I’m going back to funding my life with cash.
There was a period of time, from the early ’00s to the early ’10s, when I had washed my hands of the banking system and was living on a cash only basis. That was partly by necessity and partly by choice, but what I discovered during that time was, that my spending decreased and my level of financial security increased. Were there some “incoveniences” paying bills? Yes, there were. Discipline eliminated those.
Over time, my life changed a bit and circumstances dictated that I work through a bank. I wasn’t thrilled about transitioning back into the “system” but, it appeared to be the best option at the time. Change being what it is… I have new incentive to walk away from the banking system.
This morning, I discovered that my personal checking account was feeling ~$3000 lighter than it was yesterday afternoon. Apparently, someone had seen fit to process 3 separate charges, overnight, for hotel room rentals in Miami Beach, at both https://www.loewshotels.com/miami-beach (2 charges for $541.50 each) and https://www.edenrochotelmiami.com/ (1 charge for $1,740.22). The problem is, I don’t live in South Florida, I’m not travelling in South Florida, and I have no current plans to visit South Florida. In the perpetraitors’ defense, the hotels and rooms seem very nice from the photographs and online reviews.
Ok. So, somebody decided to place fraudulent charges on my account. So be it. I have recourse in the form of a fraud claim with my bank of choice. In this case, USAA.
I opened my account and attempted to start a fraud claim for each of the 3 transactions. I was e-informed that I could not do so because the charges had not posted to my account yet. They were simply pending. But, that I should contact the vendor(s) and attempt to resolve the issue in that manner. Fine.
I called the reservations hotline at Eden Roc Hotel in Miami and discussed the issue with a nice lady on the other end. She dutifully asked me who’s name the reservation was made in… “I have no idea”, I told her. “But my name is…”
Long story short, she was unable to assist me because I couldn’t identify a reservation and she couldn’t simply query the system to pair my debit card account number with a reservation. Disappointing but, understandable.
So, I called USAA. They allowed me to file the fraud claim, and let me know that the money would be returned to my account in 1-2 business days. Stop.
“Today” being Friday (the last business day of the week) meant that, best case, I wouldn’t see those funds returned until Tuesday. Five days later. That was a non-starter for me on principle. So, I asked to speak with someone who could authorize an expedited time frame.
After a long hold, the USAA lady put me on the line with “Rita” from the Fraud Dept. She continued the narrative of there being nothing to be done until the charges actually posted to the account and, then, 1-2 business days later I’d have my money. Wait. What?
The simple math and history of my account tells me that those charges are not likely to post until the beginning of next week. Probably Monday. So, the timeline to resolution had effectively been lengthened. Now I was looking at 6-7 days before I was made whole. Unacceptable.
After another lengthy hold period, I was connected with “Chris”, Fraud Dept Supervisor. He dutifully explained the same nonsense and let me know that my claim couldn’t be expedited because, from USAA’s point of view, the funds were still present and with charges pending, ie. charges had not been posted.
That being true, of course, didn’t solve my problem. From a consumer point of view, a pending charge may as well have cleared because the funds are just as unavailable to said consumer either way. “Chris” was also nice enough to let me know that once the charges posted, the resolution would be made complete 1-3 business days later… Stop the damned bus, “Chris”.
Now, real potential, we were talking about late next week or possibly the week after, I would be made whole. Every successive person I spoke with gave me a slightly longer timeframe. Now I was just pissed. When I asked “Chris” to put me in touch with the next person higher on USAA’s foodchain, he was unwilling/unable to do so. While admitting that he was constrained by bank policy, federal regulations, and was apparently at the top of the Fraud Dept, he was not USAA’s “top dog” but, had no idea who could resolve this to my satisfaction because, that was the purview of the Fraud Dept and his hands were tied by procedure, policy, regulation… <insert endless loop of BS, corporate-flunky speak here>
So, to recap, somebody fraudulently charged my debit card $3000 overnight and the systems in place to reconcile such activity is unacceptably inadequate to the degree that I apparently need to insulate myself from occurances such as this by removing my money from the banking system’s sphere of control.
