Playing financial roulette

Last week our debit card was declined.

We had to pick up a few things at Target for my trip on Thursday night. The total was less than $15. When the cashier told us the card had been declined, we asked that he run it again. Declined again. Isn’t it scary when that happens?

We gave him another card, which cleared, but I was panicking by the time we got out of the store. I knew exactly how much money should have been in our account, and there was no reason for that charge to be declined. I was terrified that our account had somehow been hacked, emptied by an identity thief.

But could it have been my mistake? We recently received our tax refund, and I’d been moving money around between our checking and savings accounts. Had I moved too much? Would my mistake cost us?

When I finally checked our bank account, we saw what happened. Tony had somehow mixed up his debit card for our joint account with the one for his personal account. The cards look the same (except for a mark on the back he uses to differentiate them), but the balances are drastically different — his personal account usually holds under $200. The mix-up happened at some point before he paid for our new tires, so by the time he used his personal account debit card at Target the account was overdrawn.

When Tony realized what he had done, he panicked. “Are we going to be charged overdraft fees?” he asked. I knew we wouldn’t.

You see, this time it was an accident, but when I was in college this was a game I played often. When my account came dangerously close to empty, I sometimes spent more than I had anyway if I knew I had money coming in. I’d deposit cash before the withdrawals cleared. If the deposit and withdrawals cleared at the same time, I avoided fees. Sometimes. But sometimes I paid hefty fees. It was a dangerous game.

Because none of Tony’s charges had cleared yet, we were able to transfer money from the joint account into his personal account and avoid overdraft fees. Whew.

I’m thankful that it turned out all right, and that this time it was only a mistake. I’m grateful that I don’t play financial roulette anymore. Now when I use a debit card, I know I have the money to cover it.

5 thoughts on “Playing financial roulette

  1. Karen

    Joanna – I don’t believe I’ve posted anything on it. It began as a way for us to have just a little bit of our “own” money. I found it helpful as we transitioned from financially independent to completely merged. We find now that we rarely have any reason to use the accounts. We usually keep well under $200 in them, and really the only time we use them is to buy birthday/Christmas gifts for each other. We probably won’t keep them open for much longer, especially now that they’ve led to confusion! :)

  2. Penelope @ Pecuniarities

    When I read about your debit card being declined, I think my heart rate increased on your behalf. This is one of the reasons I don’t like using debit cards. A simple mistake like mixing up cards could result in overdraft fees, which are to high in my opinion.

    I now use credit cards for many reasons, this included. I like to keep all my money in savings and then transfer it to checking when it’s time to pay the credit card bill.

    But I”m glad this worked out and you guys didn’t get charged!

    Penelope @ Pecuniarities’s last blog post..A Second Life for Used Aluminmum Foil: Free Scouring Pads Found in Your Kitchen

  3. Bobbi

    I think anyone who has ever had credit problems knows that feeling. I do occasionally use a debit card and a small amount of credit (paid off every month), but I have found if I use cash I am much more careful and really watch what I buy. Some months I even have some to ‘roll over’ into the next month. :) Even while saving my $5 bills since December!

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