What’s Hers is Mine, said the Hospital to the Bank…

Check Writing

Photo credit: CarbonNYC

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?


23 responses to “What’s Hers is Mine, said the Hospital to the Bank…

  1. Raúl Simón Eléxpuru

    My advice: do not trust big business anywhere; especially not in Chile. (I’m waiting to see what other Chilenos will say on your problem; hope they speak their minds off.)

  2. Talk to them nicely. They have made a couple of small mistakes with us and always fixed them quickly. We have been facing some huge medical bills and they have also given us huge discounts. Maybe that’s why they cashed your cheque! Sorry (and thanks)!

  3. Margaret estas atornillada. 🙂

  4. Raúl- I’m also curious to hear what others will say about this experience…
    Bystander-thanks for writing… but are you saying that maybe it’s YOUR fault? 😉 But yes, I did speak nicely with the young woman who took my call. She was going to check into it and get back to me… wonder how long I’ll have to wait?

  5. I’m glad you are well Margaret. I have nothing to contribute on your experience but find the oddities/differences of life in Chile so interesting..I’ve always kept my bank account in the US as I go back and forth. A lot of crazy expat stories about the practices of banks in Chile (the US right wingers always somehow blame it on Obama lol)

  6. Hi Laura–yes, thanks, all’s well here. The whole international banking thing is complicated too–and the FEES! wow!
    Obama is responsible for Chile’s banking system? hahaha! that’s pretty funny–actually it’s their cronies responsible. In fact, the Chilean banking system works quite well–just to the detriment of the average Joe…
    but in this case, it’s not the banking system at fault, but careless actions on behalf of the Clínica.

  7. In Chile, -as in many latin countries- we are not very strict about accomplish our conmittments, in general people respect the date to cash cheques a fecha, but there is always a chance that the bearer cash it in advance and you have nothing to do: Latin countries are always a bit (or very) risky and uncertain. A good friend of mine who lives many years in Peru told me that he really love this country because he wake up every day with not a clue on what will happen in the next 24 hours. Things are probabilistic here, never deterministic..

  8. Interesting fact about post-dates cheques in Chile. I’ve had the same experience happen here in Canada. Personally though, I’ve always found in Canada (and the states) businesses are more willing to rectify the situation. Businesses in Chile don’t seem to have reached the same level of maturity as those in most industrialized countries yet, and to realize or care, about the repercussions of poor service.

  9. True, it’s not what’s wrong with the banking system as much as noting there are differences-and many of those are part of culture. People here in the states get very upset if we don’t know exactly what will happen. On a large scale, we call it consumer confidence and everything comes to a screeching halt 🙂

    Tomas said it well-it’s a different attitude.

  10. “…anyone who writes a post-dated check is in fact entering into a relationship of trust with the bearer.”
    Relationship of trust with a private Clinic… Sadly when someone makes a mistake with a company, they charge you, with interest, and/or they stop the service, AND, as if that wasn´t enough, they call their good friends from DICOM and tell everyone in the country that you are a really bad person, so you even lose a job as a consequence of all of the above.
    If they are the ones to blame for the mistake, it´s “ooops, we´ll fix that… sometime in the future. Only IF we remember about you and your little problems.”
    The worst is that in this case, they can shield themselves saying that they weren´t legally forced to honor the date on the check. I just don´t use checks anymore, they only mean trouble.
    I hope they can help you with this situation, this could´ve been a lot worse.
    The good news is that at last, we have a new post on CachandoChile 😀

  11. Thanks Marmo. Yes, it could have been much worse. I don’t use checks very often, but in this case it would have meant paying the entire bill immediately or putting it on a credit card–and, because the amount was larger than I had anticipated, I couldn’t do the former, and I didn’t want to do the latter…
    The main thing here (for me) was that it was just an eye-opener. So far they haven’t gotten back to me … I’ll keep y’all posted!

