cash a check, not a fingerprint. As someone who has worked in law enforcement, my fingerprint is already in the database for job clearance/background check/elimination purposes, but because consumers have no safeguards when it comes to how & where this data is stored (when collected by retail establishments) I refuse to give out non-essential personal details everytime.

  • Annyka

    ACH does not allow for stop payment. See discussion below (Walhon)

  • severnwatcher

    Stop believing management’s lies. I worked in banking too, and when someone stole a pack of checks from me 10 years ago, M&T bank was able – in the branch, on a moment’s notice- to freeze my account. I don’t always love my bank, but they were great in that case. They called me each day to review the checks that had tried to clear and asked me which if any had been outstanding before the theft, cleared the ones that were OK, and held the ones that were not. I’m still shocked that they were willing to take my word for it about which checks were legit…but the moral is, if you are a good customer, the bank can and will freeze your account on a moment’s notice (if they want). I’m not insinuating that this poster was not a good customer, but in my case I had had accounts with them for 20 years, and my family for even longer than that. It does pay in some ways to be a loyal customer…

  • l2y2

    I don’t think many people here have considered her situation and may be too harsh and passing judgement a little too soon. This sounds like a single woman with a child. It is a reality that many people (particularly single moms) live paycheck to paycheck. She sounds like an otherwise responsible person. She was trying to find a home for she and her daughter. Yes, she trusted that the property manager would cash the check when that person said they would. Unfortunately, she made a poor choice in trusting the property manager and all heck broke loose with her bank and fees. Once that single check cleared, the other checks were going to fall like dominos. I think $805 is a boatload of money, especially for someone living on a very tight budget. Because Wells Fargo is a huge institution that really doesn’t care about any customers without $5000 sitting in their accounts unused to avoid fees, they were not jumping in to help her. I think it was wonderful that Chris could help her get the fees refunded and Wells Fargo actually came through. That is probably very unusual for them.

  • john4868

    Chris .. I don’t see that she thought she had enough money in her account to cover the check in your story (maybe an editing thing). Your story eludes to the fact that she was attempting to time the cashing of the check with her paycheck and ran into problems when they deposited the check immediately.
    That’s different than your comment. Its one thing to to think you have money and write a check against it and quite another to try and time checks. Your comment states the first but your story says the second.

  • severnwatcher

    John, I think there is/was some naivete here. The OP believed the guy when he said the check wouldn’t go in until the lease was signed. Bad judgment? Yes? A crime, fraud or intent? NO! I worked frauds for a while, not in a million years is this fraud.

  • Bill___A

    I agree with most of the commenters here.
    First of all, don’t write checks you can’t cover.
    Never believe anyone about not depositing until a certain date. People have a natural tendancy to deposit checks. If it is okay to pay them after payday then pay them after payday, not before.
    As to bill paying, I do use the online banking to pay it and do not go for the automated withdrawals. I find it much better to control it that way – and for those of you who think I might miss a payment, I don’t.
    Now as to these bank charges, American banks seem to have this deal where they charge $35 per item. They leave it all up to their discretion – so you have no idea what they will pay and what they will not – only that they will charge $35 per time.
    Banks in europe let people go into the “red” and dont’ charge them $35 an item. I think in Canada, it is $5 per day or interest depending upon the arrangement.
    In summation, the woman was wrong to overdraw. And as far as the US banking system – Wells Fargo, and most other banks, should not be charging $35 an item.
    In response to the poster who claimed Wells Fargo had a bad reputation…actually as far as I know, they have a pretty good reputation. It was generous of them to waive the fees. I’m sure it would have caused a lot of hardship otherwise.

  • severnwatcher

    A bank can deny ANY pending charge – they do it all the time when they suspect fraud…

  • BillCCC

    There is nothing in the story to indicate that she had enough money to cover the cheque. The fees built up because the cheque caused her account to go into overdraft and other payments started bouncing. The first paragraph seems to indicate that this happens on a regular basis.

  • Bill___A

    Chris, the cause of all this was writing the check she couldn’t cover. The aftermath was a probably frantic approach to stop further fees. Autopayments are not always a good thing. Sir Wired said it best, use the online bill payment at the bank.

  • severnwatcher

    John, read the story more closely, the woman believed the guy who told her the check would not go in until the lease was signed. She knew her paycheck would go in before that date. Her problem was in trusting the guy to not cash the check before he said he was. As I said before, she was too naive. And, although the bank could have refused to refund any money, it would have been a harsh – and unecessary -lesson for a customer all their ads say they ‘value.’ Remember, someday, that woman, or her daughter, may need a mortgage, an IRA, a student loan -they should have an incentive to try to do something morally right every once in a while even if its justified for commercial reasons like “lost leader’ type reimbursements. After all, Wells Fargo has had its own issues with ‘available funds’ – it took a government bailout!

  • Joe_D_Messina

    “Some companies were helpful and understanding; others said that they could not change without an alternative payment method, or that they had already put the payment through for the month. Two days later, a bank rep called me again to let me know I was even more overdrawn — all bank fees.”

    Come on…no doubt the bank wanted to maximize the fees, but she was asking everybody she had on automatic bill pay to INSTANTLY stop the practice, which isn’t realistic. Of course they wanted an alternative payment method (she’d just called them and admitted she couldn’t pay her bills…who wouldn’t see that as a red flag?) and it’s perfectly reasonable that some were far enough along in the cycle not to be able to make the change that month. And it couldn’t ALL have been bank fees–she wasn’t covering the bills themselves.

