Banking On Community

Few places make me feel less at home than banks. When we moved our office out of the downtown area of Washington, I was forced into a search that I dreaded: the hunt for a bank in which to keep our meager household account. I hoped to uncover a bank that would offer an experience different from what I consistently ran into downtown. I was, quite frankly, tired of trying to deposit a small monthly check and every time facing the question, "Is this your paycheck?" I never had the desire to explain to the tellers about community or the nerve to tell the truth: "No, this is actually a household budget for three."

I went first to the Yellow Pages, and found that the "First National" types that I had grown up with are almost out of existence. A multitude of new Washington banks have cropped up with names that include words like Security, Trust, Perpetual, and Permanent. Perhaps they're trying to make a point in these economically insecure times.

The sad irony of it all came home when I finally chose a bank and went to open an account. Just one woman was ahead of me for the bank teller's time. I had to wait 45 minutes. The heart of the woman's dilemma was this: she is 67 years old and had been given a particular amount of money from her children to put into an Individual Retirement Account (IRA). She said to the teller, "I want to make sure this money doesn't run out before I die; and I don't want any left sitting in the bank after I'm gone." She wanted to know what amount she should have paid out to her each month.

She and the teller took the next half hour trying to figure out how long the woman would live ("My husband died when he as 64, but of course he wasn't a blood relative. My sister is 72 and still going strong. My parents both died in their 60s...").

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