Got a shock this morning… It started out as just another Friday—until I checked my bank balance to see if any of my clients had made a deposit, and Pow! Virtual sucker-punch. Chile’s hospital policies and Chile’s bank policies were at odds—care to guess whose dime—make that gamba (100 pesos)—took the hit?
To jump to the point: I had some surgery a while back, and then, months later, when I got word that the bill was ready (via text message sent on a Friday evening), I went to the Clínica Santa María billing office, where I was told the amount (gulp) and the payment options. I chose the cheque a fecha—a post-dated check, which is common practice in Chile, as is writing multiple checks with dates that vary by one month each (as in May 1, June 1, July 1, etc.). The idea is that the holder will hang on to the check until the date that appears on the check. In my case, March 11.
But yesterday was February 14. The clínica cashed the check almost a full month prior to the date on the check!
I called Clínica Santa María, and all they could tell me was that it was on their books for payment on February 14… although the check clearly said March 11 (per the instructions of the person who handled my case). Apparently someone recorded the cash date incorrectly… and then I got kind of an oops and oh well…
Fortunately, the timing was such that it was not the total disaster that it might have been, although that was definitely a chunk of plata ($$) I had not planned on parting with just yet. BUT, it does bring up some very important points.
By law, cheques a fecha DO NOT EXIST in Chile.
Wha? The Clínica just had me write one!
BUT, the law says that a bank can and should cash any check that has not expired, so that anyone who writes a post-dated check is in fact entering into a relationship of trust with the bearer. The bearer (the check receiver) agrees to hang on to it until the agreed-upon date, and the issuer (the check writer) agrees that the money will be there on said date. At least that’s the way it’s supposed to work…
So what happens when the check-holder jumps the gun? Check-writer loses—and in a potentially big way. If there are insufficient funds, hefty line of credit interest accrues (0.096% per day), plus credit taxes, plus bank fees. If there is no line of credit, check-writer is pretty much frito (screwed)—and then just watch the legal problems pile up! And it won’t take long for a well-intended (or not) Chilean to tell you that you can go to jail for writing bad checks in Chile… not to mention falling into the hands of the dreaded Dicom (which tracks credit problems in Chile). All for trusting that someone would do what they said they would.
Many people use this option to buy things. Tres cheques a fecha—3 checks dated a month apart—is a common payment form in Chile. I don’t use it—it’s just too hard to keep track of… But a hospital? Why shouldn’t I be able to trust a hospital—one as large and supposedly reputable as Clínica Santa María?
I was able to shift some things around to cover the the check and am simply asking the Clínica to reimburse me for the bank fees and charges… although, seriously, an apology would be nice…
Whaddya say Clínica Santa María?