  • cowboyinbrla

    Chris – you tweeted about whether most of your readers are heartless thinking this woman brought her problems on herself.

    It’s not that (in my case) I don’t feel for her – that’s a lot of unexpected bank fees to come up with, and in this economy, with many people living close to the edge, all it takes is one unplanned emergency and wham- you’re in a deep financial hole that’s hard to get out of.

    I think one thing that bothers me at some level is the incongruity of the events. She’s sophisticated enough to know how to set up automatic payments all over the place (apparently, both auto-pay from the account as well as ACH from the vendor end), yet she doesn’t seem to understand that the moment you write a check, even with a future date on it, the bank can process that check when presented. (Courts have generally held that the date field on a check is for the payor’s reference only). I can “sort of” understand that – there are a lot of myths floating around about post-dated checks – but still. It also seems to me that anyone who’s aware enough about ACH’s and bill paying online should know that bank fees are notoriously high and that a credit union might be a much more economical alternative to consider.

    And if she’s used ACH’s and automatic payments, she almost certainly should have come in contact with trying to change a payment on short notice before – which is hard if not impossible. Of course, I have an IT background and realize that stuff like this is processed in batches, set up days in advance.

    In the end, I’m not “bothered” by the fact that Wells Fargo refunded her fees, but at the same time, I agree it’s like hitting the lottery. Certainly they were under no obligation to do so. When I was in middle school, some 35 years ago, we had a unit on banking in my math class, where we learned how to write checks and balance a checkbook. That sort of instruction ought to be required in high school no later than the 9th or 10th grade, updated to cover things like overdraft fees, ACH, and the like.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Chris, all due respect, but she never says she had money to cover the check at the time it was written. She says she expected them to cash it a week later when she WOULD have been able to cover it. That’s a very different thing.

    Also, crazily, she never even got a firm answer on when they would cash it. All she says is she “concluded” they were going to wait…quite possibly because she didn’t want to admit to them it was a hot check as she was handing it to them. But, if you know a check can’t clear when you’re writing it, you’d darn better make sure the receiving party is clear on that. Most people will work with you on those sorts of things, but you can’t just hope it goes the way you want.

  • l2y2

    One more comment. It doesn’t sound like she was trying to defraud anyone. She had good intentions in trying to secure the apartment. She probably would have lost it if she hadn’t given them a deposit check. Her biggest failure was trusting someone to do what they said they would. Yeesh, so many are making her look like a deadbeat. I feel bad for the woman.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    That’s an apples and oranges comparison, however. In your case, you had something stolen, immediately reported it to them, and thus made their job easier as the mess got sorted out. You were a good customer…and I’m guessing were in good standing even before this incident.

    In the OP’s example, she wrote a hot check blindly hoping it wouldn’t be immediately deposited. (She didn’t even get a real assurance from them on that, she just “concluded” they’d probably wait…and she ended up being wrong.) That caused her to overdraft on a slew of automatic payments she’d set up. She caused the entire mess on her own. And she admitted to “floating” checks in the past, which is a major no-no.

  • cjr001

    Thank you, severn. A lot of intent is being read into this which, imho, just isn’t there.

    Edit: I should add, I’m also against banks being able to profit in such a manner. We know that banks have in the past designed their systems to push the largest checks through first to intentionally cause overdrafts.

    There’s just no rational reason that one check, cashed too early, when the funds to cover it were on their way, should result in this much in fees.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    That’s not exactly how the story reads. In her own words she “concluded” they’d wait to cash it like other similar cases she’d experienced before. That’s a funny way of wording it if she flat-out told them “you can’t cash this for a week” and they said “no problem.” The way I read that is she hinted around and asked some questions about when they typically cash deposits, but never actually admitted she couldn’t cover the check at that moment. That’s pretty typical of people who are embarrassed to admit they can’t cover checks…and it can get you into huge messes like this.

    First off, you should never hand a check to somebody that can’t be cashed at that moment. But, if you do go that route, you’d better be 100% upfront with them and make it crystal clear that they cannot deposit it before whatever date you give them. To me, it sounds like she failed to do that. Also, if I were somebody who had a habit of floating checks, I wouldn’t be signed up for automatic bill pays because that takes away a lot of the flexibility one would have in cases like this. Without the auto bill pays, she could have saved overdraft fees by just delaying paying those other bills.

  • severnwatcher

    You are assumign facts not in evidence. I re-read the post, no where does it say she admitted to ‘floating’ checks in the past. The post describes multiple overdrafts all caused in this instance by the original NSF check deposited too early. She may have done that in the past – I don’t know – the article doesn’t say that. Only thing it says is that she thought, based on discussions with the apartment people, that they would not cash the check until the lease was signed, that she was told that was their practice and the one staffer ‘confirmed’ it for her. The only thing we can truly indict her for is being dumb enough to date the check on the day it was written HOWEVER even that isn’t enough. Even some relativelty smart people don’t know that a bank can – and will- cash/deposit a check before the date written on it, if THEY choose. If YOU want to cash it, they can refuse, but they also reserve the option to take it and deposit it if they want. They do this A LOT for business customers.

  • laura

    i couldn’t say better myself ;)

  • Tanya

    Sorry, from the way the story is written, it appears to me, that she knew the check was hot when she wrote it. I can sympathize with her, to a point, but what about all the businesses that did not get the money she owed them as promised? Sometimes business accounts also get charged a separate fee for bounced checks, so now the business has to pay out money based on her writing a bad check. If I read it wrong and she thought she had money in the account at the time she wrote the check, then that would change my opinion, slightly.

