12-13-2019  2:48 am   •   PDX Weather    •   SEA weather  
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NORTHWEST NEWS

PHOTOS: Black Santa Visits Northwest African American Museum

The Skanner's Seattle photographer Susan Fried was on hand to snap some photos

English Language Learners' Success Translates Into a $25,000 Milken Educator Award for Teacher Julie Rowell

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Portland Resident Hoping to Donate Kidney to Black Recipient

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Puget Soundkeeper and Waste Action Project Send Notice of Intent to Sue to Ardagh Glass

Violations listed include illegal discharges into the Duwamish River, failure to collect stormwater samples and failure to install required treatment systems

NEWS BRIEFS

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Meet 80 Local Authors at OHS 52nd Holiday Cheer Book Sale and Signing

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'Shop early': US Christmas trees supplies tight, prices up

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Customers searching for the perfect Christmas tree typically glance at Sandy Parsons’ limited offerings, then keep walking.Parsons never got her order for 350 trees from a North Carolina farm. Supplies were short, she was told. Instead, she was shipped some...

Dozens out sick at Vancouver schools, Seattle school closed

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New Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz predicts success

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Eli Drinkwitz was saying all the right things after being introduced as the new football coach at Missouri, laying out his vision for the once-proud program with unwavering confidence and bold proclamations.Then the former Appalachian State coach made a minor...

LSU's Burrow, Auburn's Brown named AP SEC players of year

LSU quarterback Joe Burrow is a unanimous selection as the offensive player of the year on The Associated Press All-Southeastern Conference football team.The top-ranked Tigers also have the SEC’s coach of the year in Ed Orgeron and the newcomer of the year in freshman cornerback Derek...

OPINION

Will You Answer the Call for Moral Revival?

In embracing and expanding the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Revs. Barber and Theoharis have asked Presidential candidates to consider a debate that focuses exclusively on poverty ...

What I’m Thankful For This Season

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Congressional Black Caucus Members Visit U.S.-Mexico Border: “Mistreatment of Black Immigrants is Another ‘Stain on America’”

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Portland, I'm Ready

Last month I had the privilege to stand with hundreds of supporters and announce my intention to run for re-election ...

AFRICAN AMERICANS IN THE NEWS

Anti-Semitism order raises tough issue of defining prejudice

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New Jersey attackers linked to anti-Semitic fringe movement

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Man convicted in 2017 Charlottesville car attack to appeal

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — An Ohio man plans to appeal his convictions for driving his car into a crowd of counterprotestors during a 2017 white nationalist rally in Virginia.The Daily Progress, citing online court records, reports that a lawyer for James Alex Fields Jr. filed a notice of...

ENTERTAINMENT

Weinstein lawyer says 98% of creditors agreeing to settle

NEW YORK (AP) — Ninety-eight percent of The Weinstein Co.'s creditors are joining a tentative settlement that plaintiffs say includes million for over two dozen actresses and former employees who claim Harvey Weinstein sexually harassed them, a lawyer said Thursday.The attorney, Karen...

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Terrence Malick’s “A Hidden Life” resides above the clouds in a small Alpine hamlet.Franz Jägerstätter lives there, in Austria, with his wife, Franziska, and their young daughters. They spend their days working and playing in the hillside fields, enraptured by their...

Wilde defends 'Jewell' reporter over sex-for-tips claims

NEW YORK (AP) — Olivia Wilde said Thursday she does not believe the real-life journalist she plays in the new film “Richard Jewel” “traded sex for tips" despite that insinuation in the movie. In a series of tweets, Wilde called late Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter...

U.S. & WORLD NEWS

'Shop early': US Christmas trees supplies tight, prices up

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Customers searching for the perfect Christmas tree typically glance at Sandy...

Tokyo being billed as 'Recovery Olympics' -- but not for all

FUTABA, Japan (AP) — The torch relay for the Tokyo Olympics will kick off in Fukushima, the northern...

"Nuts!" US troops thwarted Hitler's last gamble 75 years ago

BASTOGNE, Belgium (AP) — Pvt. Arthur Jacobson was seeking cover in the snow behind a tank moving slowly...

EU leaders break stalemate over climate target, claim deal

BRUSSELS (AP) — EU leaders broke a deadlock early Friday and claimed a deal over a key climate target by...

"Nuts!" US troops thwarted Hitler's last gamble 75 years ago

BASTOGNE, Belgium (AP) — Pvt. Arthur Jacobson was seeking cover in the snow behind a tank moving slowly...

UK vote eases corrosive uncertainty hurting businesses

LONDON (AP) — The British election result is a boost to the economy and financial markets in the short term...

McMenamins
Candice Choi of the Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — The nickel-and-diming never stopped.

The fees were constant: $28 to cash a paycheck. $1.50 for a money order. A dollar or more every time I swiped the prepaid cash card I bought at the drug store.

