Shirley Pulawski is a freelance journalist who is documenting the process of going bankless and transitioning to other services for MyBankTracker.
I've been in the process of giving up a long-time bank account to make the transition to using a Bluebird or other prepaid debit card. I didn't expect everything to be easy, but I wasn't prepared for as much hassle as I have experienced so far, and I still don't have one cent uploaded to the account.
First, my editor, Claire Tak, tried to send my contract pay to my Bluebird by American Express account. She had to jump through several hoops in order to get approved, but by then, she already sent me a paper check in the mail to my traditional bank account.
Next, after adding my bank account through a verification process very much like PayPal uses, it looked like I could add funds from my bank account. I wasn't in any rush to transfer funds since I knew my checks from my full-time job would be direct deposited soon enough. That was the case until I had some fraudulent activity with my debit card occur, and my debit card got locked out from accessing my funds in my traditional bank.
So I had a zero balance on my Bluebird account and a lot of money in my checking account, but no debit card to access my money. No problem, I think. I'll just add funds from the traditional account to Bluebird and scrape by for a couple of days on what limited cash I had.
Except that when I tried to move my funds, I got an error message from within the Bluebird app on my computer that said my permanent card hadn't been activated. I was quite sure I activated the card, and was pretty sure the card I had was my permanent one (although I was beginning to wonder) so I called the toll-free number shown in the error message.
I had to wade through quite a few menus until speaking "customer service" got me a new menu, and then I had to sit through a lengthy list of all of the "useful information" I could learn about my card online. Meanwhile, I was trying to do this while I was at my full-time job, and time was ticking away.
Getting through the menus to the point I was actually connected with someone was frustrating and time-consuming. It took longer than it should have, especially since I called a number recommended in the error message.
Speaking with a representative
Finally, I got in touch with an agent. Even after going through all of my account details in the automated menus, I had to provide her with all of the same information. When I told her the problem, she looked up my account details and told me she had to connect me with someone else, an "account specialist," whatever that meant. I told her I was at work and didn't have a lot of time, and she assured me I wouldn't have to wait long, that she would stay on the line, and that I wouldn't have to provide all of my information all over again.
Well, she was half-correct -- I had to provide about half of my information all over again, and it took longer than I'd hoped. She did stay on the line with me until the new agent picked up. She told me my bank account had to be verified. I told her it had been verified. She said it had to be verified by her, by calling the bank.
To make a long story short: I knew the name on the account wasn't exactly my name as it appears on my Bluebird account, so I asked her to call my branch, where they know me, and can verify any information she needed. No, she told me, she had to call a number she had for the bank.
Does it come as a surprise, dear reader, that after I waited another five minutes or so, access to the account was denied?
So I thanked her for wasting my time in no uncertain terms, and started thinking about other ways I could get my money from my bank account into my Bluebird account.
Simple solution: use the Bluebird mobile app to scan in a check that I write from the traditional account they just denied because they said it wasn't me. I went through all of the terms that described what made a check eligible or not, and it looked good. One stipulation is that the check couldn't be drawn from one of my own accounts, but since they didn't see it as my account, then I figured there wouldn't be any problems -- I'll just use their cool mobile app to do it.
Using my brand new Samsung Galaxy Note 3 with a 13-megapixel camera that is the rave of the smart phone world, all I had to do was open the app, take a well-lit picture, and upload it per their super-simple instructions.
I took several pictures that the app rejected, despite being crystal clear to me. I tried several kinds of lighting, both indoors and out, and continually got rejected. Better still, when I finally had enough and tried to log out of the app, I couldn't find a log out option anywhere. So I just closed the app, but the light from my flash stayed on -- the flash option in the mobile app simply turns on the light and leaves it on for pictures.
After a day of trying several options, after several weeks of casually putting things into place, I still had a zero balance and no promise of access to my money aside from the new debit card I requested from the regular bank. To make the light go off, I rebooted my phone and wondered if I had to also reboot my plans.