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For A Slight Fee

by Stephen Lautens


May 24, 2002

"Hi, I was calling about the notice I received saying that you're increasing my monthly banking fee."

"Oh yes, and how can I help you?"

I swear in the background I can hear the sound of people rolling around in folding money. Tens and twenties, if I'm not mistaken.

"I want to cancel my credit card and go back to having a plain savings account."

Through the phone I hear the sound of computer keys being clicked and my entire life history being paraded on the screen before the bank employee.

"I see. It says here you're one of our preferred, extra-special customers. We'd hate to see you lose all those special services you have with your current plan."

"What kind of services?"

"Well, you get free cheques."

"I don't write cheques. Nobody in the world tries to write cheques anymore unless you're a cat lady. I do all my banking at bank machines and on the computer." It's true, I haven't set foot inside a bank in years. Every time I do I end up in line behind someone trying to cash a double-endorsed US cheque using an "I'm With Stupid" tee shirt as ID.

"You know, if you leave our premium plan, you'll have to pay a service charge to keep doing your banking by computer."

"So let me get this straight - you're going to charge me for sitting at my kitchen table with my computer and doing all the work you'd normally have to pay a teller to do?"

"That's right. And we'll now have to charge you a service fee every time you want to take your money out."

"A service fee for getting my own money back? How much if I just want to come and visit it at the bank?"

"Oh, it's not here" - more sounds of crinkling bills and jingling change - "It's out working hard in the community."

At a heck of a higher interest rate than I'm getting, I mutter under my breath. If I got any less interest, I'd owe the bank. Wait a minute, when you add up all the fees, I do owe the bank.

Deeply buried in the bank's website is the amount of interest they pay on a regular savings account. If you have under five grand in the bank and leave it there for the whole year, you get one tenth of a percent. That's right - ten cents a year interest on a hundred dollars.

"We could increase your credit card limit, if that helps."

"I pay it off every month. I don't want to pay eighteen percent to borrow money when you're paying me a tenth of a percent for me lending you my money."

I do some quick calculation. The bank is charging me 180 times as much in interest for my credit card as they are paying me for my cold hard cash. Sweet deal. Does the Mafia know about this?

"We value you as a customer. If we didn't, why would we send you so many colourful inserts in your statement saying that we do?"

"About that - while we're at it, is there any way you could stop sending me so much junk?"

"I'll look it up, but there may be a slight fee."

© Stephen Lautens 2002

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