Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Techno Babble

I love technology. And I hate it. I love being able to research things whenever I want, shop at midnight, check my bank balance whenever I want without actually visiting the bank or speaking to a customer service representative. Heck, except for one or two rogue accounts that don’t have online payment capability I pay all my bills online. Hello, Savings Bank Life Insurance of Massachusetts … is there any interest in joining the current century any time soon? Just wondering.

There have been so few paper checks written on my checking account that the checkbook is on something like number 85 in the account I have had for two years. A fair number of the 84 checks “issued” were voided by me because, in spite of a 6 year stint in banking that included time served on the teller line cashing people’s checks and a run in accounts payable where the job was to issue checks, I am always writing the amount in the payee line or vice versa. Maybe it’s the fact that lately I need reading glasses to see anything if I have my contact lenses in. Or maybe the usual multitasking is distracting – paying bills plus drinking coffee, watching TV, writing blogs, goofing on Facebook and myspace and my online word puzzle games – all while conversing with Boyfriend, balancing a lit candle on my had and belly dancing. (Ok, I’m exaggerating – I have never actually talked to Boyfriend while dancing with a lit candle on my head. I practice that sort of thing when he isn’t home.)

Between the few checks written and a general lack of focus resulting in the failure to engage in social niceties like sending paper birthday cards (e-cards and Facebook wall posts!), I still have Christmas stamps from 2007. That was how many postage rate increases ago?

In any event …. back to technology, which I think was where I started before that little redirect. I can’t even remember what we did before the instant gratification of text messages, email, fax machines, the ability to pay bills in a matter of seconds by pushing a button. If I recall, we had to plan ahead. We had to wait for things. Wow. Scary.

At the same time I love technology, I hate the baggage that it comes with – like passwords and PIN codes. With ten or so accounts I pay online – utilities, mortgage, and various household expenses (thank you termites!), car insurance, credit card, student loan from my brief foray into academia in the summer of ‘08, the password to access the online banking system, plus email accounts, online games and social networking sites – it’s a crushing pile of passwords. It seems that each of these has a requirement varying from four characters to as many as 20 with some combination of upper and lowercase letters and numeric characters. One or two may have required a saliva sample, but don’t quote me on that. A couple require periodic password changes, and in one case the new password can’t be the same as any of the last five password used. Cripes! All I want to do is pay a bill or read a message.

Yes, I know, I could pay everything at one place through my bank’s online payment system, but it takes 5 to 7 days for them to process the payments, which is the same lead time as me writing a check and mailing it – because, get this, they cut a check at the bank and mail it! Save a stamp and cede control. And when I bolt upright in bed at 2 a.m. on the 14th, suddenly remembering my Citibank bill is due on the 15th this month and not the 18th like last month, I don’t have the luxury of 5 to 7 days at my disposal.

And yes, I also know I could set all of these bills up to automatically hit my bank account, but there are a couple reasons why I don’t. For one thing, I don’t want to be tethered to that (or any other) bank account . If I get mad enough at my bank to act on my fantasies and move my account (trust me, it’s come close a couple times already) – if I had to unwind 10 ACH setups to it – Errrr… which is exactly how they like it.

The other reason is rooted in experience. When I moved to Tennessee, I had a bad experience with an automatic payment setup in Massachusetts. I notified my insurance auto company I was moving and sought guidance on what to do, closed my bank account and got a nice cashier’s check to open a new account, moved to Tennessee, got my driver’s license here and transferred my car insurance coverage to a my new state of residence. In the meantime, in opposition to all assurances thay had provided, the Massachusetts insurance office triggered an automatic payment to my closed bank account, which activated the overdraft line of credit linked to it. A month or two later, after the bank notice had been returned by the Post Office with the address correction info and sent out again by the bank to my new address, I finally received the interest due notice alerting me to the fact that something wrong had happened. It took far too many phone calls to unwind. So no, I won’t let that happen again. I like to run the worst case scenarios and head them off – What if something bizarre happens and my payroll direct deposit from work fails, but there are a couple payments ready to strike on the same day? I am too much of a control freak to sit back and risk that kind of train wreck.

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