20 Secrets Your Bank Teller Won’t Tell You

We talked to bank tellers, branch managers, and other banking officials to find out more about the place where you keep your money.

By Neena Samuel
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    It takes us three days to post checks to your account.

    Just because you deposited a check today doesn’t mean you can start living it up tomorrow. (And why should we hurry? If you bounce a check, we collect around $30.)

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    Make sure you have the right loss and theft protection.

    If you’re using your ATM card for debit transactions, ask your bank what kind of protection it offers if the card is stolen or lost. Thousands of dollars could be pulled from your checking account and, in many cases, you wouldn’t be nearly as protected as you would be with a stolen credit card.

    Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

    Beware of the universal default clause.

    Before you sign up for a bank-issued credit card, ask if it has a “universal default clause”—also known as “the ultimate poison clause in credit cards.” If it does, run for the nearest exit. It allows the bank to look through all your credit accounts, and if it sees that you’re late paying a bill on another card, it gets to jack up the interest rate on its card.

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    Online banking...

    ...is pretty safe, but it could be better, according to researchers at the University of Michigan. They studied 214 financial-institution websites and found design flaws in 76 percent of them, including banks redirecting users to less-secure sites.

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    Not everyone is allowed to do a teller's job.

    Yes, we know the line is long and only one teller window is open, but no, the guy in the cubicle can’t come over to help out. 

    Ryan McVay/Thinkstock

    Call or visit in person to resolve a problem.

    Filling out online forms will usually get you the by-the-book reply, but a rep will often forgive a fee over the phone so we can all just get on with our lives.

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    We know you hate itemized penalties.

    A consumer’s brain registers an immediate “Ouch!” whenever he’s hit with an itemized penalty, such as a bounced-check fee, so most people keep a much higher balance in their checking accounts than necessary, says personal-finance writer Jason Zweig. “Banks make a ton of money off this mental quirk since they would have to pay interest on the money if we left it in our savings accounts, where it belongs.”

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    A bank has the right to pay itself back.

    Any fees or overdraft loans that you owe can be deducted from your next deposit.


    You probably don't need to pay fees.

    You can get practically any fee waived if you ask, especially if you’re a longtime customer.

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    Our tellers routinely press you into opening new accounts.

    Their jobs depend on it. Banks hire “mystery” customers who secretly test whether a teller is cross-selling services.


    If the check bounces, you're liable.

    Postdating a check rarely works. With stacks of deposits to process, we look at account names, not dates. 


    Don't blame us.

    It’s not our fault you can’t control your spending. “The bank didn’t make you swipe your card or write a check that you didn’t have money for,” says one teller in Akron, Ohio.

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    Small business loans are hard to get.

    Unless you’re Wolfgang Puck, our loan officers have pretty much decided before you walk in that you’re not getting a loan for your dream bistro. But they’ll let you apply for one anyway. We’re not crazy about lending to nonprofits and houses of worship either. We don’t want the bad publicity when we go after them.


    Please don't haul in plastic bags of loose change.

    We really don’t have the time or manpower to count it. Ask for free wrappers and bring in rolled coins next time.

    Keith Brofsky/Thinkstock

    Keep receipts for every ATM transaction.

    And please don’t feed cash directly into the machine without first putting it into an envelope—unless you know you're at one of the ATMs that accepts loose bills. (Yes, people actually do this.)

    Keith Brofsky/Thinkstock

    Banks don't always promote their highest interest rate accounts.

    Why tell you about those when you’re already willing to sign up for an account that pays less?

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    Read the fine print.

    Ask us to explain the terms, and get the details in writing before you sign anything.

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    Beware of overdraft fees.

    Many banks will permit you to withdraw more money than you have on deposit at the ATM, but they’ll charge you about $34 for the privilege.

    Keith Brofsky/Thinkstock

    A small thought about business loans:

    You have to admit that applying for a business loan and calling yourself a “financial consultant” sounds a little shady.


    Free toasters are a thing of the past.

    Sorry, we can’t afford to give them anymore to new customers. Business is brutal.


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    Your Comments

    • Kris

      I work at one of the biggest banks in the nation and my branch doesn’t have a coin counter. We won’t accept it unless it’s rolled. I’ve petitioned for a counter but am met with a resounding no.

    • cparsons1

      MOST banks will not accept wrapped coins. They will ask you to please unwrap them so you can put them in the coin counter. Was this written in the early 90′s or something? Most of it seems outdated or just plan wrong.

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      • Marshall Mathers

        Seems legit.
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    • you know who

      Can a bank teller give out my account information such as balance, deposits, and info about my taxes, to some one who claims I owe them money?

    • Davie

      Wow. It appears that either Neena Samuel was misimformed on a great deal of information or her interpretion is completely warped. What a useless article.

    • Return2beach

      I work in one of the largest banks in the country. We allow the first one hundred dollars of a check to be available immediately. It takes about 5 days for the bank to collect the funds on a check. If we can not collect the funds-bad check- we will take the funds right back out of your account. So be confident about where you got that check and who it is from. If you weren’t expecting it, be wary.Rolled coin- hell no. bring it in a bucket, a bowl, whatever you got, but not rolled, We have a counter for that. By the way, when you forget your deposit slip, or checks at home…..fill out your own. You are not the only client. Do you know how many deposit slips we fill out? How many checks? Its annoying as hell and its not our job to fill those out. It also takes up alot of our time. Fees- dont spend it if you dont have it.You can not beat the bank. Everything is computerized and time stamped. Posted balance+what you had. Available balance= what you have minus any checks you wrote. The ATM is a machine and sees your posted balance and will allow you to overdraw, so keep track of your spending. Banks will usually have some sort of fee forgiveness, as accidents happen, just ask.. Higher yielding accounts are usually reserved for the wealthy, we do not push them as many folks are not wealthy.
      We do not add up your checks for deposit. We check that they are signed and made out to you. If you are wrong, the corrections department will correct your addition. Do keep your receipts. Do not put money in an ATM that requires an envelope, we cannot see the account print on the bills. If you are at an ATM yapping on your phone and your money gets sucked back in….. you waited to long. Going into the bank complaining makes you look like an idiot, which we already know. We can not go out to the ATM and just give you money or your card. You will have to wait till the custodian comes to report the overage or retrieve your card.
      The Bank is NOT your overdraft protection. You open a savings account for that. We do not pay every bad check you write. Banks are a business, not a charity.

    • Russell Haney

      #11 is not entirely true. Notify the bank in writing, and they will be at fault. Let’s say you have to give the rent check in early. UCC 4-401 (c)