29 August, 2013

We Don't Accept Those Checks Any More

Yesterday morning, in addition to my normal list of stuff to get and do in town, I also had to stop at our bank, Belize Bank, and deposit our US income tax refund check.

Now, you might ask why we didn't just use direct deposit to our US bank. Well, it's pretty simple really. Confusing, but simple. We filed an amended return as we got a late Form 1090 from one of our financial institutions. We thought it was important to do that, instead of just waiting till next tax season, since, until that form showed up, our tax return for the year 2012, was in stasis - no tax owed, no refund due. Once that form showed up, we were due, for us, a sizable refund, making it attractive enough to file an amended return.

What we didn't know, was this quirk in the Internal Revenue Code. It's OK to use direct deposit for the refund from your initial tax filing, but if you do an amended return and are due a refund, the IRS MUST send the refund for an amended return by check and snail mail. And, what else we didn't know, you'll see below.
Our Refund Check and Deposit Slip
"WTF!?" Was my immediate thought. "This is a brand-spanking new check, cut by the United States of America, Internal Revenue Service (otherwise knows as our friendly IRS), and you won't accept it? It's our amended tax return refund check. We've even endorsed it, see?" I said, rather expansively, to the bank teller.
Our Endorsement on the Back
"Sorry Sir," she said. "We haven't taken those for quite some time now. You might want to see if someone else in town will cash it for you."

"With the endorsement already made out to this bank? Fat chance. You won't take it at all?" I said, testily.

"No sir. Like I already explained we haven't taken this type of check in quite some time."

I was completely taken aback and just had to ask one more time. "You mean to tell me, that a new check from the US Government, for US dollars, properly endorsed by us, and we're customers of this bank, and you won't accept it?"

"That's right, sir."

At that point, I was a tad angry. I asked to speak to the manager. I was shuffled off to speak to some other functionary. I'm not sure whether or not I actually got to speak to the manager. Anyway, I got no further with that person - two persons actually, as they were now apparently tag-teaming me.

"Ok. I want to close my account immediately." As if this alone would force complete surrender on their part, and they would immediately accept the check.

"Alright, sir. We'll have the teller you were just dealing with take care of that for you." Check and mate, so to speak.

When I got to talk to the teller again, I again said that I wanted to close my account and that I wanted the funds in a cashier's check.

The teller was very polite through all of my dealings with her and advised me several times that closing my account was a drastic step and that the "account was good to have to do other things."

"For something like, oh, cashing a check?" I said, with just a slight touch of sarcasm in my voice.

I almost got her to laugh with that, as she went ahead and gathered the necessary forms to close my account. That took just long enough for me to calm down a bit. I decided to go ahead and keep the account for now and told the cashier, who seemed visibly relieved that she wouldn't have to deal with more forms.

I then gathered up the check and my other paperwork and left the bank.

After getting home, I told Dianna what had happened. She was as dumbfounded as I was. We both wondered just what we were to do at this stage.

Dianna needed to do some work with Cody, our caretaker, so I got on the computer and accessed the IRS website for their phone number, which I called. I explained what had happened, and the lady on the other end, very nicely explained the IRS' prohibition against direct depositing of amended return refunds (although she didn't explain the logic of that requirement).

I asked what I should do now as the check was unusable in it's current state. She suggested I contact the Taxpayer Advocacy Office and gave me their number, which I called.

According to those folks, if it was a life or death situation, they might be able to help, but short of that, there really wasn't much they could do. Well that was helpful.

As I was talking to them, I was, at the same time, surfing through the IRS site, and happened to see a form, Form 3911, the Taxpayer Statement Regarding Refund, that might fit our situation. They have a form for everything, don't they?
IRS Form 3911
That seemed the closest that we would come to a solution. Since it's essentially destroyed in its present form, If the IRS reissued the check and mailed it to us, we could endorse it, get the check back up to the States and then deposit it in our US bank. Problem solved.

This shouldn't take any more than five or six months, tops. Amost worth it to just wait for next tax filing season and take care of it then, eh?

We decided to go ahead and see if Form 3911 can work its magic. We're just so glad that we weren't counting on that money to put food on the table right now. I think we'd be up the creek, without any rice and beans, y'know?

