You'd Better Know Your Balance, Because WaMu Certainly Doesn't

“Keep track of your bank balances!”—pretty much every week on Consumerist either we or our readers say something like this. Now a reader writes in with a perfect example of why it’s necessary, because apparently WaMu is incapable of keeping an accurate balance listed even after a week has passed.

I opened a WaMu checking account on Friday, February 29th of this year with a $106.00 opening deposit .I opened this account for my auto-pay setup with my university credit union. With me having to take a semester off because my parents credit didn’t qualify for private Sallie-Mae type student loans ( which in fact could be a blessing in disquise) , im now 300 miles away from the said credit union .

So, I deposit the exact amount of my car payment ( again, $106), then fax the WaMu account number to the credit union.

The next Tuedsay, March 4th, I call the WaMu automated system to check my balance.
Which claims , both in ‘Available Balance’ and ‘Account Balance’, that I have $106.00 in the account.

Now frantic that the credit union made a mistake, I call the credit union. The CU representative tells me, much to my surprise, that the payment was recieved for $106.56 (doh ! ) from WaMu and that all is well. At least on their end.

So, I give WaMu the benefit of the doubt. Aware that I am .56 short , and fully expecting a fee because of it, yesterday (the 6th) I deposit $140 into the account , so as to cover the NSF fee and the next months car payment. Imagine my shock when I see the balance slip showing $246.00 in the account!

So I ask if theres a pending withdrawal on the account. The teller shows me her screen, which shows the $106.00 opening deposit, a $32 NSF fee, a $32 NSF fee reversal, and the $140 deposit I just made.

To boot, the WaMu teller is confused herself, wondering why theres a negative fee (and reversal)when , according to her screen, I never entered the red.

The real, logical reason this is the case is because the automated withdrawal left me .56 cents short ,which triggered an NSF fee, then was reversed automatically ( Your first NSF as a new customer with WaMu is forgiven,so not all fine print is bad ).Except none of this activity , according to WaMu’s computer system, ever happened.

So the senior branch sales,er manager tries and fails to explain why their system can’t tell me how much money I REALLY have.

I ask again, why is it showing, both in ‘Available’ and ‘Account” balances $240.00 when I know for fact that its $106.56 less. 30 minutes later, the closest thing I heard to an explanation is that, because I opened my account on a Friday, nothings gonna post until maybe Saturday.(Never mind that Saturday is NOT a business day).He then amended his statement by saying that by Thursday night , it should all be updated.

Not wanted to be late for work, I bid a calm goodbye.

This morning, I call the WaMu automated system this morning (Friday, March 7th) and its still ‘lying’ to me.

Available balance :$246.00
Account Balance: $246.00

I understand that it is up to the consumer to keep track of how much money they have. But how can I, or any other responsible consumer, be responsible for their money if the very company that holds the money can’t tell me how much I have? Imagine if the Swiss banks treated their clients like this?

Granted, I didn’t lose any money in this process, but what If I had trusted the WaMu balance, and budgeted accordingly? Id be staring down the barrel of multiple overdrafts, each with a lovely $32 NSF attached to them.

Bottom line? If you don’t already track your own expenses, start now. And don’t even bother calling the bank if you’re a WaMu customer.

This guy was lucky in that he had only one transaction to keep track of—imagine the confusion of tracking a new account with multiple payments over the course of a week.

(Thanks for the tip, De’loucous!)

(Photo: Getty)

Comments

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  1. johnarlington says:

    I check my account 5 to 6 times a day to make sure that nothing funny is happening. It only takes one person to get a hold of my account number and away goes my money

  2. bohemian says:

    Our bank has been having similar issues. Payments initiated out of the bank, withdraws and things that show as paid on the payee end are not showing “gone” out of our account for days sometimes weeks.
    When I asked I got a similar non-answer and runaround. This practice has been going on for months. Ironically card swipes I did mid-day today were showing on my account by 2pm today.
    We started micromanaging our account balance in a spreadsheet ourselves twice a day. We double check our bank activity to make sure no un-approved charges or fees went through.
    This is a small local bank in South Dakota so why they are having a similar issue to these big banks makes one wonder.