  • severnwatcher

    She never said ‘she’ had experienced that’ before. Maybe its clumsily written, but nothing in it actually says she has done that before. She could have ‘concluded’ that based on what she was told by the apartment people. You are reading too much into it. I have spent mucho time interviewing suspects and reviewing court testimony, and you cannot reach your conclusions based on what the article says…

  • ExplorationTravMag

    Wells Fargo makes it difficult to do anything at all. We used to bank with them but left after they did something pretty awful…

    When we had ALL our banking with them, including a credit card, everything was fine, I suppose, in the grand scheme of things. However, I fell ill. Not enough to prevent my working but enough that we started piling up co-pays. I was sitting in a chair at a cancer center in Tucson getting a treatment when my cell phone rang (which they didn’t have the number for – I still don’t know how they got it) we were a week late with the credit card payment and they wanted to know when we were going to make it (after 10 years of never missing a payment since we used to just pay it off every month, at least until I got sick). I told the guy, “I’m actually at the oncologist right now getting care and can’t talk. Can I call you back when I’m done?”

    His response? “Oh, you can pay for your cancer treatments but you can’t pay your credit card bill?”

    The next day, we paid off the credit card (all $300 – we had the money, I’d just forgotten to pay it the week before. Sorry being sick got in the way of your profits, Wells Fargo), closed the account, and took all our business elsewhere, including the two car loans and three bank accounts. When our banker (someone we’d been with for years) asked us why, I told him. He wanted to make it right and I told him the time to make it right was BEFORE some callous a**hole said that to me, not AFTER.

    I hate Wells Fargo – they’re one of the most predatory banks out there. (And all the financial dealing actually lowered our bills since they were all a refinance and some could be bundled) The ONLY reason they did this is because Chris was involved. Otherwise, it’s not happening, no matter what and aren’t we the consumer the idiot for asking for their help…

    And, curiously, in spite of Chris’s question being about Wells Fargo, all the comments here are about the OP. Everyone’s gone on such a tangent, it makes me wonder why the poll question for this one isn’t “Do you think the OP is stupid?”

  • Kevkev12

    Automated payment can’t be stopped immediately. it takes few days. You need to learn the bank systems.
    She can’t avoid those fees because the account is overdraft.
    If Wells Fargo is willing to freeze her account, she will be charged fees for bounced checks or bounced automated payments by her vendors. On top of it, some vendors will charge late payment and interest.
    If she put a stop payment for any check, the bank will still charge a stop payment fee.
    If Wells Fargo accepted to freeze her account, then what she would ask you to help. May be she will ask you to contact 20 companies to get late fees waived.

  • Heather Amaral

    No one has ever written a post dated check for a deposit? Which, I might add, is legal. If the person cashing it makes a mistake and puts it in too early, the bank can honor the date or ignore it. If the payment is for a specific thing on a specific date I’m not sure there is anything wrong with it. Someone assured her it’d be handled properly and a mistake was made. The point I think many are missing here is that she takes responsibility for THAT fee on that check and wasn’t seeking to get out of paying it. What she was freaking out about was everything else that kept piling up while she was trying to stop other payments even after she alerted her bank. I’ve been there too, where a mistake happens and it just explodes. We’re all human, we all make mistakes. Sometimes that’s as simple as forgetting to write a charge down in your register. When you live paycheck to paycheck, as someone else pointed out, it only takes a few cents to send you into the downward spiral. Some of the bigger banks will continue to heap fees on top of fees because that’s how they make money, and will actively seek ways to force a fee. That’s why I long ago switched to a credit union.

  • William_Leeper

    A bank can legally stop payment on an ACHtransaction ONLY in the event of fraud. Check out the FDIC and Federal Reserve regulations. The regs do allow a financial institution to use good judgement, but still on a customer request can legally stop payment only if there was a 3 day notice. There is an exception if the original item was a check and was electronically converted in which case it has an item number, and is still treated as a check.

  • TonyA_says

    Sorry, this is not worth any “advocacy”. This is plain stupidity or misplaced entitlement. A product of MAL-education.

  • DavidYoung2

    The other option, of course, is to not allow the bank to overdraft your account. Simply decline any purchase for which there are not funds!

  • severnwatcher

    It takes a few more journal entries, but a bank can stop ANY charge -if it wants to. (If you recall, we were actually talking about ‘freezing an account’, not about checks clearing…) But you can send back checks, I did this, even 20 some years ago, for what was then the third largest S&L in the country… Again, I wasn’t talking about what they are legally required to do as a minimum, I was talking about what their systems are capable of (esp. if they want to be ‘nice’ or ‘customer friendly’) …And if you ever doubt how fast something can be frozen, watch the IRS or DEA in action…

  • William_Leeper

    I fully agree with you. I recently had my bank stop a transaction because I messed up and entered $1600 instead of $160. It took a phone call to my account officer, but she was more than happy to do it because the merchant wouldn’t fix it. Not saying it can’t be done. Saying most of your major banks are going to cite the regs and say no.

  • William_Leeper

    Here in Arkansas, $800 is twice my mortgage payment with $200 left over!

  • l2y2

    That’s true. It could be that she never had any need for something like this. I am sure she learned a hard lesson.

  • lorcha

    Disclaimer: I am a Landlord.

    “Usually, they’d wait until the lease was signed to deposit the check and after discussing it with the property caretaker, I concluded that it would be the same this time.”
    I’m not sure where you got this impression from, but my company cashes all checks on the date received. Your logic doesn’t even make sense, either. The whole purpose of a holding fee is for the landlord to take the property off the market until lease signing. Holding the check would defeat that purpose.

