Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Chase and Wells Fargo Waiving Some Fees

In a world where bank fees are on the rise, Chase Bank and Wells Fargo are waiving overdraft, late payment and other fees for customers in states impacted by Hurricane Irene (Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia). For instance, customers who can no longer get to a Chase ATM might have to use one from another bank.

Nice customer move.


St. Thomas University Looking for Corporate/Commercial Faculty

ST. THOMAS UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW in Miami, Florida, invites applications from experienced and entry-level candidates for tenure-track positions beginning in the 2012/2013 academic year. The Law School especially seeks candidates in the areas of Wills & Trusts, Business Associations, Commercial Paper, Secured Transactions, Family Law, Constitutional Law, and Professional Responsibility. Applicants must possess a distinguished academic record, a dedication to excellence in teaching, and a demonstrated commitment to scholarship. Consistent with the Law School’s tradition of diversity, members of minority groups and women are especially encouraged to apply. Applicants should send a letter of application and a resume. CONTACT: Professor Tamara Lawson, Chair of the Faculty Recruitment Committee, St. Thomas University School of Law, 16401 NW 37th Avenue, Miami Gardens, Florida 33054. Email: Fax: (305)623-2390.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Practical Payments Tidbits

I like to give my first year contracts students a bit of practical knowledge about commercial transactions and consumer issues whenever possible. So, I've taken to putting up articles on the overhead screen at the beginning of class. Sometimes we have a little discussion, other times right onto contracts doctrine. Today, we began class with this little MSN news piece on 5 places to never use your debit card!

  • Rental or security deposits. This goes to the heart of what a debit card does, it takes money from your checking account. Using a credit card for car rental and similar transactions, these deposits are not charged so you are not out the money at the time.

  • Restaurants and bars. Just to much risk of fraud with so many people around. And, your card is likely to leave your presence leading to a greater possibility of card skimming. Again, the money comes out of your checking account, so harder to get it back in the event of theft compared to handling potential losses on credit cards. Or use cash . . .

  • Regular payments. What companies do you really want to have your financial information permanently on file with an ability to hit your checking account at will. Consumers have greater rights under the Truth in Lending Act if you use your credit card. Alternatively, pay them on an automated payment out of your checking account yourself. Of course, some businesses do demand the regular payment system and you might have to give in if it is the only way to secure a wanted service.

  • Wi-Fi hot spots. Quite simply, unsecured access to your account numbers.

  • Any retail outlet where you choose the "credit" option. This one doesn't bother me, but the article mentions the less rapid clearing and risk of overdrafts as reasons not to use the debit card.

For my part, it is always nice to see a little consumer education on a regular basis. The big reminder here is while debit cards look like credit cards, the attributes are not the same. Consumers are wise to keep this in mind.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

What is a BitCoin? Where did Mybitcoin go?

On the way into St. Thomas University this morning, I heard an NPR piece about the Bitcoin. We live in a world where the value of money is uncertain, so some are looking for alternatives to the dollar, right? See, IMF Calls for Alternatives to the Dollar. The aim is to lessen volatility associated with the dollar as a currency and payment device, those economic and political. Some investors have rushed to gold as the easy alternative causing a rise in the value of gold, only to find that gold also has market swings tied to the dollar. See, WSJ, Gold Ends Lower on Dollar's Strength. I understand the goal. An electronic wallet, no intermediaries, completely anonymous.

So, what about the Bitcoin? A Bitcoin is simply a made up cash in an online universe. You use an online exchange in order to trade dollars for Bitcoins. Apparently, some restaurants in New York city will even accept Bitcoins in payment for lunch. Not so fast, though. "Hackers" allegedly hit MyBitcoin back in June, making off with $500,000 in funds. And now, MyBitcoin itself is processing claims to liquidate the remainder of the accounts. Apparently, that will be somewhere around 49% of their deposits. In the NPR piece, Ron Mann commented (correctly of course) that he would not expect Bitcoin to be around in 5 to 10 years. Well mostly correct, as at least mybitcoin was gone a mere months after the original interview. Perhaps others will take up the space left by mybitcoin, but how secure is any payment system?

Here is the story of one mybitcoin user who lost a substantial amount of money from his e-wallet:

As I advise my students, be wary about any new (or even existing) payment device . . . scammers . . .or anywhere you park your money for that matter. There are no quick fixes or easy roads to avoid market volatility and economic instability.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Time to Stop Using Debit Cards?

While my gripe about debit cards used to be the tricky overdrafts, apparently there is a new fee in town. . . . The debit card usage fee. Now that we've moved to a very cashless society, some banks are now looking to charge customers who want to use a debit card. Wells Fargo is now testing a $3 monthly debit card fee and JP Morgan has already tested the $3 fee! Ouch. Just $3 right? But overtime . . . And, we all know that $3 would just be the start. Surely, I am a cynic.

Banks argue that these new fees are in response to the Fed's cap on the fees they can charge retailers on card transactions. An Associated Press survey, though, says that 61% of consumers will find another way to pay if banks charge for using the debit card. Way to go consumers! I wonder, though, if this will turn out to be a tricky fee. For instance, do you get the monthly fee if you use your card in your own bank's ATM? In other ATMs?

At least at this point, Bank of America has not yet jumped on the debit card fee bandwagon.