I guess what this little story does, is to serve as a warning to everyone contemplating moving here or any location outside the US really, that, just because a check is issued by good ol' Uncle Sam, that it's going to be accepted with open arms.

So, if you think you might just have your Social Security check, your income tax refund check, or some other benefit check mailed down here, you might want to reconsider that strategy.

We have our Social Security direct deposited to our US bank. That's easy.

There is a way to have your Social Security direct deposited down here to a bank. It's a little involved, but our good friends Bruce and Colleen did it, so it can happen.

Just be aware that having a genuwine US gummint check in your grubby little mits, may not be quite the thing you think it might be.

I mean, Belize, of all places, is widely known, accurately or not, as a major money laundromat for all sorts of  nefarious activities. If they won't accept a US Government Check, what does that say about the financial strength and viability of the US and the US dollar itself?

Kinda makes you wonder, don't it?


Mr. Pancho said...

Sorry you had that happen. When Amy and I were in Belize in December (what a cool thing to take in a Belizian Christmas!) we ran into some problems with good ole US greenbacks. Several times we had 20's rejected at the A&R in Orange Walk and then all over on San Pedro. We went to 2 banks on San Pedro with a US $50 that had been rejected by several shops because of the dredded 'red ink dot' in the upper corner. The bank officer explained that the frequency of counterfiting has increased dramatically recently and they will not take any bills that have any kind of blemishes. Also he explained that there is no 'recycling' program for US bills in Belize like there is in the states for worn out cash so they want perfect bills. Our visit in May went much smoother because we came armed with triple checked bills ($20's) of perfection.
Our church supports 5 pastors in the Orange walk district and the offering we gave them recently was rejected at the bank because the bills were not perfect. Luckily one of the brothers was going to Cuba and got the cash exchanged that way.
Sorry again for the issue, when this happened to me we felt like we were being discriminated against for being 'rich americans' and learn I guess.
Good move on not closing the account. I think there is some funny business going on a bunch in the Corozal district and it might be harder to open an new account in the first place if you're not a Belizian national.


Dave Rider said...

Hey Rodney,

It was an interesting experience. About US money - we see so little of it anymore, it looks like funny money to us.
Counterfeiting is a growing problem all over. Checks are probably susceptible to that as well.

Anyway, it gave me a posting.


Unknown said...

So glad I read this post! I'm sorry to hear that this happened to you, Dave.

Any advice for those traveling to Belize for the first time?

I am assuming the hotel will take a credit card. Likewise the water taxi(?)but what about shops and such? Any advice as to travelers checks vs cash vs changing USD to BZD?

Thanks for the awesome blog. I am learning SO much. Rainy season, no IRS checks (or imperfect dollars)and everything breaks. The list keeps growing.

All kidding aside, thank you for writing this great blog.


Dave Rider said...

Hi Mike,

Again, thanks for this comment too. It's all appreciated.

Most hotels will take credit cards. With the exception of San Pedro and other tourist-centered places, few businesses are able to take credit cards or even large denomination money, US or Belizean.

I really wouldn't bother with many travelers checks. There's plenty of ATMs around.

I also wouldn't worry about changing USD to BZD. Everyone knows that it's 2:1 on the exchange - except the banks, of course. You'll never get quite 2:1 there.

Also, I've never had problems with businesses trying to cheat on change back or anything like that. They seem to be honest to a fault in that regard.

Glad you like the blog. I enjoy writing it.

Have a safe and enjoyable trip.


Corozal Dave said...

Hi Dave, I've always used the East Indian Appliance Store, just past the town square on the right hand side heading towards Consejo. They have cashed personal cheques for me from my US account in the Bahamas. They also do money changing at rates much better than the banks. You should go over and meet them and next time they will cash it for you.

I'm sure all those ebooks are coming in handy during all this rain :-)

Dave Rider said...

Hi Dave,

Thanks for the good comment.

I too have used Kishor Kumar's Shanti Appliance Store since we moved here. I didn't feel oomfortable trying to cash a US Government check there. Uncle Sugar just might freak out.

Also, for nuubs, it's best if you get introduced to Mr. Kumar by someone who is a current customer of his. All the transactions are based on trust.