Does this look like a check for $15?
Every month, Charlottesville resident Sherry Nist gets a child support payment of $1,500 when her ex-husband writes a check to the state, which then moves the funds into her bank account. In early December, however, instead of the usual $1,500, the agency credited her account with just $15. The missing funds wreaked havoc on her finances, and state officials are now refusing to compensate her for the more than $600 in ensuing overdraft fees.
The check for $1,500 showed up in Nist's state account on Friday, December 2, as just $15. And even that money didn't reach her bank account until Tuesday, December 6, and that's when Nist realized she had a big problem.
"I was trying to buy coffee, and my debit card was declined," she says. "I had some auto pays that had posted. It just built so that I couldn't use my account. It was exponential."
Nist contacted the state agency, the Division of Child Support Enforcement, which promptly blamed Joe Yung, the check writer.
"The noncustodial parent made an error on his check," says Phyllis Sisk with the Division.
And yet a copy of the check provided by Yung shows a top line of "$1500." Although the zeros are written smaller, there also appears to be a notation for zero cents, and the second line is even more clearly marked: "Fifteen hundred even."
The release of the check hasn't prompted the state to admit any responsibility.
"Both our worker and the bank read it as $15," says Sisk, noting that the agency processes $2.5 million in checks each day and has contacted Yung to counsel him on how to write future checks.
"They called me at the office to say my penmanship can be improved," says an incredulous Yung. "I looked at my copy of the check and see the words "fifteen hundred" underneath, and thought, can't you read? Why not just say, 'We made a mistake'?"
And while the state has refused any financial responsibility for the error, hypothetically, if they'd made a mistake in depositing a check, would they pay any overdraft fees?
"We look at everything individually," answers Sisk.
Nist finally got her $1,500, but the state hasn't offered to pay a penny of the overdraft fees.
"She's responsible," says Sisk, "for drawing out money she didn't have in her account."
"I never would have gone negative if they hadn't screwed up in the first place," says a perturbed Nist, who also wonders why it took from December 2 until December 6 for the little money to reach her account, and then once the error was discovered, about two and half more days to transfer the missing balance.
"In the old days," says Nist, "that's how it was done. Now with electronic banking, there's no excuse."
Not surprisingly, the state sees it differently, and Sisk calculates that by the time Child Support Enforcement was made aware of the problem around 4:30pm on December 6, they had it turned around in about two days.
"I'm still in the hole financially," says Nist, "and it's less than two weeks before Christmas."
Frustrated by the state's stance in an already challenging holiday season, Nist sums up her experience: "Yes Virginia, you are not Santa Claus."