The Saga Of the Debit Card

For the most part, van life is great, but it does present some difficulties. It also turns some routine tasks into logistical nightmares. I’ve been living one for the past month or so as I’ve been trying to get a replacement debit card.

Despite being on the road, I’ve continued to use my old credit union in Massachusetts. They have extensive online banking features that have made my location irrelevant for 99% of my banking needs. I can get statements, check balances, transfer money between accounts, and even deposit paper checks completely online, without ever setting foot in a branch. That’s why I’ve stuck with them.

My existing debit card expires this month. Back on July 19, I contacted my credit union to inquire about getting a replacement with an updated expiration date. Knowing that it would take a while to get from Massachusetts to my Quartzsite mail forwarding address, and then to wherever I’d actually have my mail forwarded to, I did my due diligence to begin the process early. I was pleased to find out they’d already mailed out a new debit card on July 12. Everything should be fine, right?

A Tale of Two Zip Codes

This is where it gets weird. The credit union assured me that they mailed the card to my address on file, which is my Quartzsite, Arizona mail forwarding address. The 7-10 business days elapsed, but my card had still not arrived in Quartzsite. I even double-checked with the mail forwarder, who assured me they had no mail for me.

I have a theory as to why. When I left New Hampshire and set up my Escapees mail forwarding address in Texas, I immediately had to start entering my Texas zip code at the gas pump instead of my old New Hampshire zip code. This is how it should work. After changing my address again to Arizona, however, I still have to enter my Texas zip code at the pump. Something somewhere didn’t get updated, it seems. So I suspect that even though they assured me it was sent to my Arizona address, the automated process might have incorrectly sent it to my Texas address, which I no longer have access to. The credit union flatly denied that this was possible, even though it’s exactly what I’ve experienced, and would explain why my card never showed up where it was supposed to.

Wasting Time

On July 29, I contacted my credit union again, well after 10 business days since they mailed the card. They told me to wait yet a few more days, and if it still didn’t arrive they’d send me a new one. OK, fine.

I got busy and distracted and finally contacted them again on August 10 after still not receiving it. Finally, they were willing to send out another card. They suggested I simply order a replacement through online banking. Really? Now they tell me? If this was the way to do it, why didn’t they suggest this nearly a month ago when I first asked?

But, they also told me that in order to replace my card, they would also disable my current card. This was not acceptable. I rely on my debit card almost daily. I don’t have access to local credit union branches on the road because there are none outside of New England. Plus, I have a number of automatic payments attached to that card, which would then not go through until my new card arrived.

I explained this in a reply email. The reply I got from them was interesting. It reiterated that they would have to disable the current card in order to replace a lost one. Then it said:

“If you use the Report and Replace Cards tool and report it as Lost, Stolen, or Fraud then your current card will be disabled and a replacement with a new card number will be issued. When a card is reported as Damaged, the card would not be disabled and the same card number will be issued.”

I wonder if this particular representative understood the situation I was in and, while continuing to follow all of the required policies, also gave me the back door solution I needed. She couldn’t, and didn’t, suggest that I report my card as damaged rather than lost, in order to keep my current one active and not change the number. That would probably be against policy. But if I did it this way, I’d get everything I wanted. So that’s exactly what I did.

Gaming the System

It was easy enough to order a new card online. I’d done it before when a previous card started working unreliably. There was even an option to have it sent to an alternate address than the one on file. I entered all of the info, clicked Submit, and got an automated confirmation that they would review and process the order.

Then, nothing. No further confirmation. No tracking number. Nothing. I wondered if, when reviewing the order, they went back through my message history, saw I was gaming the system, and denied my request. If that was the case, I’d have to figure out how to open a new account at a new bank or credit union, get a debit card from them, and transfer my direct deposit, payments, and money from the old credit union just to have a debit card that works. What a pain, especially now that I’m staring at the end of August, and my old card no longer working, in less than two weeks, despite starting this process a month ago.

But before taking drastic measures, I sent yet another email asking about the status of my replacement card. This time, they confirmed that it had, in fact, been sent, and gave me a FedEx tracking number for it. It has arrived at the alternate address I specified, so I will be able to get this card into my hands and activate it with days to spare. My complicated emergency plan will not be necessary.

What Now?

With the crisis averted, I’m pondering what I should do so that I never have to deal with something like this again. My new card will be good for a few years, so this particular issue won’t come up again for a while. But what if I need a significant chunk of cash for a van repair, or to buy a motorcycle (which I’m considering) or even a replacement van? I have the money, but no way to access it besides an ATM, which limits how much I can withdraw at a time.

I’m thinking that opening a new account at one of the bigger banks might be a good idea after all. At least then, walking into a branch and dealing with stuff like this will be an option. But I won’t close my credit union account, either. If I ever need a loan for something, they would be a good option for that. I’ve even had a car loan with them in the past, which I paid off, so we have a good history. I can set things up to transfer money electronically between the new bank and the previous credit union. Then I can continue to use whichever accounts and institutions make the most sense, such as keeping my savings with whoever has the higher interest rate, for instance.

Not everything in van life is sunshine and rainbows. But I’m happy that this problem appears to be finally resolved.

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