Rick Horowitz: Quick on the Draw — and the Overdraw

A toast, please, to technology, which makes our lives so much smoother and easier. Faster, and more flexible.

Without technology, life itself would be a constant struggle. With technology, we’re free to discover new and exciting ways to slip on the banana peel.

Or am I getting ahead of myself?

Consider the beauty of online banking. With online banking, it’s no problem at all for you and your loved ones to maintain multiple accounts for multiple purposes — one for essentials, for instance, and one for “happy money” — and to move your dollars back and forth between them with just a few clicks of a keyboard as circumstances dictate.

With online banking, you can tell with a glance at a computer screen exactly which checks have cleared, and which ones are still floating around out there. With online banking, you know in an instant precisely how much (or, more to the point, how little) you still have in your account, so you stay out of trouble.

Essential? No doubt about it!

Someday I really have to try it.

For the moment, though, I’ve tiptoed only so far into Techno-Dollar World. I finally started paying some of my bills online. Which was more than enough to get me into hot water.

It started as an emergency measure — I’d let the payment deadline for this or that credit card creep up on me until it was only a day or two away, and the Postal Service wasn’t any more reliable than I was about getting things to particular places at particular times. Meanwhile, the card companies’ penalties for late payments — even just-a-tiny-bit-late-payments — had turned totally medieval. I couldn’t afford to be late, so I took the plunge and went online instead.

It was a snap. No more scrounging around for stamps — and really now, who wants to spend an extra 44 cents every time you pay a bill? No more digging around for envelopes. No more having to write all those tedious details on the check, or in the check register, or —

Not exactly.

It turns out that even in my tiny corner of Techno-Dollar World, some things don’t change: You still have to enter the payment in the check register.

It’s not that I didn’t know that. It’s more that I forgot it. With all the speed and convenience of paying my bills online, I was finished before I ever realized that I wasn’t finished. And since I hadn’t had to open the checkbook to actually write a check, it was easy to forget about opening the checkbook to subtract the proper amount of money from my balance.

Can you say “overdrawn”?

Can you say it four times?

It’s absolutely amazing how many bills you can pay with the very same money if you never do any subtraction.

What’s not at all amazing is that the bank kept better track of my confusion than I did. They knew just where zero was, and just when I’d crossed it. There was a letter. There was a phone call. They couldn’t have been kinder, but rules are rules. And zero is zero.

Really now, who wants to spend an extra 44 cents every time you pay a bill when you can pay an extra 31 bucks for every overdraft?

A toast, please, to technology. But nothing too expensive, OK?

Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at rickhoro@execpc.com.

Read more: Checking Accounts, Banking, Banks, Overdraft Fees, Personal Finance, Overdrawn, Online Bill Paying, Overdrafts, Online Banking, Bill Paying, Living News

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