On Monday, I went to the bank to deposit a tax-refund check.
(I know that getting a refund means I have let the federal government hold onto money that I could have been investing instead. But in the Bolejack household, we’re not that disciplined at saving, so we treat a tax refund as a savings account that pays no interest. Come to think of it, that’s about what most savings accounts pay these days.)
But the bank teller could not help me.
“Mr. Bolejack,” she said, “I’m going to need your signature and your wife’s signature before I can deposit your check.”
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Before leaving the check on the kitchen island, my wife had not thought to sign it, so I marked it “For Deposit Only.” From my summers as a bank teller in college, I knew that unless I wanted money back from a check, I could mark it for deposit only, no signature required.
I told the teller that I did not want any money back. Still, she could not deposit my check. The federal government, she explained, requires signatures on refund checks.
Even when it’s for deposit only? Yes, she said. The requirement, she added, is designed to prevent fraud.
By now, I was a befuddled. Why would I – or better yet, how could I – possibly defraud myself?
The bank teller was sympathetic but unyielding. She went on to explain that a common fraud was one spouse taking money that belonged to both.
At this point, I could have noted that I was trying to deposit the full check – no money back – into a joint checking account, one with both of our names on it. But it was clear that the teller was not going to break a rule, or law, on my account, so I promised to return the next day with both signatures.
On the way home, I thought about how lucky my wife was that Uncle Sam was looking out for her. I thought too about how I could have spent that money had I managed to defraud the bank. I have had my eye, for example, on mulch for the shrubs in the yard and on repairs to the upstairs air conditioner.
Such is the wisdom of our federal government that it cannot tell that a husband depositing a check into a joint account isn’t trying to defraud his wife. No wonder our leaders can’t solve this country’s real problems.