Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Overwhelmed By Overdrafts, Young Husband Seeks Help

Dear Tazi:

I never thought I would be writing to an advice columnist, so I figure if I am I might as well write to a cat, right? I am a nineteen year old man, married six months, and my wife is driving me up a tree with her horrible banking habits.

"Liesel" has a bad habit of charging stuff to the debit card attached to our joint checking account and then not balancing the checkbook. After having to pay several hundred dollars in overdraft fees one month, I decided I should be the one to balance the checkbook. Now Liesel forgets to give me the receipts for the stuff she charges so the checkbook balance is just as messed up as ever. I have thought of applying for a low-limit credit card for her to use, but I hate the idea of having to pay interest on stupid stuff like a cup of coffee or a package of gum. This is the sort of stuff Liesel charges. I have tried giving her cash to pay with, but that just makes her spend even more.

I went to the bank to close our joint account, because I am afraid all of these overdrafts are ruining my credit, but I could not close the account without Liesel's agreeing; and I couldn't take my name off of the account without closing it. Liesel refuses to agree to this kind of solution because she believes that married couples should have joint bank accounts. I love my wife, but her spending habits have got to change! We are hoping to buy a house in a few years, and the money we are spending on overdrafts is sinking that dream. Do you have any suggestions about what I can do to get my wife to see reason?


Dear Underwater:

I am sure that the first thing you would like to do is take away Liesel's debit card! However, I do not advocate the subordination of one partner by another and this case is no exception. You are her husband, not her Daddy. Because debit card transactions do not always go through right away, a person can continue to charge on the account and rack up huge overdraft fees, which is what appears to be happening. Since Liesel is forgetting to give you her receipts, you may have to go online and view your account through your bank's online banking features. A list of charges will be made available, and you can confirm with Liesel whether or not she made these charges. You will also be able to see your balance and warn Liesel when it is getting low or even transfer funds from savings to prevent an overdraft. It is a lot of work on your part, but this plan should stop the overdraft fees. Don't worry - your wife is not getting out of trouble here!

It sounds to me that Liesel needs credit counseling and some lessons on financial responsibility. I am assuming she is close to your age, which means she has little to no experience with credit and its importance. Is she even the least bit upset about all of the money being wasted on overdraft fees? Because the two of you wish to save for a house, both a healthy savings account and a healthy credit report will be required. I suggest that you both put the debit cards away; agree to a spending budget for the both of you; and stick to it - meaning once the cash in your pocket is gone, that's it until the next paycheck.

Once you are both comfortable sticking with a weekly spending budget, you can try carrying the debit cards with you for emergencies only. If you find Liesel is falling back into her old habits and the overdraft fees start rolling in again, professional counseling may be required as the problem may run deeper than being scatterbrained when it comes to remembering to balance a checkbook.

I wish you both the best of luck, in your marriage and in your goal of buying your own home.


P.S. With regard to married couples and checking accounts, I have to tell you I have heard of many couples keeping a joint bill paying account but separate personal accounts. Perhaps this is a compromise that would appeal to Liesel?

Ask Tazi! is ghostwritten by a human with a Bachelors of Arts in Communications. Tazi-Kat is not really a talking feline.

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