Friday, November 16, 2012

How Not to Write a Check

I've lived in Germany since 1995.  Not once have I written a check here.

Germany generally deals with payment in one of three ways:
1.  Bank transfers, like my paycheck, which is a direct deposit, or my electric bill, which is an automatic withdrawal.
2.  Debit Card, which my husband says I should avoid using because I'll lose the feeling for the money I'm spending.
3.  CASH. Lots of it. We had repairmen come to fix our roof. 6oo EUR please. Right now. Cash. Not kidding. Same thing for the COD on our 1200 EUR couch.

In theory, and in some instances, you can also use a credit card, but they just aren't very popular.

Checks are considered antiquated.

So I recently wanted to send someone in the States money. I traveled down to my bank and asked for advice. They requested the person's bank account number....

Which I didn't have. The money was supposed to be a gift. I couldn't very well go asking for the person's bank account. How suspicious would that sound? And they probably wouldn't give it to me anyway. Definitely not by unsecure e-mail.

Next suggestion: A Verrechnungsscheck. After a lot of Q and A, I understood that any person who happened to get their hands on the check could cash it. It didn't matter what name was printed on it. Plus the Verrechnungsscheck would be sent by the bank, not by me. Certainly not with a little rainbow drawing from my daughter meant to cheer up someone whose life had been turned upside down by a natural disaster.

Other suggestions? "Why don't you just send cash in an envelope?" Yes, that was really the teller's suggestion. I didn't bother answering with words. My scowl was enough.

Moving on. Orderscheck. The bank could order a pack for me. Minimum of 20 at a cost of 20 cents each. Then I could actually write and send the check myself.

This solution was actually sounding good, like an American check, until the infamous words "I don't know what kind of fees you'd be looking at" slipped out of the teller's mouth.

Hmm. If the bank didn't know, who did? I googled. It was looking like up to 50 EUR in fees from two to four banks along the Germany-to-USA chain. I wasn't sending that much money. Definitely not worth the high fees.

Next, I spent days agonizing over my plan. Maybe I just shouldn't bother. After all, it was money I wanted to send, not money I had to send.

But the thought of giving up when I was trying to do something positive just because the system made it difficult irritated the heck out of me.

Then I had an idea. The bank A gift card. Sure, it isn't as flexible as cash, but you can buy almost anything there.

I don't want this to sound like a commercial, but it was simple. Done within minutes.

And so ends my story: I've been in Germany 17 years, and I still haven't written a check.

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