Sunday, February 17, 2019

spinning for pesos

Big projects can open old wounds.

After signing the contract for my solar project, I needed to come up with 120,00 pesos in cash. Well, that is not entirely true. I could have paid with either a check or a credit card. But I decided to take the cash option. I may have chosen unwisely.

At one point, getting the $120,000 (Mx) would have been as simple as typing a few keystrokes on my computer and the money would magically appear within seconds in my Banamex account here in Mexico.

But that is a tale thrice told, and I do not need to go through all of the woes the Obama administration heaped on expatriates with its mis-targeted FATCA (the cash window closes). Suffice it to say, after 2014, the only lifeline I have had to obtain cash is through my northern bank debit card and any handy ATM that will deign to spit out pesos at my request.

So, I put myself back in Mrs. Utterback's second grade class and started calculating how long it would take me to gather 120,000 pesos. The Banamex ATMs will disburse no more than 6,000 pesos in each transaction.

There was nothing fuzzy about the math. As long as I spent no pesos on other frivolities (such as eating or paying the staff), I could gather the money in 20 days. I had barely enough time to do that.

Then, disaster struck. I thought I would encounter other demands for the cash while I was accumulating it. But that did not happen. I had the usual daily array of requests for money from Mexican neighbors, but I followed Nancy Reagan's advice and just said no.

The problem was with the cash machines -- or my card. Everything was going well until a couple days after I had managed to gather 70,000 pesos.

The ATM refused my transaction with a rather ominous "Authorization prohibited." The next day all was well. The day after, "prohibited" again.

I called my bank. The representative checked my account. There was no block on my card, but she noted there were also no indications the ATM had actually connected with my bank on the "prohibited" days.

She suggested the chip on my card may be damaged, and asked if I wanted her to send me a new card. The last time I did that, I was without a valid card for almost five weeks. That made survival a bit tenuous. I was ready to start working the night clubs. 

Then, I remembered I had opened a secondary account with the same bank for this eventuality. I retrieved that card and tried it. It would not work, but the message was that service was not available, and I should try later.

Because all of the other people at the Banamex were obtaining money except for me, I had discarded the possibility of trying the other financial service in town -- Intercam. 

One card worked in its ATM; the other didn't. I walked back to Banamex, the card that had not worked at Intercam worked at Banamex. The next day, neither card worked at either bank.

Yesterday, I drove to Manzanillo to complete some errands, and I stopped at an HSBC ATM. And, of course, both cards worked. I withdrew 10,000 pesos on each card. I now had my full amount for the solar project. But driving to Manzanillo every other day for pesos is not a rational solution to whatever is happening with the Banamex machines.

All of this got me to thinking once again about closing my American bank accounts and having all of my direct deposits go to Intercam. Before I do that, though, I need to find out if my direct deposits will work. I know the largest of my monthly checks cannot be deposited in a Mexican bank.

Then there are the questions about the direct payments for my credit cards. For reasons that are not pertinent here, I need to retain at least one of my northern credit cards -- probably both. Both of them have regular monthly payments that are linked to them.

The last time I thought of cutting these last ties with the American banking system, inertia won out. I was not certain all of the paperwork to transfer everything would be worth the benefit I would receive by having my money here.

Banamex is not a possibility. Irregular amounts of money simply disappear from my checking account there month to month with no accounting on the statement for the loss. The bank does not understand how that could possibly be happening. Either do I. But I know one resolution that will stop the hemorrhaging.

As a result of this fiscal fiasco, I am very likely to be a new Intercam customer, and my northern bank can kiss my Benjamins goodbye.

The ideal system would be if I could keep my funds in an American bank. That bank would then be partnered with a Mexican bank where my dollar accounts would allow me to transfer money into my Mexican peso account.

But that is simply saying that I wish I had my pre-2014 BanamexUSA account. All the nostalgia in the world will not resuscitate that corpse.

Felipe over at The Unseen Moon had to make the same switch in 2014. He went cold turkey and moved everything to Mexico, and has been quite pleased ever since. He has had to do some Mexican bank shopping since then, but in a macro sense, he is happy with the switch.

I may just have to join him. Playing the ATM as if it were a slot machine is not my idea of entertainment. 

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