Friday, February 15, 2008

The Sea of Bills and The ATM Time Warp

I mentioned in a previous post that paying bills require a post unto themselves. Here's giving it the post it deserves.

It used to be, once upon a time, in a different land, that I paid bills once a month for about an hour, at a table with a checkbook, the bills, some envelopes, and some stamps. Doesn't work that way here. I spend hours every month paying bills- standing in line at cash machines, and then standing in other lines at places that accept the bills, to be paid in cash. Most of these places don't accept all the bills I need to pay, so I have to go to several locations. Also, the bills arrive generally about five days before they are due, so I can't pay them all at once, even if I could withdraw all the cash I'd need to do that at once and if I felt safe walking on the street with that much cash in my pocket.

There are other time-wasting issues involved: there are exactly two ATM machines within walking distance of my house (out of maybe 200) that will allow me to withdraw up to 1000 reis. I need to use these machines so I can minimize the blow that Bank of America assesses for each foreign transaction- $5.00. I've learned that when I finally get to these machines, sometimes waiting 10 or 15 minutes to use one, that I'm not done with the transaction until the cash is in my hand. Sometimes the network is down, or the machine is out of money, or the stupid thing can't count the money properly and the transaction is denied. This is the most frustrating one for me, because you think the cash is on its way out, and then you just hear the whirring sound of it trying to count the cash, over and over and over again, until finally it gives up and tells you to go away.

I'm going off on a tangent now, but why the hell does it take so long for the average Brazilian to use a bank machine? Sometimes they are paying bills, which takes forever, and is something I'm dying to be able to do once I can finally open a bank account here. But they get to the machine, which runs them through several more layers of security than the typical U.S. ATM, and then check their balance, which they print out, and observe, and then go through the whole process again to make a withdrawl. Or I don't know what else. All I know is that I'm in and out of there in about a minute and a half once I finally get my hands on a working machine. And from what I've seen of standing in lines at banks, ATMs have revolutionized banking in Brazil in a way it never could have in the developed world. I've spent upwards of an hour waiting to pay a bill in the bank.

Today was worse than most days, because I had to drive half way across the city to pay two bills- one for the the educational psychologist, who we won't be seeing any more, and the other for my office. The way they set it up is that I have to go to pick up three payment vouchers every three months for the office, and they want to see that I'm paying all the bills. Annoying, but at least they let me have the place without passing their normal credit procedure.

It used to be that I payed very little in bills, and that the dollar was strong, and I didn't have to work very much as a result. But now I have an expensive health plan, I pay an absurd amount of money for electricity and water, ludicrous amounts for internet access and our cell phones, gas is over $5.00 a gallon and we've got a kid in a relatively expensive private school. And the value of the dollar has dropped to less than half what it was the first time I was here.

So what does this all mean? I'd better get back to work to pay those bills that I've wasted all day paying.


AkuTyger said...
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markuza said...
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