    How old are you that you think you can still kite checks? Check 21 took effect back in 2004.

  • Donna Caruso

    $800 in draft fees is definitely excessive. That being said, I’ve fallen into that *trap* before, when I was young & didn’t know any better. I quickly removed all auto payments, pay my bills online when I had money in my account & do not write checks unless the money is available. It was a learning experience but it works so much better than *floating* checks. That’s a dangerous game! I feel for the OP, I know it’s tough to live paycheck to paycheck – been there. But she has to be smarter in her banking so as not to have this happen.

  • MarkieA

    The “hard” lesson she learned, I think, is that if she b*tches and moans to the right person, her “problem” will go away

  • streamerstoo

    It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to know that you do NOT spend what you do NOT have! I can’t believe you did not put this one in the circular file. How about helping me with any issue that is my fault when I don’t like the outcome?

  • Christopher Elliott

    This is exactly why I have a feature every Monday, where you get to decide whether I mediate a case. Even so, I would still take this case to Wells Fargo, no question about it. Sorry, but I felt bad for this woman and she clearly needed help.

  • Mel65

    Ugh, having worked for a bank while going to college and having heard all the excuses out there, this irritates me. Yes, $800+ is excessive and it would have been NICE if WF had maybe refunded the fees incurred after her initial phone call as a goodwill gesture, but her tone throughout her whiney complaint is all about how THEY did the wrong thing and how it’s everyone else’s fault that SHE wrote a check for which SHE had insufficient funds. Giving her back the entirety of the fees only serves to reward her for doing the wrong thing and then whining about it. She should have never gotten all the fees refunded. She hasn’t learned a thing about personal fiscal responsibility.

  • S E Tammela

    I have also been hit by fees-on-fees (although not to this extent) and it is horrifying. Fortunately my bank was understanding and changed it to one fee instead of four, because they recognised that it had been about two whole dollars and 24 hours – when my regular pay went in the next day (delayed), they could see it would have covered all four bill payments.

    And it was not via cheque – goodness me it’s 2012, I wish businesses would wake up and leave this ancient system behind!

  • S E Tammela

    May I also note that I find it disgusting that any business would discuss this with someone who is not the account holder?

    Unless you have them in a 3-way call where the call centre can directly confirm both the owner’s identity AND that they give permission, there is no way they should have released such private information. Without that, any stranger could steal mail or hack email and then tell the bank they’ve got permission to call.

  • l2y2

    Very well said. Another voice of concern and reason.

  • jim6555

    I have never bounced a check since I became a credit union customer, but if I did, I’m sure that my credit union would have shown more humanity than Wells Fargo in dealing with the situation. People have told me that they like large commercial banks because they can use an ATM wherever they travel. My credit union is part of a large ATM network (Co-op Network) and I can withdraw funds from my account without charge at over 35,000 locations throughout the United States. They even have an Android app to help me locate the nearest ATM.
    the bottom line is that if you are eligible to join a credit union, it is worth investigation doing so.

  • Ken Rahr

    I would BET that those fees have gone up, at least twice since she opened her account(Its WF, after all). Yes, she could have closed the accounts rather than agreeing to the new terms, but i seriously doubt they are the same fees as when she first opened the account.

  • RetiredNavyphotog

    Maybe she should get overdraft protection for her checking account.

  • random_observation_source

    While I understand the knee-jerk “don’t write checks you can’t cover” reaction prevalent in the comments here, there are common bank practices that are quite frankly very shady that makes me much more sympathetic towards the OP.
    – For this particular case… if the account is overdrawn on the first request, why continue to process external fund requests twice more for an additional $70 in fees when your system shows no pending deposits?
    – For that matter, in general, what does it really cost a bank to decline a check for NSF? I can see the case for the depositor incurring a real cost (i.e., they’re not getting paid) but why are the banks at either end of the transaction able to get away with $35 in fees for something they know isn’t viable in the first place, especially in this day and age of online real-time banking?
    – Another common practice that would get people living paycheck to paycheck in trouble is processing debits before credits. Unless you are an entire paycheck ahead (which isn’t possible for a lot of people in this economy), how can a bank with a straight face overdraft an account to cover checks written, charge an overdraft fee, then apply the pending deposits that it had full knowledge of?
    – Why can you withdraw funds immediately but have to incur a 3 to 10 day hold on a deposit? I had this issue several times when transferring money between accounts in which my money would be in some weird limbo (undoubtedly being used to earn a couple of bucks for investments); the funds immediately disappeared from one account but somehow took 10 days to get to the other account.
    I’m sure that WF, BofA, and the other big 3 mine the hell out of their data to turn every customer into a profit center (i.e. be nice to the big depositors because you use their funds for investing… screw over the low-balancers with fees because that’s the best way to generate revenue off of them and they’re not likely to protest), but I wish that some humanity would return to the industry (especially when dealing with idiots who tell me that “their computer won’t let them do that” or “according to my computer, you haven’t paid” even when I’m showing them the transaction ID of their withdrawal of funds).

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Actually. It’s not a crime if the check is postdated. A post dated check has very different rules than a check written with today’s dated with the default understanding that’s it’s immediately good.

  • flutiefan

    the Property Management Company never told her they’d hold the check. RTFA again. it was a “property caretaker”… which sounds like an onsite resident who takes care of the little things around the complex. or a gardener/plumber/super. why trust someone who isn’t the person you’re handing the check over to???

