Bank Error in Your Favor: Collect $200

My husband and kids go nuts when it comes to the popular board game, Monopoly. To the point where they’ve played games that last for days, and even in one case, for years because they only played on New Year’s Day against a certain group of people. It can get crazy for someone like me who can’t stand the game; and this from a woman who spent most of her life as a real live banker. Sorry, with all due respect to Parker Brothers, but I hate it. Still, I’m an enabler – I even went so far as to buy the Franklin Mint version complete with silver houses and gold hotels about two decades ago which cost me $500 (paid for in 20 easy monthly installments!). It sells for less than that now on eBay, if you’re interested.

As I watched the umpteenth competition this past weekend, two things struck me. One, the housing prices are constant – they haven’t gone up or down since the game was patented in 1935… how’s that for stability! Second, I have a real issue with the yellow Community Chest card which reads, “Bank error in your favor. Collect $200.”

Can you imagine coming home, collecting your mail and finding that the bank deposited $200 into your checking account by mistake? Ka ching! I’ve got plenty of things I could buy or pay down with that $200. But, do I dare spend it? Much as it pains me to say this, no. They’ll figure out that I have it sooner or later, I’m sure. Bankers have a phrase for bank errors; they call it “unjust enrichment” or an “overcredit.” It’s been known to happen; banks are not infallible. Scratch that, they are infallible, but they’re not stupid. Um, scratch that, too. Let’s just say it could happen. But it’s generally not going to have a happy ending, not like you think, anyway.

Let me tell you what’s going to happen. A month or so after the bank realizes its mistake they will simply debit the money from your account. Now, whether or not they alert you to that is anyone’s guess. So, here you are, blithely spending your windfall. Finder’s keepers and all that, right? Then, you come home one day to find a little computer printed notice from your bank, that your checking account is overdrawn. Naturally, you panic… how could that be? You run a tight ship; you’ve got everything budgeted for, right down to the newspaper carrier’s tip (likely a thank you for not breaking your window, as opposed to getting the newspaper to you on time).

But, now you’re in the red. Checks are bouncing left and right because the bank took back their money. You not only have less money than you thought, you have significantly less money than you thought, when you add in the returned check fees – which can go for $35 a pop. Worse still did you know that the bank can charge you with theft? How’s that for compounding an error?

The bottom line is this: Review your bank account statements very carefully. Errors can go either way, sometimes in your favor but more often, not. As soon as you’re aware of a mistake, you should contact the bank immediately. Some mistakes occur at the ATM; say you withdraw $100 but the bank shows $200 on the statement, or you ask for $100 but only $60 spits out of the slot. You need to bring this to the attention of the bank as soon as you notice, because ATM transactions can only be disputed within 60 days of the transaction date.

They will likely need a few days to confirm the error, but it will eventually get sorted out. In the meantime, if the error is not in your favor, say because the bank debited the same check twice or for more than the check was written for, be sure that the bank does not return any other checks. They can give you provisional credit of the amount while it’s being investigated.

One thing to keep in mind is that the bank wields the sword; at pretty much any time – even years later – you may notice that they have debited your account for the ill gotten gains. “Bank error in your favor.” I wish.

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