Oops! NC Policy Watch got it wrong this time

This probably won't win me any friends here, but truth is truth, and my intention is sincere constructive criticism.

There's a short piece posted this afternoon at NC Policy Watch that disappoints me. You see, I expect accuracy from those claiming to report on such important matters as my state legislature, etc., but on this one they seem to have dropped the ball in a pretty big way. Here's what was reported.

Another way for banks to get your money

Just when you thought you have seen it all with the big banks, they come up with even more obnoxious ways to make money, in this case with the full cooperation of the State of South Carolina.

The Charlotte Observer reports that taxpayers in South Carolina who are due a refund on their state taxes and don’t specifically request a check from the state will receive a Bank of America debit card instead.

You can withdraw money from the card at ATMs, but that will cost you $2.50 every time you do. You can close the account and get all your money from the card if you would rather, but that will cost you five dollars.

South Carolina worked out the deal with Bank of America to save money on processing and mailing paper checks to taxpayers who are owed a refund.

The result is that citizens will have to pay a bank to get access to their own money.

Anyone who's ever spent more than thirty seconds reading Thurman's Notebook knows I have very little use for banks, and none whatsoever for the big ones. To say I despise Bank of America would be an understatement, but I value truth and accuracy in reporting more than I hate big banks, so today you'll witness a rarity:  Thurman defends the enemy, Bank of America. (How's that for fair and balanced?)

Notice that the snippet above cites a story in the Charlotte Observer, but there isn't a link? That's bad blogging for one thing, but it gets worse. I looked up the Observer story, and I hate to say it, but almost everything in this report is inaccurate. It will not cost you $2.50 every time you access your money, unless you get completely stupid about it, and it will not cost you $5 to close out the account unless, again, you do some really bonehead things on your way to the cash.

Here's what the Observer reported, verbatim.

Bank of America says use of the tax refund card is free for a purchase from a merchant and for cash back from a purchase at many grocery and convenience stores.

The Charlotte-based bank, on its website and on the S.C. Department of Revenue's website, said it will charge an ATM fee of $2.50 per transaction for withdrawals at non-Bank of America ATMs and $2.50 per transaction at ATMs outside the United States.

The bank and the revenue department websites also said one replacement card is free and, thereafter, a replacement card will cost $5. The sites also said express delivery is $15 per request and withdrawing cash from a financial institution that accepts Visa cards is free once, but $10 afterward.

Do you see a discrepancy between those two reports? I do, and it really kind of pisses me off.

NC Policy Watch is, "a progressive, nonprofit and non-partisan public policy organization with a simple mission: to change the way elected officials debate important issues and, ultimately, to improve the quality of life for all North Carolinians," and that's why I subscribe to their feed.

I've been reading items posted at NC Policy Watch for quite some time now, and it's pretty unusual for something like this to slip through, but the fact remains that it did.

I've been factually wrong about things I published on my website before. When it was pointed out, I've taken my lumps and tried to make it right. We should expect no less from a professional organization like NC Policy Watch.

I subscribe to their news feed to stay informed because I've trusted them as a reliable news source, but after this slip of the pen I'll be taking everything they publish with a large grain of salt for a long time to come.

I despise the big banks and greedy corporations as much as the next person, but I hate being lied to even more, and whether this was an honest mistake or a deliberate deception is beside the point. Ultimately it makes all progressives look foolish and gives knuckle-dragging conservatives the kind of ammunition they need to discredit us.

NC Policy Watch, we hold you to a higher standard, please fix your mistake. It's one thing to play dirty, and we on the left need to do a whole lot more of that, but it's another thing entirely to abandon the standards of decency and good reporting.


Check the facts

There is more than one Charlotte Observer story about the card fees. This is another:
SC refunds could come with BofA card fees
This particular version referenced the $5 fee to close the account.

The Friday Follies column is not a blog post, or a news item. It's a regular editorial piece that is not posted in the blog side of Policy Watch which is Progressive Pulse.

People who need cash in a hurry are going to use an ATM that is convenient, like at a gas station, rather than spend the $2.50 on gas and time looking for a BofA machine. The card is aimed at people without bank accounts. People who know where BofA machines are will likely have BofA accounts already. Outside metro areas even gas stations are hard to come by sometimes.

To me the two words "every time" are not technically accurate as used but the card holder will have to consider the fee and weigh the direct costs, benefits, and opportunity costs.

I think your post and the title are over the top.

Terms & Conditions

Scratching the surface a little more one can find online the actual Bank of America Terms & Conditions and Schedule of Fee for the SC Tax Refund Debit Card. There is an online BofA Description of the debit card, and a SC Dept of Revenue Description and a SC DOR Program Overview. They describe the free access at BofA ATMs but also "convenience and flexibity" - "Get access to cash at ATMs, retailers, and at any bank or credit union that accepts Visa" - which involve some fees.

You post seems predicated on the false assumption that NC Policy Watch based a commentary on the single source of information you alone were able to reveal "verbatim". To paraphrase your own tag: "Don't step on your own member".


No Greg, my post was predicated on the fact that an issue was being made of fees someone might possibly incur if they failed to read the terms of the account.