  • flutiefan

    yep. i turned off and declined any future “overdraft protection” services on my checking accounts. if the money isn’t there, the bank must decline the transaction. they don’t cover it (or a few of them) and then charge me a fee to have done so.

  • flutiefan

    actually, if you read the article, nobody “confirmed” anything (and the person she spoke with the the onsite property CARETAKER… hello, does the word “super” mean anything to you? the super doesn’t get to decide when the Prop Mgmt Co cashes checks LMAO.) anyway, she said that after she spoke with the caretaker, “I concluded that it would be the same this time.” she made an assumption. she was wrong. HER fault.

  • flutiefan

    oh, and here is when it appears that she has written checks before that she possibly couldn’t cover and had to count on the Prop Mgmt Co waiting until later to deposit the checks:
    “Usually, they’d wait until the lease was signed to deposit the check”.

  • severnwatcher

    Are you that dense? The property person told her they wait to deposit the checks, that comment is not a statement that she had done it before. As for your other comment, who knows who the ‘caretake’ really is? Maybe its the guy that deposits the checks and he forgot and did it…None of this proves your point. I also can’t understand why you are so determined to ‘prove’ a total stranger had devious designs. How well do you know any of the facts here? Beyond the scant bit reported? And some it it reconveyed by a third party? Judgmental much?

  • flutiefan

    well that’s just ridiculous! ;)

  • flutiefan

    $800 barely covers my rent, and i only rent a single ROOM in an apartment. ah, gotta love NYC….

  • flutiefan

    no, honey, i’m not “dense”. i can actually read and make logical conclusions. and why are you calling me names? this woman DID write a check that she knew she couldn’t cover…. that’s why she needed (and was hoping) the Company to wait until her paycheck was deposited. that right there is illegal. the end.

  • severnwatcher

    Yeah, but you can’t make legal conclusions – I’ve been a cop, and also worked in the legal field, there are not enough facts here to conclude she did anything illegal.

  • Judy Serie Nagy

    While Wells Fargo behaved badly here, most people write checks only when the money is the account to cover the check. This is a wonderful example of irresponsibility by the OP.

  • flutiefan

    while i can’t stand the enormous fees that banks charge for some of their practices, they have the right to do so, and consumers have a right to decline doing any business with those banks. capitalism.
    when the choice became available, i turned off the overdraft protection that my bank offered. if i don’t have the funds, i don’t want them to cover the check or debit and then charge me to do so. i’d rather they not process the transaction at all. i will deal with the other business myself (which may result in me paying THEM a fee, so be it).

    i have been in this OP overdraft situation before (but not to the tune of $800), and it sucks. it’s hard. i still live paycheck to paycheck, even after 13 years at the same company. but if i cause myself to fall into bank fee debt, then i have no one to blame but myself, and i expect to suffer the consequences. i don’t expect the bank to feel sorry for me, nor to have them refund ALL of my fees, nor to have a consumer advocate spend his time shaming them into getting the money back for me. it was my fault, plain and simple.

  • flutiefan

    i’m glad you know my occupational background.

  • severnwatcher

    Don’t have to, I know mine, I’m considered a top expert…

  • $16635417

    I read this case this morning and yours was the only comment. I said to myself that I must have missed something and would revisit this column later today. Nope….didn’t miss something. Bad check written, bad check cashed, repercussions ensue. Whine to Chris.

  • Michelle C

    Using auto payments in her current (disastrous) financial situation is one the worse mistake she could make. She should be manually paying her monthly bills each month and not relying on auto payments. Too many things go wrong, and she has NO money to cover herself. It isn’t un-heard of for a company to accidentally charge more than expected causing many overdrafts in someone who is living paycheck to paycheck.

    I’m glad she got her 800+ in fees waived but let this be a lesson with free tuition. Stop the auto payments. Spend the extra 30 minutes it takes to make the manual payments each month. Sending a check through a bank does not cost any extra money. .. and any company that tries to charge you for NOT using auto payments is predatory and you should find another company.

  • Michelle C

    Situation has NOTHING to do with this. No she doesn’t deserve a verbal beating, but this is a big problem…to many people want a pass because they are “single mom of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc.” Is a young married couple, or a elderly couple, or a single person with no kids any less “entitled” to the same treatment. What about someone who loses their job due to a serious illness. Hell, what about someone who just doesn’t make a lot because they didn’t get an education.

    I don’t think she was de-frauding anyone. I think she is living paycheck to paycheck and barely has her head above water. Her biggest mistake, and I hope she learned her lesson is stop dealing with auto payments. She is VERY lucky WF waived so much. They are notorious for predatory practices.

    I hope she learned her lesson and spends the 30 minutes each month making manual payments. Banks don’t charge to send a payment. At least not the three banks I use. Also, she should have never written a check that can’t be cashed from that moment on.

  • AUSSIEtraveller

    living above your means again ? Isn’t that the American way. & what sort of dodgy banking system do u have in the good ol USA. Some 3rd world countries have better banking systems. How’s the national debt going ? Hope you’re all learning Chinese. Your new masters, might insist on it.

  • $16635417

    When I was first starting out, there was no autopay. I paid everything by check, once I got my paycheck…. deposited it and it cleared… I then paid what was due. What was leftover was my ramen noodle and beer money.

    I once inadvertently, in my calculations wrote a check for the BALANCE in my checkbook rather than the amount due on the bill. The electric company cashed it and applied a credit to my account for the overage, which was applied to next month’s bill. They explained that a refund would take longer. I had several bounced checks, I called the bank and explained the problem and how it happened. They explained to me how checking accounts work.

