Saturday, December 22, 2007

Divorce, overdraft and learning

A month or so ago I stopped into a local bank to open a couple of new accounts. While I was going through the motions a young man came into the bank. He needed to talk with someone regarding his checking account.

It took a while to get the accounts set up and it was a small bank so I couldn't help but overhear a large portion of his problems. In a nutshell, the kid was in huge trouble.

He didn't have a clue how to balance a check book. He didn't understand money. His parents were divorced and Dad sounded like a tyrant. Mom sounded like someone struggling to keep her head above water.

The guy was practically in tears at times trying to understand how he'd let his account go into overdraft. He was in college. I gather he was sharing a car with his mother. He didn't have enough money to put gas in the car to get home or get back to school.

The bank staff did a fairly good job of trying to help him out. It really wasn't their place to teach him basic 101 check book balancing. He didn't seem to grasp the check card, thinking that they shouldn't let him have money if it was going to make him go into overdraft, even though he had outstanding checks. He was floored after seeing the overdraft charges that had wracked up, compounding the problems he had created.

Why is this in helping hands? Well, after hearing how scared the kid was to go to his Dad for help, and hearing the plight of his Mom's finances, I walked over and gave him a some money. Enough to get some gas so he could go home to face the music.

If I'd been able to clear up his overdraft, I would have. But only if I'd felt he really understood how to stop from getting back into the same predicament.

How did a kid graduate from high school and not know how to balance a check book? I know that's something a parent should teach. I didn't learn how to balance a check book in school. But I sure was able to grasp the concept of writing down deposits and knowing when to stop writing checks. Of course, back when I graduated from high school debit cards didn't exist. If you wanted cash you had to get to the bank during banking hours. I still remember when the grocery stores started giving cash back! Freedom from banking hours!!!

Back to the guy in the bank. He was thrilled to get the little bit of money I handed him. What I really wanted to do was straighten out his parents. I know I'm judging based on very little info, but it sure seemed that Dad was pretty self-centered and really had done a job on the kids self confidence. Mom had her own set of problems and it didn't sound like she could do more than keep her head above water, if that. The pair's son was caught between the two and struggling. He seemed very immature, but maybe that was because I was seeing him in a very stressful situation.

I hope that after I left someone at the bank was able to sit down and show the kid how to balance a check book. They wrote off a couple of overdraft charges for him, which helped a little. He needed more help that anyone at the bank could offer.

I've thought about him many times, wondering what happened to him. Something like that can either turn someone around or send them into a downward spiral at that age. I hope he's one who learns, grows and conquers.

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