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Editor's Column: Bank finds another way to exploit its customer
Saturday was bill paying day but there were no stamps in my wallet or the special box that usually holds them. The post offices were closed, but a small memory popped up: At one time, “Buy Stamps” was seen on the list of choices offered by a bank’s ATM machine.
A trip to the bank quickly confirmed the memory as “Buy Stamps” was indeed a choice. Insert card, push a few buttons, and there on the screen were the quantities available and prices. The fewest was 18 stamps which was sufficient for a few months’ of bills, but the price didn’t seem to add up. First class stamps are 44 cents, but the cost for 18 bank stamps was $9.54. Hmmm, what’s $9.54 divided by 18? While mulling that one over a car with an impatient driver pulled up behind, so the $9.54 was surrendered and the sheet of 18 stamps was spit out by the machine.
But this problem had to be solved, even if it meant pulling into a bank parking lot. The car didn’t come equipped with a calculator, there was no cell phone, iPod or notebook computer, but it didn’t matter: This called for long division, at which I excelled in the sixth grade. I divided the dividend by the divisor which resulted in the quotient of 53 cents, with no remainder. The accuracy was quickly checked by casting out the nines, which anyone under 50 will probably have to google. The shocking answer was that the bank was charging 53 cents for a 44 cent stamp. Another odd thing was the sheet of 18 stamps. The post office sells sheets of 20, not 18, so the bank was obviously trying to make the arithmetic process harder so only math whizzes could figure out how badly they were being ripped off before the driver behind started honking his horn.
I was annoyed that my bank would take advantage of me on stamps, the sale of which I assumed was a public service. A little more figuring showed the markup at 20 percent over post office prices. At the post office, I could have purchased 20 stamps $8.80, rather than 18 for $9.54. I had lost $1.58 counting the two stamps I didn’t get.
I felt betrayed by my friendly “local” bank which is part of an enormous corporation that is hiding billions in real estate losses somewhere in its books. After all, I have money in that bank for which I receive about one-half of one percent interest in return. I had just lost the annual interest on approximately $300 by buying a book of stamps. That $1.50 could have purchased six packages of Top Ramen in my retirement years and I’ll never be able to make it up.
Such paltry interest combined with the stamp robbery entirely messes up my retirement plans, so now if I want to eat, I’ll have to retire six days later. On the positive side, maybe by that time the government will be handing out Top Ramen to the millions of people ripped off by the major banks in one way or another.