  3. XianZhuXuande says:

    I’ve never seen a problem like this with WaMu, or any other bank. I can’t help but to wonder if there has been an error in the system and the staff in the branch just don’t know how to explain it — so they grasped at straws. Still, I could easily be wrong and it may post at some crazy point in the future. Even if it is an error, they’ll probably catch it, and even if it is a month later I’m sure they’ll expect to get their money back.

  4. petrarch1604 says:

    WaMu is kind of weird. It seems to take them 4-5 days for the online system to record changes in your account. The only reason I’m with them is because they have a pretty good Savings APR.

  5. scarletvirtue says:

    @johnarlington: I do pretty much the same thing – except I only check my bank account once a day.

    The annoying thing is when a check, EFT payment or charge seems to take forever to show up. I can mentally account for that money, but it’s much easier when I actually see that it’s been deducted. (Especially since I can only do so much in the realm of running a tally in my head!)

  6. bricklayer says:

    I find (with my WaMu account) that scheduling dependent deposits and withdrawals near each other often leads to strange hiccups like this. My advice: if you are worried about an NSF charge, make your deposit well before it needs to be withdrawn to ensure that it’s available on time.

  7. Atlantys says:

    “what If I had trusted the WaMu balance, and budgeted accordingly? Id be staring down the barrel of multiple overdrafts, each with a lovely $32 NSF attached to them.”

    There’s your reason. You think everything’s fine and dandy, but the bank is racking up the fees onto because it’s not.

    Banking fees == free money for them, so they’ll make it almost impossible to not get them.

  8. teh says:

    This may just be me, but I hate that WaMu calls it a “Non-Sufficient Funds” fee. Their grasp of the English language is insufficient.

  9. Corydon says:

    I have WaMu as well, and I’ve never seen anything like this. On the other hand, I don’t believe in automated bill payments and I prefer to initiate all of my bill payments from the WaMu site rather than the other way around (it’s a lot more efficient that way—I only go to one web site instead of several)

  10. 628 says:

    Oh gosh, same sort of stuff happened to me.

    WAMU was approximately 2 weeks late on updating how much money I really had in my account (yeah yeah it’s my responsibility to keep track), so I kept using my bank card.

    Eventually they tacked on around 10 NSF’s, so my $2 coffees became $36 coffees.

    Oh and mind you, debit purchases usually show up instantly, and deduct from your balance instantly, but after paying about $1000 in NSF’s, they added this new ?feature? where debit purchases wouldn’t show up instantly anymore. They highlighted it as a “pending charge,” and it made it even more confusing to keep track of my expenses.

    I know, most of the problem here is due to my part, but I think they should fix their system where things would show up a little bit quicker, if not instantly. (And I’m aware credit purchases take a bit longer)

  11. ElasticSyntax says:

    I’ve had trouble with WaMu putting mysterious holds on deposits for up to ten days, but still having the amount of the deposit show up in my available balance.

  12. sixseeds says:

    My boyfriend has a WaMu account, and it sounds like this delay is pretty standard. BUT it does mean that sometimes it’s possible to realize you overdrew the account before the bank does and then make a deposit before they get around to charging the fee. And, yes, he has done that. Don’t try that at home, obviously.

  13. consum3rist says:

    If you are going to manage your account on edge of pennies this is what happens. This is nothing specific to WAMU ( now I feel that consumerist or its sponsors really don’t like WAMU).

    All transaction even though posted during day, the balances are calculated toward end of day (its call EOD process in banking) and updated accordingly.

    At least the poster should thank WAMU that they have ONE free overdraft – if it were any other bank he would have short of big bucks by now

  14. specialed5000 says:

    Off topic, but boy a $106 car payment sure would be nice. Mine is about $425, and it sure will make be nice to free up that much in my budget when it is finally paid off in about a year, and then it will be at least 3, hopefully 5 years before I have another one (I keep cars 8-10 years).

