Penny wise

One of the reasons I've stayed in Israel for more than twenty years is the great banking system.

One of the reasons I've stayed in Israel for more than twenty years is the great banking system. Seriously. Others may take every opportunity to slam the long lines, ornery tellers, unfair fees for every single transaction, and incomprehensible fine print on every bank correspondence they send out. But I ask, where else can you have no money in your account, be firmly ensconced in overdraft - or even over the authorized overdraft limit - but still continue to write checks, withdraw cash from the ATM, and for all intents and purposes, behave like you're solvent? I've managed to survive all these years thanks to overdraft - a remarkable system that blurs the distinction between positive and negative numbers (which would have come in handy in 9th grade Algebra). Each of us in this hallowed hall of overdraft infamy is honored with an overdraft misgeret, or limit - the amount of money you can be minus without having to pay even higher than normal interest payments. The figure is concocted based on a number of economic and scientific criteria - including a customer's salary, savings, and how friendly they are with Julia, the bank's financial advisor and amateur psychologist. It's a given that I'll always be in overdraft. But as long as I don't stray too far over my misgeret, it's also been a given that I'm still in the money. However, dark clouds are on the horizon. This week I got a call from Julia. "I just wanted to tell you that as of January 1, 2006, a new law's going into effect," she said, with sympathy in her voice. "You won't be allowed to go one agora over your overdraft border any more. If you do, and you try to write a check, it will bounce and you'll have to pay a fine. And you won't be able to take cash out of the ATM either." What? I was taken aback. I have to start keeping track of how much money I don't have in my account? I have to start balancing my checkbook? I've managed to escape these adult responsibilities for 20 years, and I'm not sure if I can start now, I moaned to Julia. "Don't worry, we're going to have some preferential loan packages available which will enable you to get out of overdraft, and we'll advise you on how to stay out," she answered. Great, I thought, at this notion of economic boot camp. This sounds like too much work. If I had wanted a tidy, balanced bank account, I could have stayed in America and become well versed on such adult but vague concepts as "equity," and "refinancing a mortgage." Feeling the onset of a panic attack, I immediately decided I needed to get a croissant and coffee, and ran downstairs to the trendy Aroma Cafe. But I didn't have any cash, so I naturally went straight to the nearest ATM and withdrew NIS 100. I didn't check if I was over my misgeret. There'll be time for that on January 1st.
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