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Thursday, August 20, 2009

What "Debit Card Trap?"

An editorial appeared in the New York Times today which cast debit cards in a very negative light. I was initially surprised and hurt by this, as I have debit card. And I love it. It's my flat little bubbie.

It just sits there in my wallet, an innocuous piece of plastic with raised letters and numbers (and no, I won't tell you what they are, you little thievy-poo) and I've never had any reason to think that, one day, my debit card and its sisters, cousins and aunts would be villified in the pages of the New York Times.

But I guess I should have expected it-- everyone and everything gets villified in there at some point, doesn't it?

But actually the editorial wasn't about debit cards, per se, it was about people who use their debit cards when they have no money left in their checking account. Most transactions will still go through as "approved" with the issuing financial institution encumbering the overdraftee with massive overdraft fines.

Here's my question: so what?

It's pretty easy to avoid overdrafting-- mind your balance. Most of us in the modern era check their balances online. I eyeball all of my checking account transactions on my bank's website approximately once a week. Did this check go through? Were my student loan payments auto-debited? How much money am I spending on chinese food this month? Are there any mysterious debits that I did not authorize, like $587 worth of edible panties from or a $700 anatomically-correct inflatable Warren G. Harding?

I just think it's wise to keep an eye on the shop, you know. That way, I'll know if some pervert has stolen my identity, and I'll also know if I'm getting dangerously close to the figure of naught before I go blow $100 I don't have on bison meat.

I suspect that a lot of people who have to worry about overdrafting and getting slammed with huge fees from their banks run into this problem because they are purchasing things they can't afford. Call me cynical, or a lousy bitch, but I'd be willing to bet that it's true. If you're making $11-an-hour, you probably shouldn't be downloading a dozen ringtones each week for your brand-new iPhone. Maybe you don't really need that 52 inch flatscreen mounted on your wall. Maybe you could brew your coffee at home instead of Starfuxing it up every morning so you can stare at the barista's rock-hard tits.

Living within our means is not part of the American Dream, but it should be. Being responsible about our money isn't part of the American notion of "fun" and "devil-may-care" but it isn't hard and, face it, it's part of growing up. You want to sit around and write columns in the NYT pissing and moaning and whining about how the big, bad bank hurts your feelings with big overdraft charges? Hey-- Big Bad Bank, Inc. didn't tell you to go spend money you don't have.

Checking your bank statement may seem boring, but, once you get into the habit of doing it, it becomes a habit, like everything else-- and you'll feel better once you've started doing it. No more surprises, no more scary fines, no more worrying or wondering if you have enough funds to cover a transaction.

The New York Times disagrees, saying, "Banks must be required to warn customers in real time when a debit card charge will overdraw their accounts — and what fees they will incur if they still decide to proceed with the purchase."

Oh, really?

So the bank is now my mommy or my daddy, reminding me how much allowance they're giving me? Fuck that-- I'm supposed to know how much I have in my back pocket. I hate to sound all Republican here, but whatever happened to personal responsibility? Why can't grown up motherfuckers like you and me be expected to know the balances of our own finances? If we're really that incompetent, then we shouldn't be allowed to have checking accounts and savings accounts and debit cards and credit cards in the first place. I suspect, though, that most of us are competent enough to watch over our own funds-- I just think a lot of us are too goddamn lazy to do it, and we feel better pointing the finger at the bank for punishing us when we do the wrong thing. Because, hey-- we're young, hip, attractive, on-the-go, plugged-in, text-happy, tech-savvy Americans, and we're just not responsible. Who has the time to check their balances in between frappaccino meetings and Samsung evenings?

Well, guess what? We should be more responsible and we should be held accountable. "Know your limit" isn't just good advice for boozies at the bar. It's good advice for all of us.


  1. "Living within our means is not the American Dream, but it should be."

    I heartily agree. No one is going to watch your money except you yourself and expecting the banks to do it is silly and naive. I'm surprised the Times ran this article. Must be a slow day for news...

  2. i completely agree with you! i have no problems with my debit but that's because like you, i check my account regularly and i'm RESPONSIBLE. i actually don't ever balance my checkbook the old fashioned way though. i figure its not necessary when i can just look online..

  3. Yeah, I figured out the whole issue with the card not shutting off when the ex drained my checking account while I slept, to the tune of $150 total taken, including the fees (which the bank waived under their "your exhusband is a douchebag" policy).

    People fucking know how much money they have. They know they're poor or they're not. Broke or not. Whatever. I damn well know if I can afford something or not.

    I have this theory that people live according to their gross income instead of net. As in "I make $65k a year, I can afford that" instead of "I bring home $50k a year and I have a mortgage, so no flat screen for me.".

    Spot on, mister.

  4. You're awesome.
    It's all about self-restraint, which the majority of Americans these days seem to be lacking.

    Stop competing with your neighbor over whose TV screen is bigger and grow the f*ck up, right?


  5. Great post. This type of behavior ruins it for the rest of us trying to do things the honest way.

  6. I don't hate you sounding a little Republican once in a while:)

  7. I was waiting for a list of things that should also be done for us by larger corporations (your rants are so much better than mine, but i'll try) For example, if its the banks responsibility to warn us about our balance, than:
    1. Gap should send me real-time messages every time they are having sale
    2. Bojangles should send me a real-time message when they run out of chicken at night (just happened)
    3. my uterus should send me a message after every sexual encounter to let me know if i am or am not pregnant
    ....that's all i got. again your, rants are better than mine, so have at it.


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