  15. themediatrix says:

    Oh, I HAVE seen this exact thing MANY MANY times, in my Wells Fargo account.

    In fact, I’m curious. I would like the original poster to do a test. Try “spending” some of that money you know isn’t there.

    As soon as you do, the original record of the transaction will show back up again and boom, an NSF fee. Then they’ll give you some BS about how your credit union didn’t batch out properly when it processed your payment.

    This happens with airline tickets, sometimes with restaraunts, and often with online payments. The thing shows up, is reflected on your account for a day or two, then disappears (causing your balance to go back up), then shows up again a week or so later. Please report back, because I want to know if this happens in other banks besides WF.

  16. TechnoDestructo says:

    Holy shit, a bank error in favor of the customer! Quick, what’s the weather like in Hell?

  17. CaptRavis says:

    If WAMU closes zero balance accounts at the cycle date you are going to have an additional problem. WAMU does have two inquiry screens like most big banks, the windows shell, that is taught to the sales staff and shown to the public, and the terminal emulator that is used by the 10 or so employees per state that actually know what the hell is going on. I doubt the fee reversal was an automatic 1st time free, I suspect that EFT went to BFE and is being held in a suspense ledger. Also, remember, the ‘posted’ payment at the credit union doesn’t mean they recieved the money from WAMU, if means they took your payment. On a more personal note, I am surprised you didn’t have a risk statused placed on your account for the OD on the 1st transaction, then the teller and branch sales manager would have had even less idea what was happening since branch staff would have gotten some cryptic message to call someone in loss prevention.

  18. Snarkysnake says:

    If I am a banker trying to make more money on “gotcha” fees, the LAST thing I want you to know is your real time balance.I will instruct my IT guys to construct a system that will delay the posting of some items (by many days in some cases),flag the big checks first for clearance and keep you as in the dark as possible,because your balance is what I say it is. The computer revolution has helped me enormously in this little game because it has taken the labor cost out of screwing you. My fee income has skyrocketed past what I can earn in interest in this low rate environment.

    I’m not a banker,but if I were,thats how I’d do it…

  19. strathmeyer says:

    @johnarlington: “I check my account 5 to 6 times a day to make sure that nothing funny is happening. It only takes one person to get a hold of my account number and away goes my money”

    What on earth have I done right in life to have a back accout where this can’t happen? What is your sanity worth to you people?

  20. elislider says:

    i JUST had a problem like this with my BoA checking account. Last week i knew i went over my account, so i expected a charge. I log in to check, and i was charged 3 overdraft fees. I check the statement and the most recent events were a couple $2 paypal transactions that I did, and then my giganews autopay. it goes -$2 (balance $22 somethin) then -$2 (balance $20 somethin) then -$25 (balance -$5 somethin).

    I called to get 2 of the fees reversed. 1st call the lady agreed with me it was strange and was going to refund me 2, but when transferring to a supervisor i was disconnected. exactly same thing happened on call 2. call 3 the guy disagrees with me and says the money is taken from my account the second BoA is notified of it (yeah, that makes sense, whatever) and apparently the $25 happened first, putting me over, then each $2 got me another fee. his supervisor said almost the same thing, but couldnt explain what order things actually happened in or what time of the day, or why it was different than what my statement said. she credited me 1 fee because i refused to let her go unless she did. When i told anyone i was going to cancel my account, they didnt care.

  21. ExConsumer says:

    To those of you who are checking your balances at least once a day, you are smart. I had an internal Bank of America employee steal money out of my account, the proceeds of a house sale, so there was a lot of money at risk. But that’s another story.

    I, too, have seen stuff appear, disappear, reappear, all of that. Suffice it to say it seems to happen to us all, and it doesn’t seem to be our imaginations.

    I think SnarkySnake is onto something. I think there’s merit in that argument.

  22. bobert says:

    I bank at a regional California bank, Westamerica, and they have similar problems. They have six different, unsynchronized sources of checking balances which can all be different at the same time: automated phone system, call center, teller at the branch, ATM, online summary, and online detail. Then there’s the super-secret seventh balance, “wire transfer balance”, which can only be obtained by talking to a human being at the call center or a branch.