Thank "God" we lowly, uneducated, rural plebes have so many fine folks looking out for us, after all we barely know how to count and we're all ignorant. That's why we're all dirt poor and refuse to put our meager savings in the big evil bank. (pardon me, may sarcasm is showing again)

Here's the thing. If my bank account is located at Bank X, and I walk in and ask them to transfer my money from the BofA card to my account, unless Bank X is stuck in the early 20th century, they accept VISA cards and the transfer costs me nothing. End of story. Or I could do an online transfer the same way; no fee, end of discussion.

There was an issue made about these debit card refunds where I personally don't see an issue. I didn't make it an issue, I didn't post about it without a link to my source, but I did take five seconds to look for the source and apparently found an alternate story at the same place.

Regardless of the source sited, the fact remains that unless one is too lazy to read the rules, there is no reason anyone should have to pay these fees unless the are outside the US, in which case I would have a problem with it if they are active military (then the fee should be waived), but there was no issue.

An issue was made where there was none.

Greg, we're on the same team aren't we? Progress? Right? I'm not trying to defame anyone, but being able to call ourselves out when inaccuracies slip through is what sets us apart from the hardcore ideologues on the right.

I stand by what I said, and you are welcome to disagree, but in this case we will apparently not reach consensus


"...the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be."

Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail

I'm not on anyone's team

For the record, I'm not on anyone's team.

I don't necessarily disagree with your initial observation but I find contradictions and dis-proportionality in how you address it.

A couple of times you've made reference to reading and laziness: "unless one is too lazy to read the rules" and "if someone can't be bothered to read the fine print, that fee is a tax on their own laziness" yet you want links handed to you on a platter and when you didn't get one you apparently stopped "in five seconds" at the first one you found in a Google search and used it as the basis of a rant.

No I don't

No, I don't want links "handed to me on a platter" but I do expect a link back to where someone writing as an informed professional opinion got their "facts".

I'm just some guy with a website and an opinion, and when I offer my opinion on something I read somewhere I offer the link to that somewhere. That wasn't done on the NCPW post/editorial/whatever-you-call-it that came across my reader. That was, in my opinion, lazy journalism.

I don't have the time nor the inclination to wade through a half dozen links in a Google search, and I erroneously assumed that searching specific phrases relevant to the content would yield the correct source at Observer's website. Oops!

If you're looking for a retraction, give up, it ain't gonna happen. I read what I read. I discovered the truth. I reported it as I saw fit. Don't like it? Too bad.

This conversation has become pointless, I'll be moving on now. Enjoy the rest of your day.


"...the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be."

Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail

You are certainly entitled to your opinion Greg

as am I. Here's the thing. I receive a news feed from NCPW and many other sources.

Friday Follies comes across along with over 100 other bits from around the web each day, from an organization with a mission to keep me, you, and everyone else informed.

Whether it's a news item, blog post, or whatever, the rules of good blogging/web publishing dictate that you include a link to your source materials. Without a link, I'm left to figure out what source was used on my own.

Forcing people to use a BofA debit card and funneling money into their overstuffed coffers is pretty damned disgusting, however, the source I found at the Observer clearly stated that there were ways to avoid giving BofA even one penny.

As I noted in my response to Chris Fitzsimon on my site, most people who do not use a traditional bank will most likely clean out the entire account anyway, and that doesn't cost anything, based on the source I found.

Even out here in the sticks where I live there are at least a half dozen banks within a few minutes travel, and plenty of gas stations too.

I don't like the idea idea of using bank debit cards for tax refunds, but it's the way of the future - progress? - and until the peak oil apocalypse hits, electronic funds transfers are going to rule the day. I haven't received a check for state or fed tax refunds in years, and I suspect that's the case with most people.

As far as the $5 account closing fee goes, it appears to me that if one cleans out the account and leaves it sitting empty until the following year's refund arrives, that should not be an issue. Here's the link to the official SC DoR rules (pdf). It's pretty clear to me how to avoid all fees if one so desires.

Want your money? Go to ANY bank that accepts VISA and take it all out. Problem solved, no fees attached

BofA was chosen from among several banks that submitted bids to supply this service to the state of SC. If not BofA, it would have been another bank, so in this case I can't find fault with BoA, much as I'd like to.

Personally, if someone can't be bothered to read the fine print, that fee is a tax on their own laziness.

As far as being over the top, it's just what I do. I don't sugar coat anything, I don't pull punches, and I wish more liberals/progressives would do the same. Over the top gets noticed, being polite, unfortunately, gets us run over.


"...the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be."

Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail

Good luck with that

So it's OK for you to exaggerate, because that's just what you "do", and you wish more liberals/progressives would do the same, but you blow a fuse when a liberal/progressive actually does that.

Good luck with that approach. I'm more concerned with getting results than getting noticed, but that's just me.

I'm neither for nor against the debit card but just because there's a path through the financial fee minefield doesn't mean everyone will get through it safely. Much bank revenue depends on people making mistakes, or being helpless to avoid them. A similar business model expects that 50% of rebates are never redeemed. The bid solicitation should have avoided the minefield entirely.