In all, I racked up $93 in fees in a monthlong experiment of living without a bank and making a go of it on the economic fringe. That works out to $1,100 a year just to spend my own money.

It may be hard to fathom why anyone would live this way, but a federal study last year found that about one in four U.S. households skirts banks and relies on services such as check-cashing and payday loans. Many of these households bring in less than $30,000 a year.

Some do it because they believe they don't have enough money to open a bank account or were burned by fees in the past. But it's not always a matter of choice: Many can't open an account because of a history of bad checks or damaged credit.

There are other reasons too. Language barriers intimidate some would-be customers, or they simply feel banks aren't welcoming. For others, literally handling their own money offers a sense of control at a time of financial anxiety.

Federal and local governments want to bring this group into the traditional banking world. The fear is that the chronic use of high-fee services keeps the country's poorest from moving up.

Yet there are signs that the slow economic recovery is leading more people to rely on certain alternative services. And it's not just the poor.

Americans are expected to load $37 billion this year on to prepaid cards, which function like bankless debit cards and are available at drug stores and discounters. That's twice as much as last year and four times the amount in 2008.

The tradeoff is often a tangle of fees. Some cards charge a dollar a minute to call customer service and $5 just to add money to the card. The still nascent prepaid card industry will come under new federal oversight as part of this year's financial overhaul.

To find out what it's like to survive on these services I decided to put away my credit and debit cards for one month. I suspended my direct deposit in favor of paper paychecks.

In that time, I got by using only cash and services such as money orders.

It turns out fees were only part of the problem.



The Costs

I don't recall the last time I had to cash a check, so I had no idea how expensive it could be. I forked over $56 to cash two paychecks at grimy check-cashing stores. This accounted for more than half my total fees.

And I was lucky. The check-cashing fee in New York is capped at 1.83 percent. In Florida and Maine, where the cap is 5 percent, check cashing could have cost almost three times as much. About half of states set no limits.

Most of my remaining costs, about $34, went to fees on prepaid cards.

These charges were the most frustrating because they were so unpredictable. The two cards I used each cost $4.95 — on top of the money I was putting on the card — but came with wildly different terms. Some cards cost as much as $29.95 upfront.

The first card I bought, a NexisCard, was the only option at the check-cashing place I pass everyday in my neighborhood on Manhattan's West Side. I had to pay a $1 fee for each purchase. If I used the PIN code to authorize a purchase, it was $1.50. And if I wanted cash back at the register, it was $1.95. The card could also be used at bank ATMs for a fee. That's on top of the fee the bank charges for out-of-network cards. I did this just once for a total cost of $5.

The second card I bought was issued by Green Dot Corp., one of the bigger players in the prepaid market. This one had better terms but still charged $4.95 each time I wanted to reload it.

Paying rent was also a process. I couldn't mail a wad of cash to my landlord, so I went to a nearby Western Union to buy money orders with cash from one of my paychecks. Each money order is limited to $1,000, so I needed two for my $1,300 rent.

This cost a total of $3.50.



The Hassles

When you don't have a bank, you spend a lot more time managing your money.

So many of my finances are automated — direct deposit, automatic bill pay — that it was jarring to spend so much time waiting in Soviet-style lines to cash checks and pay rent.

At the check-cashing place, I squirmed when the clerk counted out my money by snapping each $100 bill high in the air. In my mind, the line of customers behind me was counting along in unison.

I also felt self-conscious when using my temporary prepaid card, which looked cheap, even fake. It didn't have my name on it and the account number wasn't raised as on most credit cards. A permanent card wouldn't arrive for six weeks.

If a cashier's eyes lingered too long, I wanted to pull out my Bank of America rewards credit card, which has "Platinum" in italics across the top.

Then there was the time a hotel charged my NexisCard $400 in case I incurred any incidentals. I was told the charge would be refunded at checkout. But it took multiple calls over three weeks to get my money back. NexisCard refused to lift the hold until the hotel faxed them an official release form.

The appearance of mystery transactions made me paranoid too.

When I was checking the NexisCard account online, I spotted a $3 entry for a "retail reload." This confused me because I never reloaded the card. I filed a dispute and was told I'd get a call back within three days. The call never came.

A few days later, another $3 entry appeared. The customer service representative was as stumped as I was.

It turns out both "retail reloads" were credits for my prior complaints about incorrect fee charges. I learned this only after talking with the CEO of the company, Andrew Siden, weeks later as part of the reporting process.

We determined that one credit was an error that worked in my favor.

He agreed that the transactions can be confusing and that mistakes happen. Siden noted that the company operates on thin margins and does its best to fix mistakes when they're pointed out.

But I only caught the mistakes on my account because it was part of my job. Would I keep chasing down a few dollars here and there for much longer?

I'm glad I don't have to find out.

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