    I called each company who had a check returned. They explained their policies on returned checks. It cost me dearly, but that was the last check I ever bounced. I made a mistake and paid for it.

    I still don’t use the “convenience” of autopay, I pay my bills online and pay when I want to.

  • Michelle C

    That is unfortunate. I have bounced only one check… when I was in high school I bounced a check at the grocery store I worked. Thankfully my manager waived the 30 dollar fee but I did have to still pay the 25 fee that my bank charged and deal with the embarrassment of bouncing a check.

    Now had the company charged you the wrong amount the bank still would have charged you all the fees on top of fees and you would have to beg the company to cover the extra cost you incurred. Not all all willing to do the right thing in a timely manner.

  • Elmo Clarity

    Correct. The way the story is written, she ASSUMED they would wait. Doesn’t sound like there was any discussion on when the check was going to be cashed.

  • Christopher Elliott

    Well, this was fun. I guess next time I’ll say “no” to a request for help like this one. Right?

    Oh, who am I kidding. I can’t help myself.

  • Ann Lamoy

    I have sympathy for Ms. Bowyer. I’ve lived paycheck to paycheck before and frankly it sucks.

    But she made a mistake when she assumed they would wait to deposit the check. As she put it “Usually, they’d wait until the lease was signed to deposit the check and
    after discussing it with the property caretaker, I concluded that it
    would be the same this time.”

    What she should have done was spoken directly with the management company and confirmed when they would deposit the check. And if there was an issue, asked them to wait. If they wouldn’t then she should have delayed things a week until the money was available. Or she could have-at that point, changed all her ACH/direct debits and not written any checks so she could have gotten that apartment. But we all know what happens when you ass-u-me. :D

    Honestly it surprises me they took a check. The last two apartments I’ve lived in have required a money order for the deposit and first month’s rent. Afterwards, checks were okay.

    What she needs to do at this point since WF forgave all the fees is to have them not allow any overdraft at all. Then she needs to undo all her direct ACH/debit payments and set up a system to pay everything manually once a month. this way, if anything else crops up, things get paid without any kind of overdraft. Couldn’t hurt to get a line of overdraft just in case as well.

  • TonyA_says

    If you had targeted EXCESSIVE FEES then the discussion would have been different.

  • Joe Farrell

    Never Never Never give anyone a check on an account that does not have the money . . .

    Now, if you can prove that the company promised to hold the check until the lease was signed – sue them. A great start to your tenancy. . . .

  • sdir

    Thank you, this is exactly what I was wondering. How many of those businesses were charged a fee for the rejected/bounced withdrawal?

    But I have to wonder, just how many checks bounced for it to reach $800 in fees? Were fees added every day her account was in the negative?

  • john4868

    @facebook-1284012132:disqus I’d agree with you if she said she postdated the check (which in OH anyway becomes a promissory note and not a check at that point with a different set of laws). Nothing in the story indicates that. She just thought they would hold it.

  • BillCCC

    Not al all. Helping is what you do. The client does not always have to be 100% in the right for you to try to help. In this case most posters(and I am in this group) did not like the fact that this woman wrote a cheque without the funds available in her account. On the other hand, one bad cheque should not cause someone to potentially become homeless. I had thought that banks were working on ways to prevent one bad transaction from causing an avalanche of bank fees and NSF charges from building up.

  • emanon256

    I used to be one of such businesses. Customers would setup a regular ACH withdrawal with us, and we would process the ACH between their bank and our bank. The customer could not have her bank stop the ACH as it was setup with us, and we send the transaction to the bank. We could cancel one with as little as 2 days notice, but it was our policy to not cancel an ACH without an alternate for of payment established. If she wanted to go back to Paper Bills, we required 2 billing cycle notice, that was our policy. When a customers payment was returned as “NSF”, “Account Closed”, “Account Frozen” or “Unable to Locate Account” etc. we would get charged a $20 fee by our bank for the returned payment, which we added to the customers account. Not only did we get charged a fee, but we then had to do the manual journal entries to fix it, and send a letter to the customer, etc. who was now passed due. We only tried the transaction once to mitigate the costs as in my experience, people who bounced checks, usually ended up not paying and eventually in collections. If the OP has several companies she is doing ACH payments with, they are probably all getting hit with returned payment fees.

  • emanon256

    When my dad has his stroke, and it took close to 2 months to get Wells Fargo to accept the Power of Attorney I had for him, he racked up over $800 in fees. He was charged $35 every time a debit card or ACH transaction went through to his checking account when he didn’t have the funds to pay it. They did not charge a fee for each day he was in the negative, just when a transaction occurred. He had 12 various auto debit/auto ACH accounts setup for thinks like electric, water, phone, cell phone, internet, eFax (Still not sure why he needed that), and some other various very small auto debit accounts. He had a service that would transfer the money from savings to checking to cover the fee, but they still charged the $35 each time this occurred. The bankers met with in person were all quite nice, but their legal department was horrible. After they finally gave me access to hi accounts, I met with a bank manager who agreed to spit the cost of the fees with me. I thought that was nice. What I don’t like is that its been almost a year, and their legal department still won’t let me access his credit card. But thats another story, and one I stopped letting bother me. That card will just never get paid.

    So long story short, its pretty easy to wrack up that many fees at $35 a pop. Especially if she wrote a bunch of checks and had a bunch of auto ACH paymetns setup.

