Saturday, May 03, 2008

Free ATM Loss Complicates Banking

Years ago, there was a branch bank office on Arlington Avenue off West Seventh Street. It closed, leaving customers a choice of the downtown, Netherwood or Fanwood branches for a quick transaction. Then an ATM was placed in Twin City Supermarket with no fee to PNC debit card holders.

Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself here. When we had the “little bank” on Arlington, debit cards were not in common use. Not wanting to carry a lot of cash, I used to write checks for groceries at the A&P and for other purchases. Now, I use a debit card for just about every local purchase. My retirement income is mostly all direct-deposited into my account, so the debit card is also my usual way of getting some cash in hand. The Twin City ATM was a handy place to draw out some cash.

Alas, no more! A “mini-bank” is now installed, with a $1.95 fee for transactions. I started to use it, not noticing the fee declaration posted at knee-level, but when I saw the fee on the screen, I balked.

Now, lots of ATMs demand even larger fees, but when you’re used to no fee, $1.95 seems monumental.

Luckily, the downtown bank is only a short walk up Park Avenue, but I was thinking about some of my neighbors who use the ATM for relatively small withdrawals. For $20, the fee is nearly 10 percent and the bank may add another fee. For $100, it’s about 2 percent, still a lot worse than no fee.

The many apartment-dwellers around Park & Seventh include a lot of seniors and low-income people who don’t have a lot of money left after paying the rent. For some, walking six blocks instead of one block is a hardship. Unlike other supermarkets, Twin City has no “cash back” option on debit card purchases. So those without cars will have to use the pricey ATM or strategize how to get some cash while on other errands by bus, train or taxi.

All this may seem silly to the majority of Plainfielders who have cars and can just drive anywhere at will. But it’s an example of how the other half lives. Having lived in Plainfield for 25 years, I have come to understand what I call “the high cost of being poor.” A lot of inner-city people rely on check-cashing services because they don’t even have bank accounts. Undocumented people can’t get bank accounts. Those who do have direct-deposit for disability or Social Security checks need a way to get at their money.

As I was walking to the downtown bank, I was thinking of all the other services that have shrunk or disappeared from the city. Medical providers have cleared out of “Doctors’ Row.” There is no major supermarket with national-brand products. Clothing and merchandise downtown tends to be low-end. Both PNC and my other bank, Investors Savings, are in the path of redevelopment and may have to relocate. I hope they will not move out of my reach as a self-proclaimed advocate of “walkability” in my hometown.

While many of my choices fall under the heading of voluntary simplicity, a lot of my neighbors are living in involuntary simplicity. Each loss of easy access to goods and services is a blow and a further complication to daily living. I for one will miss the handy PNC ATM at Twin City.

--Bernice Paglia


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alas, some of the Old Timers are still not so sure about trusting the banks since the '29 crash !! To be able to keep some cold cash in your apartment or pocket without the fear of robbery would be better than living back in Kansas !

9:06 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home