    Westamerica is very reasonable about fees, so I’m sure this is merely due to an unwillingness to invest in IT infrastructure.

  23. PeteyNice says:

    This happens to me every month with Wachovia and Amex. When I pay my Amex it reflects on my card instantly. However it can take anywhere from several days to two weeks for the money to actually come out of my Wachovia account. This isn’t a big deal since I know it is coming and I know it is delayed but it is still annoying.

  24. azntg says:

    @PeteyNice: Same goes for the WaMu and Amex combo. American Express is very good with crediting and it is done on the day payment is scheduled. However, it takes approximately one or two business days after I schedule payment with American Express to reflect on Washington Mutual’s balance table.

    I’m going to experiment and see what happens when I pay from my Commerce Bank (NJ/PA/NY) account. Probably the same thing would happen, I guess.

    WaMu has a weird quirk when you try to schedule an intrabank account transfer (my way of saying transferring from Savings to Checking). If it’s a same day transfer, well, then it’s instantaneous in many cases. However, if you schedule a transfer to occur on a different business day, there is a time gap where the scheduled transfer will disappear from the “scheduled transfer,” while not being reflecting on the balance sheet nor itemized.

    Because of that, I did another transfer (this time, the same day) because I thought there was a glitch on WaMu’s system. Ultimately, later that day, there were two transfers for the same amount, one from the original scheduled transfer and one from the same day transfer. Nope, I didn’t pay for my mistake. Plenty of money in the accounts to cover for accidents.

  25. Qu33nZR3p1n9 says:

    I work for WAMU in NYC now let me ask u something, is that deposit u made was it a check? b/c is so all deposits are held for 5 days to all new customers for that first month for security purposes

  26. Silversmok3 says:

    @Qu33nZR3p1n9:
    All deposits were made with cash.Thus no 10-Day padlock on the account ;-)

    C@TechnoDestructo:

    Its a bank error in favor of the customer until you run up $100+ dollars in NSF charges. I’ve stepped on that expensive landmine before, hence my vigilance with regard to checking my accounts.

    I can’t help but wonder how many people with accounts and situations similar to mine get nailed ,because they just call the WaMu line and assume because its ‘The Bank’ that whatever the phone(or computer) says is the truth.

  27. Orv says:

    @petrarch1604: WaMu, a good savings APR? Really? I canceled my savings account with them a couple years back because they were giving me 0.4%. Yes, that’s right, less than one half percent. I opened an ING Direct savings account instead.

    @specialed5000: I skip the whole car payment thing. I always buy a used car, and I always pay cash. It does generally mean having to buy from a private party, though; dealers don’t like to deal with you if they won’t get a kickback from the finance company.

    @strathmeyer: No bank account is completely safe. At least not if you’ve ever written a check against it.

  28. ornj says:

    It’s like this with most systems at banks. The most reliable information you have on your account is the register in your check book if you keep it up to date. The computer systems at the bank will often lag behind or simplify information making them confusing. Go with your record and you should be ok if you stay current.

  29. loueloui says:

    This is nothing new at Wamu, and has happened to me so many times, theres no way it could be a coincidence. They play games with deposits, and withdrawals to try to get you to generate more fees for them. Interestingly this only happens when my balance is low, and not when I have plenty of money in the account.

    This is also why, after 10 years, I am leaving for a credit union. Hey Wamu, why not stop screwing around with peoples’ money?

  30. mwdavis says:

    Ah, the banking universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper. Or something like that.

    I sent my son a check. He deposited it relatively promptly at this Credit Union. The Credit Union will not actually let him have any money for 10 days. It took four days after his deposit for the check to appear in my bank account as a “pending” payment and 1 day for it to transition from “pending” to accomplished(?).

    I’m not sure who is trying to generate fee revenue, but certainly a couple of institutions are taking an awful lot of time to cash a check. Must be a profit in delay.