  • Elmo Clarity

    Mr. Former Cop and Banker. You want to quote the law saying they can’t require a fingerprint? If there really is such a law, why is Rep. James Webb of New Hampshire pushing HB 1262 to prohibit banks from requiring fingerprints (among other things). If there was a federal law like you state, why would there need to be state laws passed to do the same thing?

  • Cheryl

    We have an account with Chase, but our main account is now with a credit union in our state. The only major banks are going to make permanent changes is if we take our money away from them. Granted, most of us don’t have the kind of money their big clients, but if enough of us would take our money elsewhere I believe we make a real change in their policies.

  • MarkKelling

    Different situation. Your issues were the result of fraud and the bank was trying more to protect itself than help you out. This issue was where the customer wrote a check without funds to cover it and the bank had no reason to do anything other than pile on the fees.

  • Jeanne

    Oh wow. What a response. It’s really amazing how much people “know” about a person by reading a short article about a situation they are in, and then filling in the gaps and assuming the rest.By the way, I’m the person this article is about – or the “OP” if you prefer to call me that. It’s probably a good thing I’m not easily offended and that I’ve seen this type of vitriolic assumption and “commenting for entertainment purposes” (without a second thought about the human being at the other end, who I am assuming is thought of as an intellectually inferior, naive bottom-feeder) in plenty of other locations online and “in real life,” too. Personally, I choose not to associate with people who are so judgmental “in real life,” but I suppose when one’s story is put out online like this, it’s impossible to avoid the flames. Nevertheless, I am a person, and certainly not a two-dimensional or a naive person. I suppose I’d better humanize myself before this goes completely bonkers. Then, if people choose to dislike me, or believe my actions were wrong and that I deserve the better portion of a thousand dollars in fees as punishment for my apparent wrongdoing, at least I’ve had a proper chance to express myself. Here are a few initial facts:* Of vital importance here is the fact that when companies cannot or will not cancel ACH’s, is that they can and DO try two or three times to withdraw the money from the bank account. Every single time, the bank assigns an NSF fee. For one single ACH of, say, $5.99, that can amount to $105. If you’re unlucky enough to have, say, three or four companies that can’t or won’t cancel the ACHs, then bingo, you’re suddenly in the hole to the tune of $315 to $420. For ACHs totalling perhaps $50. * If the companies to whom the ACHs were assigned won’t help you, that leaves the bank. If the bank won’t help you, you’re pretty much out of luck. That’s when you start using your voice to try to save yourself, emailing or calling, or writing to people and institutions who have more power than you do. I may not be rich, but I do have a right to live, and to ask for help. * I’ve never bounced a check in my life. Ever.* The check written for the deposit actually only overdrew me by about $5.* The four low-dollar ACH’s that came out after that started this monumental and ridiculous chain of events. In a three day window, two were paid and two were not paid. The fee for the original check ($35) and the four other fees $35 each) caused the account to become irretrievably overdrawn. The fees added $175, which I had to come up with immediately to stop what was going on. It was the extra $175 I couldn’t come up with, not the bill money.* My attempts to stop this domino effect were totally fruitless. I did everything I could do to stop what was happening. * No, I don’t have a rich uncle, or a wealthy friend, or a relative of any kind of means to whom I can run when this type of stuff goes down. That doesn’t make me a bad person: that makes me a (currently) poor person. There are plenty of us in this country. Many of us are decent, kind, hard working individuals looking to improve their lot. Hello: pleased to meet you! I can’t buy you a Louis Vuitton handbag for Christmas, but I can sure make a mean batch of cookies.A little background information would perhaps shed even more light on this situation: 1) The check was written to hold an apartment – we were due to move out of the previous place and needed to physically write the check before the new one would be held for us. 2) I did post-date the check.3) There were more than enough funds in my account to cover the check when I wrote the check (surprise!) several weeks earlier than the lease signing. So, no “hot check” here. I know, isn’t that amazing? A real, postdated check, written on a good account. 4) Signing a lease is the “official” acceptance of the apartment. At the time the check was cashed, the lease was not due to be signed for another week.5) The property manager (not caretaker) of the other building is a female (not a male, as the interesting assumption has been) and is in charge of all of the leases for the other building. The other building is owned by the same property management company as the one we are living in now. Having worked for a number of different companies in my life, I assumed that the company policy was the company policy; the manager of the other building informed me that she was not allowed to cash checks before leases were signed. After attempting to contact the manager of the new building (who is not on site) several times to no avail, I felt comfortable, based on my own experiences and the conversation I’d had with the other manager, assuming that the check would be deposited once I’d signed the actual lease.Now here is where it gets interesting. This is the type of background information I think is needed about any person before coming to any decision about their actions, I think. I am always, always ready to listen to others, so I hope you will read the below.I am a freelancer. I get paid by a number of different clients, some on a regular schedule, some on retainer, some here and there. Sometimes, despite signing contracts, unscrupulous clients disappear without paying. Sometimes, it’s to the tune of almost $600. That’s a pretty big chunk of change.This year, I have been expanding my business. I subcontract and find work for four writers, who support their families on the wages they make freelancing. It is a little complex sometimes, but many business owners start out like this. A shoestring beginning, followed by a period of gradual stabilization, hopefully leading to business success. For me, that beginning started in 2009. I’d come from a mid-management background and had been working for major corporations since the age of 20. I’d moonlighted as a writer and a graphic designer over the years, but hadn’t taken the plunge officially.I am freelance by choice. The choice was a very carefully considered one. In 2008, I got pregnant with my first daughter. I continued working throughout the pregnancy. It was a stressful time: I was a district manager and in charge of an entire state. The company I worked for was expanding and it fell to me to make a lot of things happen in a very short space of time. In the end, I went on maternity leave at 36 weeks.Two weeks later I went into labor. During labor I had a complete placental abruption. My daughter died and I almost died along with her. Afterwards, I had to re-learn how to do everything; I’d forgotten how to do simple household chores because the mental trauma was so bad. That’s just how it was.When the circumstances were discussed, the doctors explained that the rare event was most likely the result of sudden onset eclampsia (I had not been pre-eclampsic at all) quite possibly caused by chronic high blood pressure. While my blood pressure readings had been perfect in the office, they would have been through the roof during the long days spent at work during my pregnancy.So, how’s that for a hard lesson?In May of 2009, I fell pregnant again and decided at that point to start freelancing instead of working for the corporation with whom I’d been employed. I started working for very modest amounts and built the business up over the next three years until it generated a reasonable living. It’s a work in progress, but I think things are going very well. Now, I don’t have $10,000 in savings. Yet. Someday, I hope to, but at this point, I’m living day to day, loving my daughter, keeping a roof over her head and paying the bills.As a response to commenters who assumed I “obviously” didn’t have enough money to pay my bills, I say the following: on a tight budget, the bills are paid, but if you add another hundred dollars onto the bills via bank fees, then that isn’t possible. It’s all very well saying that one ought to have money put aside for unexpected expenses, but one “ought” to have a lot of things in an ideal world – this, however, is the real world. Things are not always predictable, and when overdraft notices or NSF notices are conveniently relayed three days after the overdraft or NSF fee, and the bank policy is to allow several per day to go through at $35 a piece, it’s a several-hundred-dollar instant fine to pay, or one has to face the prospect of things continuing to get worse.I have no wealthy friends or family. When the unexpected happens, I am financially alone. I called the bank and all of the businesses with whom I have automatic withdrawals to tackle the situation immediately. When I got the responses I did, I had to work with what I got. The rent needed paying. The car insurance needed paying. I certainly wasn’t going to drive an uninsured vehicle around on top of everything else.In the future, I won’t be scheduling ACH payments any more. Fair enough. But the whole point of this entire episode was that there is something terribly wrong with the system if a cascade of events like this cannot be stopped, no matter how hard a person tries. Not being able to come up with several hundred in bank fees on an immediate basis is not an indication of a chronic inability to pay the bills. Similarly, writing a valid check on a bank account in good standing, which then comes out at an unexpected time, is not an indication of a chronic habit of check bouncing. Not having several thousands in savings is not an indication of laziness, or of an inability to handle money. It’s an indication of being fully established, or of coming from an established background. I am working toward the former, and am not of the latter. That’s not a crime; that makes me just like a lot of other good people in this country.Not being able to stop this from happening, despite immediate telephone calls to the various companies in question, is not an indication of stupidity, or of naivete. I did my best – straight away – to ensure that the dominos stopped crashing down and never hid in a corner or failed to do what I could to ensure a decent outcome.Going to a consumer advocate, the Better Business Bureau, the Wells Fargo Head Office or the Huffington Post (among others) is not “whining to the right person.” This situation took 40 days to sort out. During that time, I had to deal amicably and professionally with 17 different clients, take care of a toddler with love and respect, be a good friend, keep the household up and running and offer emotional support to another person in my life who desperately needed it. Where there are resources – and people as decent as Chris Elliot, who will go to bat in circumstances like these – it is sensible to ask for help. And I did. And I am not ashamed of that, either.Incidentally, it’s important to note that when the big banks do this to consumers – to the tune of hundreds of dollars – they are taking money out of our economy in this country, and putting it in their coffers. That doesn’t benefit anyone. Not even those with thousands upon thousands stowed in a savings account.

