Friday, January 21, 2011

An account of an account

There are certain things in Chile that are just harder to do… like opening a checking account.

In the U.S. this process is much easier… as I understand pretty much anyone, even children, through their parents, can open a bank account there. I didn’t have any money as a kid, but I opened my first bank account at 18, when I went to college, with a whopping $20. They gave me checks, a debit card, later online access (which wasn’t available when I first opened the account, if that gives you any indication of my age, there were no email accounts at that time either, if some of you young whippersnappers can imagine!)

Now, before anyone says, “Well, no wonder the US is in the financial mess it is” (because someone said that to me already when I mentioned the difference in ease). A checking account has nothing to do with any credit mess or housing bubble: a checking account is a virtual place where you can keep your money and take it out when needed… it is not a line of credit, you can’t take out more than you have (in theory, and at least without a hefty fee and eventually serious consequences), there is generally no benefit of accruing interest. Oh, and it is also almost always free (unless you do your banking somewhere swanky).

In Chile, it is notoriously difficult to get a checking account, and it is even harder for foreigners. You have to make a certain amount of money, you have to show up to two years of pay stubs, sometimes you have to prove you are on a contract. As I understand, checking accounts here often come with a line of credit. There are charges: for maintenance, sometimes for transactions, sometimes if your balance falls below a certain amount, etc.

When I was living here before (10 years ago) it was unthinkable for a foreigner to get a checking account. You just kept your money under the proverbial mattress (ok, there is not exactly a proverb about money under mattresses, and one of my pet peeves is how people use proverbial when there is not a proverb… but I am breaking my own rule and you know what I mean, right? “Under the mattress is some kind of saying… but you don’t necessarily keep it under the mattress, but something to that end.)

Moving on… I find it ridiculous, at this point in my life, to work on a totally cash basis… right? No matter what the context or how much I make or how long I have been working where I work, or what my immigration status is… that I would have to go cash a check for several thousand dollars (or whatever the amount) and carry it home and keep it there… every month, until I meet whatever silly requirements there are to be met. Does that make me sound like some arrogant, indulged, brat with some disproportionate sense of entitlement? Well, whatever… dude, I want to pay my bills online, ok? Call me spoiled!

So I found out about a type of account here that called a RUT account. In Chile, instead of a social security number, you are given a RUT, it is a number you use for everything. I finally have it memorized, after having to tell about 10 people who asked for it “I don’t have it memorized.” The shame won, and I memorized it. So, there is a bank that offers accounts based on your RUT. It is a simple account with no benefits really, but you can electronically deposit your paycheck and you have a debit card and can pay things online and make transfers and toda la we’a (all that crap). So, I thought: “perfect!” But, alas (of course) it was not to be… I went to open a RUT account and was told that since my residency visa is temporary (for the first year) I was not eligible to open one.

So, since then, half the world has said: “I am certain you can open a RUT account with a temporary visa… so and so did”

Well, while I am sure that is true, I couldn’t... I am not going to try again (and yes, I did try at an “uptown” branch) You see, I am one of those rancorous people: I hold a grudge! Banco de Estado didn’t let me open a cuenta RUT, so they will never get my millions! (I may one day eat my words, but I feel VERY strongly about it now ;-)

No, but seriously, I was really annoyed! Who cares if my visa is as a temporary resident? I moved here permanently. And it is an account with NO benefits and NO risks (you can’t take out more than you have in it). Seriously, a girl of 12 or a boy of 14 (why the difference? I have no idea) with no regular income can open one, but I can’t!

So, I bypassed the system…

All Chileans and all foreigners living here will tell you that you can do almost anything if you have a “pituto” (pee-TU-toh) which is what you might call “an inside man” (or woman, or whatever), a contact you have that helps you get a job or better service or a better price or whathaveyou.

My father-in-law mentioned to my brother-in-law’s brother at a family dinner that I hadn’t been able to open a cuenta RUT. He happens to work at a bank in a semi-highish position (I gather). He said: "give me your datos (info) and I’ll have an account executive call you tomorrow and set you up with an account."

So I did… and he did… and they called… and I have an account. I even got a call from the branch manager to welcome me to the bank and to make sure that everything had gone smoothly and that I had been treated well.

Today I had to go in to pick up a little apparatus called a “multipass” which generates passwords every minute, which you need, in addition to your personal internet password, to do anything online.

The bank employee looked at my ID card she asked: “They gave you an account even though you are a temporary resident?”

Yes! You see, my people know people who know people.

This is where I keep waiting for something to go horribly wrong: they take away my account because I have almost no money in there, or they decide they don’t want to take a risk, or they start charging me some astronomical maintenance fees or something and I end up ruing the day that I tried to bypass the system… someone tell me that is not going to happen?

Of course, if I have any problem… my “pituto” told me to call him and he’d take care of it.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Coming... coming

Sorry to abandon you for so long

I have been busy! Like panicked busy...

Not too busy to make plum jam with Eileen though. (Click on her name and read her take on Santiago being named the #1 place to visit by the New York Times)

The jam turned out pretty good, but a little tart (then I made juice that was too tart and tarts that were pretty tart--apparently the plums are more tart than they come across). I told everyone to eat the jam quickly, just in case... I don't want to kill anyone with botulism.

Anyway, I will write something of substance soon... I think!