  31. tombo says:

    My whole business runs through WAMU. Wonder how much money I have lost over the years. I don’t keep track of all the credit card deposits that go through my website. I was just assuming they arrived into the account and were correct.

  32. sleze69 says:

    Although there is another post today about PNC, I have had no problems with them (knock on wood) with them in the 12-13 years I have banked there. They were among the first to have bill pay and online banking AND almost all transactions appear in the pending transactions page within a day (even saturdays).

  33. kable2 says:

    don’t banks in the states just have an overdraft feature?

    On the rare time that I did go into overdraft, all I pay is a $5 fee for the entire month regardless of the number of debits and a daily interest rate comparable to a credit card. Up to my overdraft limit of like $1000, after that its $5 per transaction (god help me if I ever go into overdraft past $1000)

    You guys in the states are getting screwed

  34. SweetBearCub says:

    After following this thread with some interest, I’m curious if my situation can leave me open to any problems. I’m a former NetBank [consumerist.com] customer. After their failure, I moved my banking to a local credit union, with a savings account only. In this account, my only deposit is my once-monthly SSI check. I receive my check on the 1st, endorse it “For Deposit Only”, my account #, and my signature, and deposit it in the teller line. I then get bank checks (3 free per month) to pay my bills. (My case manager at my hotel covers the cost of envelopes and stamps.) I also (over) estimate the amount of cash I will need on hand for the month and withdraw that, so that I only have to visit the CU once per month. I then enter the details of the deposit and withdrawals into a running ledger on my PC, as well as file the paper receipts.

    Finally, when I get a paper statement mailed to me every 3 months, I balance my receipts against it, and if it validates, I dispose of my receipts for the time period covered in the statement, and start the process over.

    It’s a bit time-consuming, but as far as I know, it leaves no room for error, which protects me.

    Are there any flaws in this system that I haven’t taken into account?

    Thanks.

  35. vastrightwing says:

    Your mattress won’t make that mistake!

  36. teexcue says:

    My suggestion is withdraw all the money now, so they can’t magically take it away just as easy as the conjured it up. Then do with it what you wish. I would recommend closing the account, then opening up another one, if that’s not too much trouble. It may not be the most ethical thing to do, but the bank’s mistake is your gain!

  37. Echodork says:

    Yes, this is why I left BB&T bank. I could go online, call their 800 number, and stop by an ATM for a balance inquiry, and get three different balances depending on the time of day. When I asked the branch manager why they couldn’t tell me how much money I had, she scolded me for not keeping a check ledger.

    Hey banks — we’re in the 21st century. Nobody uses checks anymore. I use my credit/debit card about six times a day, so I don’t have to carry cash. It’s a service YOU advertise. So stop pretending it’s my fault when you can’t tell me how much money I have available, especially when you plan to charge me a nice kickback fee if I overdraw.

  38. jdmba says:

    I have a wamu account and my wife banks at BofA. I have called both banks on occasion, asking when I can safely wire money out of the account following an electronic deposit from that day.

    What I have been told is that WaMu totals your deposits first, and BofA totals your withdrawls first, and in both cases, what they have told me respectively was true.

    In other words, if I have $10 already in my account, and I have $500 coming into the account from a third party (such as ING) on one day, and want to take out $400 (or wire out $400) that same day, WaMu will *NOT* (and has not) charge me a NSF fee, while BofA will under the same circumstances. Each time I try this WaMu, I did not receive any fee despite my balance showing as $10 and the incoming deposit of $500 showing as “***”

    Of course, BOTH banks play games if you use the ATM or deposit boxes, which deposits can take a few days to process.

  39. kittykat123 says:

    The branch itself should have been able to check on all pending transactions since the NSF clearly indicated that it had been at least partially processed. Perhaps they are just lazy and didnt want to call retail support?

    @teexcue: taking the money then closing the account would hardly work. What would happen is that your account would go to collections. Then, when you attempted to open an account at another bank and they ran your name through their check-systems you would be denied until you settled your debts (provided that they take precautions against deadbeats)