    The knock on effects of business tactics like these are wide ranging, and not to be taken lightly. Bankrupting a person of little means simply because they have fewer means than rich person is simply morally wrong, and supporting it in any way can be seen as the same.I intend to go on the way I have, to continue building the business, to continue finding work for the people who need me to do that, and to continue sticking my neck out when I feel something is detrimental to the community. I’m not perfect – but honestly, I’m not a bad person. I’m a good friend, I try to be the best mother, sister and partner that I can be. I look out for positive ways to contribute to my community and to society, and when I find them, I take part. I stand up for the people I know, and intend to continue doing that as well.So, without trying to sound preachy, I would offer the following advice: before jumping all over an individual about whom you know absolutely nothing, why not take a moment to think about their potential circumstances? Human beings are three-dimensional beings, with complex lives, real emotions, families for whom they provide, and dreams they hope to accomplish. The poorest in society are not the most stupid; poor people are also not worthless. When people need help, it is specifically because they cannot handle a situation by themselves. Encountering such a situation is not an indication of failure as a person. Unexpected events happen to people every single day; bank policy could easily be rigged to benefit human beings and the society they live in, along with the economy to which they contribute. It, quite simply put, is not. It’s a rocky road, sometimes, this life – but it is, nevertheless, amazing. I’d rather get to know the background of any person’s situation before jumping to conclusions based on little more than a snippet of information. We all have the time to do that, I think. Thank you to those of you who slowed down and remembered that this situation is entirely human, that the person to whom it happened is human and that people deserve consideration, no matter who they are.I wish every single one of you good health, happiness, love, and a long, prosperous life. And I hope none of you ever have to encounter such a slew of judgmental, non-helpful and at times, hateful commentary from a crowd of people like this.