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This Is Why We’re In A Recession, Part 101

, , , , | Right | April 11, 2021

I’m a teller and phone representative at our community credit union; it’s like a not-for-profit bank.

I get a phone call from a woman who needs help understanding a sequence of transactions on her account. There are a lot of moving parts but the upshot is that she wrote four checks that all bounced and we charged her a $25 fee for each, totaling $100 in fees. She had $20 in her account to begin with and a manager at a different branch had refunded two of her fees, meaning that she was overdrawn by a total of $30 in the end. That, it turns out, is not the issue she needs help with.

After I explain it twice and get her to agree with me each step of the way, we reach the end.

Caller: “Where’s that $50, then?”

Me: “I’m sorry, what $50?”

Caller: “Well, you said you charged me $50 in fees and refunded $50, so that should be zero. But you still took $50, so where did that other $50 go?”

Me: “Sorry, I wasn’t clear. We charged you $100 in fees and then refunded $50. You still owe us the other $50 due to the checks that didn’t clear.”

Caller: “Okay, but then where is that $50 you refunded me? I don’t see it in my account.”

Me: “Yes, that’s because we refunded it to your checking. You were overdrawn $80 but now you’re only overdrawn by $30.”

Caller: “But where is that $50? I’ve been through this so many times and I think y’all are just taking my money.”

This goes around in circles for a while. For the life of me, I cannot figure out which part she doesn’t understand. Eventually, we reach the half-hour mark. At our credit union, we have the philosophy that the tellers and phone representatives are there to serve all members, not just you. If you want to monopolize the time of one of us — there are usually only three or four at my location — then you pay $50 per half-hour after the first half-hour. The idea is that you’re inconveniencing other members by hogging my time, so you should only do it if you’re willing to pay for it. Telling her about that is the only reason our call ends.

I make notes on her account from our conversation, letting my colleagues know not to spend more than a few minutes with her unless they charge the “monopoly time” fee.

I got a call later that day from the manager that had refunded her fees. It turns out that that manager spent forty-five minutes on the phone with the woman before I did, and they had basically the same conversation, going in circles about $50. After I talked to her, the woman went into that manager’s branch to get help. They saw my notes and told her that, due to the amount of time we’d spent trying to help her, it would be a $50 fee. She got upset and asked to speak to the manager. In her anger, we actually learned what the root of this misunderstanding was the entire time.

It was because we “refunded” two of the fees instead of “waiving” them. It turned out that she had no intuitive sense about what negative numbers and overdrawn accounts were. When she heard that we “refunded” two fees, she expected to receive fifty physical dollars and was wondering how we could have done that when she wasn’t there. The entire time, she thought there was $50 waiting for her somewhere and was exasperated that we wouldn’t tell her where it was. She left without it.

This Is Why We’re In A Recession, Part 100
This Is Why We’re In A Recession, Part 99
This Is Why We’re In A Recession, Part 98
This Is Why We’re In A Recession, Part 97
This Is Why We’re In A Recession, Part 96

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