Banking a Fifth Third Better? Bank Mathematics Under the Microscope

This is a true story, one that doesn’t have an ending yet. Another title for this piece could have been “Bank Mathematics: When $1,350 + $4,650=-$3,300.”

On the evening of February 22, 2019, when my Fifth Third checking account balance was a positive $1,350, I deposited a check for $4,650 drawn on a local law firm’s business account at a local bank via the ATM. When I checked my account balance on February 23, 2019, I expected the balance to be around $6,000, but I was in for a major shock. Bank mathematics had struck, and my bank balance was a negative $3,300!

I was shocked but not very concerned at the time, thinking that the account was still in the process of settling out because it was early in the morning of February 23, 2019. I made a trip into a branch later that morning, where I was about to get a lesson in bank mathematics, a Fifth Third better.

I was told by a friendly bank representative that the check had been flagged by the system and had an eight day hold on it, but that the check funds would be available on March 5, 2019. But what about the $1,350 that was in the account previously? I was told that the bank’s computer had treated the check as bounced, and, therefore, it had been charged back to my checking account.

My checking account balance was negative $3,300 because the current balance prior to the deposit of the $4,650 check, $1,350, was less than the charged back amount, $4,650. And, indeed, 1,350-4,650=-3,300. Therefore, I’d get my money back on March 5 when the hold was lifted. The effect of the hold is that I have no money and will have none until March 5. This is despite that I actually have almost $6,000 in the checking account at Fifth Third Bank.

In the meantime, life is happening. I was on fumes in the car, with no money to get gas. I was out of several important prescriptions that I needed, with no money to get them. Thank God for my soon-to-be ex-wife, Carol, who loaned me enough money to get several of my prescriptions and a full tank of gas.

In the meantime, I was able to talk to someone in the local Fifth Third branch in Kroger on Monroe St. on February 23, 2019. This well meaning bank representative politely explained that bank mathematics was hard to understand sometimes but that everything seemed to have worked correctly on the night of the deposit.

I told the Fifth Third Bank representative that the result was unacceptable, unfair and possibly illegal, and I asked to be put in contact with whatever department handled taking holds off of accounts. He told me that he didn’t know who had the authority to remove the kind of hold that was on my check (he said that no one in Toledo had the authority to remove such a hold), and he suggested that I contact customer service, but since customer service was closed on sundays, I’d have to wait until Monday, February 24, 2019. I have a meeting with another bank representative on Monday, February 24 at 2, so stay tuned for updates.

However, it strains credulity to assert that I lose access to the money that was in the account just because I deposited another check. It seems to me that the correct answer should be that while you may not get access to the funds in the deposited check until the hold is lifted, you shouldn’t lose access to the funds that were already in the account. But this may make too much sense for bank mathematics. In the meantime, I have no money. Banking, a Fifth Third better? Not hardly.


About lpaulhoodjr

I am an inactive lawyer who practiced almost 20 years as a tax and estate planning lawyer. Today, I am a speaker, author and consultant on tax and estate planning. In the recent past, I was the Director of Planned Giving for The University of Toledo Foundation. I am the co-author of six books, the sole author of another book and a frequent speaker and writer on estate planning, planned giving and business valuation.
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