If there are a couple of bright spots in this situations, they are this: That $3000 isn’t going to make me miss any meals, and being self-employed, I can simply pay myself cash and eliminate the banking middleman in my personal life. So, it’s time for a staged withdrawal. Here’s the plan…
Like most Americans, I use a tapestry of various financial products and services. In retrospect, entirely too many. They are all billed as conveniences but, when looked at in their entirety, they form a complex mess. Complexity is bad. Avoid it. Keep it Simple, Stupid.
Further, anytime you “outsource” something that is genuinely your responsibility, you are putting yourself at the mercy of some other entity’s whims, policies, and regulations. Which means, you have lost control of something you are responsible for. Think that through because it applies to any number of responsibilities in our day to day lives. Whether it’s banking and money management today or self-defense tomorrow. Whether it’s placing faith in the banks or in the governmental law enforcement… you’ve delegated away your ability to run your life. Going back to my Army Leadership Education, I love this little gem: “You can delegate authority but you cannot delegate responsibility.” Bear that in mind.
So… back to my “tapestry”… I have a number of “auto-pay” items that USAA pays from my account monthly, as well as some various credit lines (Car Loans, Credit Card account, etc) just like many folks. In fact, I read a book several years ago extolling the virtues of taking advantage of all the banking automation available to streamline your life and make your budgeting easier. At the time, I didn’t really like it but, it was relatively easy and trouble-free… until you find you find yourself on the business end of a fraud problem.
Some of you may be familiar with USAA and know that typically branches are located on or near military installations. I, on the other hand, am located nowhere near a military installation and, therefore, nowhere near a USAA branch location. As a result, it makes it a little impractical for me to transact face to face by paying installments on lines of credit with USAA. Fine. I will identify those items that must be paid of my account monthly and plan accordingly by ensuring that there is enough in the account to cover those monthly expenses… and no more. Further, I’ll accelerate my pay-off schedules on those outstanding balances.
As I mentioned before, I am self-employed. USAA does not offer business banking, thus, I was forced into banking locally for business purposes. The benefit to this is, I can do two things when it’s time to pay me. On each payday, I write myself 2 checks. One to deposit electronically for the minimum funds needed to cover my nut at USAA, the other to be paid, cash, to me. Thus, freeing up the lion’s share of my income as liquid.
There are other monthly obligations that I pay from that account that are not lines of credit with USAA (mortgage, electric bill, Internet…) that will need to come out of my cash on hand. These are really where it becomes “inconvenient”. Because, again, none of these creditors are local. So, the inconvenience will come in the form of having to make time to buy money orders and account for the time necessary to mail those payments to their recipients. Yes, it’s a hassle by contemporary standards but… my financial peace of mind and access to my money is worth more to me than the incovenience this represents. And, again, if the inconvenience is great enough… it acts as an incentive for me to resolve those debts as quickly as possible or to do without whatever service I’m inconvenienced by paying for.
Bigger picture, the governmental war on cash is real. It’s use is being deliberately discouraged. It’s too anonymous for an increasingly obnixious and intrusive State. Which, wired like I am (resistive, counter-revolutionary, pain in the ass), makes my “bank exodus) all the more enjoyable.
If they continue to incentivize my withdrawal… The next step is untaxable barter. Which is entirely do-able in the rural setting I live in. I’m already strategizing a “back to the land” ideological existance. And, truth be told, that’s the last thing that certain entities want. If enough of the producers simply extract and vanish from the “system”, how can they be controlled? The simple answer is, they can’t. And, that, my friends would be the end of the “civilized” and “urban” world.
You see… The things that register as human “needs” are born of rural areas. You know… crazy elements like agriculture for foodstuffs, lumber harvesting for building shelter, large open spaces necessary for power plants and natural resource aquisition, clean water sources, etc.
Urban areas, the places where politicians, hoodrats, seats of government, and bankers live… produce little that qualifies as a human “need”. And, in that way they are expendable. What they do produce is typically unwholesome, dependency-generating, and unnecessary. In that way, they are detrimental.
The urbanites are the “takers” as opposed to the “makers”. You might call them parasites. They certainly fit the definition.
In all… the money being unavailable for a few days is a problem of principle and a minor inconvenience. However, it was the stimulus I needed to do what I should have done some time ago and just hadn’t gotten around to. And… it has me thinking of the next step of how to further extract myself and my family from the system and further prosper as a result.