It’s not your money once it’s flown
It's been a weird week, financially speaking. First I get a call from the savings-and-loan outfit that handles my home mortgage. We have it set up so the monthly house payments come directly from a checking account.
The assistant mortgage manager says, "Mr. Memminger, I just want to let you know there was a little problem with your account."
"Didn't we cover the mortgage payment this month?" I asked.
"Sure," he said. "The problem is that we accidentally took out a little more from your account than was needed, about an extra thousand bucks."
I said, "No problem, just put it back or credit next month's payment"
He said, "Well, actually, Mr. Memminger, we've been thinking about getting some new furniture for the lobby, and your overpayment would sure help out in that department."
I said I wasn't interested in buying furniture for their lobby and for them to return my money.
He said, "The thing is, it's technically not your money now since we have it. And it would be for the greater good of the bank and all of our customers in general if we could just go ahead and use that overpayment to improve the bank's infrastructure."
I said, "You can stick your infrastructure. Give me my money back."
He said the matter would be taken up by the bank's board of directors. He hung up before I could protest.
A while later, I was in the checkout line of the supermarket, and I noticed on the receipt that they overcharged me. I told the checkout person and she called the manager over.
The manager apologized and thanked me.
"Thanks for what?" I said.
"Thanks for letting us overcharge you. We've been thinking about giving all the checkout people a small raise, and your overcharge will help with that. If we overcharge all the customers just a little, we'll be able to give our employees a nice little bump in their paychecks."
I said, "You can't do that! That's my money! You can't just take my money and use it any way you want."
He said that the cash registers were not set up to deal with overcharges and that the issue would have to be taken up by supermarket management. But he suspected they'd agree with him that it is such a nominal overcharge it really would have no impact on my life, but could really help out their union negotiations with their employees.
I was dumbfounded. I wandered out of the store in a daze and went to fill up my truck with gas. I might have been dumbfounded, but I'm not dumb. This time, I paid with cash. I gave the gas station attendant a $20 for $15 worth of gas. He thanked me and told me to have a nice day.
"Where's my change?" I asked.
"Change?" he said. "Oh, you mean the five bucks you're donating to the station so the boss can get that new air compressor he wants?"
I told him I had not agreed to donate any money to the station and that I wanted my money back. He said he didn't have the authority to refund money to customers, and pointed out that I voluntarily gave him the $20.
I said, "Yeah, but I expected to get some change. You can't run a business like that, just overcharging people and keeping their change. You'll go out of business."
He told me to take the matter up with his boss.
Had the world gone mad? Apparently, yes, because when I got home, I turned on the news and found out that the state had overcharged residents more than $763 million in taxes. Gov. Linda Lingle at least wanted to give $100 of that overcharge back to the taxpayers. After all, it was our money. But Calvin Say, speaker of the state House, said there were all kinds of things that overcharge could be spent on, and he didn't think any of it should be returned to the taxpayers.
I'm not sure what he wants to spend it on, but I think I heard something about lobby furniture, infrastructure, employee raises and some kind of air compressor. Apparently, when it comes to other people holding money that belongs to you, possession is more than nine-tenths of the law. Weird.
Charles Memminger's new book, "Hey Waiter, There's an Umbrella in My Drink!" is available at island bookstores and online book retailers.