The only time I was laid off and had to live on unemployment benefits was back in late 2001. Depositing those checks and filling out those weekly what-jobs-I-applied-for forms for six months was crappy but humbling and necessary to get by. Nowadays it looks like you can access those funds via a special debit card, which is kind of a nice upgrade to the process. Less paper, quicker access to your money, and all’s swell, right?
Of course, there’s a big hitch: it gives the banks yet another opportunity to be greedy, evil fucks. Apparently most of them are charging fees on unemployment debit cards, allowing them to reap big profits from your misfortune. So if you’re laid off and surviving on unemployment benefits alone, needing every dollar to stretch as far as it can, you can expect the banks to take a little piece of that every time you use an ATM or check your balance. From a related story:
The Comerica Bank MasterCard debit card used by the unemployment
benefit program has fees like: $1.50 every time you make a withdrawal,
after one freebie at Wachovia or PNC, $1.50 each time you transfer $
from the debit card to a checking account, $.40 to check your balance…
Christ! There may be ways around some of the fees, such as taking cash back with a grocery purchase, but people shouldn’t have to game the system to avoid this kind of thing. And what about those overdraft fees? Oh, don’t think for one second that most banks are going to treat your unemployment card any differently from a regular debit card. If you accidentally charge more than you have in your account, rather than cutting you off when you’re out of money, you’re dinged with a $20+ overdraft fee which puts you further in the hole. Because, to the banks, having a negative balance ensures that you stay fucked for a loooonnnng time, especially if something else (like one of their stupid balance check fees) chimes in and dings you for another $20. Bang, $40 of your next unemployment payment goes right into the bank’s pocket because of a $.50 balance check surcharge. Assholes.
It’s things like this that piss me off about the bank bailout. They get to survive while still treating their customers like cows to be milked, even the jobless ones. Maybe some of them deserve to fail…some people seem to think so. Personally I still have a rarely-used account with a local credit union, and we’re seriously thinking about moving our money there and giving Washington Mutual/JP Morgan Chase the boot. They already charge for overdraft protection and having less than $300 in your savings account, both of which are fee-free with the credit union, so it’s only a matter of putting it in motion.