  12. Margaret, cuando pagaste con los cheques, ¿firmaste algún convenio de pago donde se señalaran las fechas que correspondieran a cada cuota? (por ejemplo, 1ra cuota el 10 de febrero, 2da 10 de marzo, etc) Si es así, tal vez se podría alegar que no respetaron el convenio de pago y adelantaron unilateralmente una cuota aún no vencida. Digo quizás, por que es una posibilidad remota, pero posibilidad al fin y al cabo; es largo de explicar y ellos podrían tener formas de contrarrestar el argumento, pero quizás por esa vía se podría iniciar algún tipo de reclamo.

  13. Nopo. Acabo de chequear y no hay nada relacionado a la fecha por pagar. Lo que sí encontré es que hice la transacción el 22 de enero, así es que de ahí al 14 de febrero son solo 23 días, ni 30, ni menos 45!

  14. @Marmo. Tu decidiste no usar cheques. Yo decidi no vivir en Chile. Mi movida fue un ‘poco mas radical’ que la tuya. 🙂 El sistema en general en ese tiempo era mil veces peor que ahora. Siempre admire la forma de hacer las cosas de los gringos. El sistema no es perfecto pero el consumidoe tiene mucho mas poder aqui que en Chile. Crees tu que el publico esta cambiando en cuanto a esto en Chile? Me encantaria ver tu opinion.

  15. @Margaret: Aw
    @John: Sólo he estado en EEUU brevemente, no he vivido ahí como para opinar o hacer una comparación respecto a ellos, pero sí puedo decir que en Chile, si bien estamos lejos de que haya un verdadero poder del consumidor, sí se puede notar que hay mayor conciencia al respecto que hace digamos, unos diez años.
    Además de la labor del Sernac (que en este gobierno ha tenido más pantalla pero menos resultados), hay numerosas asociaciones de consumidores, que aunque aún tienen un poder débil, sí cumplen con informar cada vez a más gente sobre sus derechos como clientes y consumidores.
    En este punto eso sí, me gustaría señalar dos cosas:
    – El sistema de protección al consumidor es bastante débil; como le decía a Margaret, si una persona se atrasa en un pago o comete algún error, las empresas tienen mecanismos para presionar más allá de lo razonable a quien apunten, ya sea a través de DICOM (que en serio te puede hacer perder o impedir conseguir un trabajo), o a través de cobranzas que aplican intereses y multas ridículos POR SOBRE los intereses ya aplicados al pago en cuotas por las empresas, por decir algo. Mientras que el consumidor sólo puede invocar la ley del consumidor ante un tribunal local, o pedir la ayuda de Sernac, con resultados inciertos.
    – Lamentablemente, para que funcionara a cabalidad un sistema con mayor poder del consumidor, como debe ocurrir en USA o Canada, se requiere además mejor cultura de consumo, mejor educación y una mentalidad que valore el respeto y la prudencia. Digo esto por que, para explicar mejor esto, en el mundo laboral, de las leyes que regulan el trabajo, por muchos años la situación de los trabajadores era paralela a la que hoy tienen los consumidores; escasa protección, resultados inciertos y dispares. Se cambió la ley y todo el marco regulatorio, con instituciones públicas que velan celosamente por la protección de los derechos laborales, lo que creó un grado de equilibrio entre empresas y trabajadores. Sin embargo, aparecieron también distorsiones indeseables en el sistema (que probablemente en algunos otros países no aparecerían tan frecuentemente). Estas distorsiones permiten que gente inescrupulosa explote esta protección y se aproveche de forma indebida de la ley, demandando sin verdadera justificación en algunos casos a los empleadores, y obteniendo ganancias en el proceso.
    Me da la impresión que con nuestra forma de pensar, si se fortalece adecuadamente los derechos del consumidor, tendremos los mismos resultados que en materia laboral; equilibrio, pero abriendo la puerta a el abuso del sistema por parte de algunos de quienes antes eran oprimidos.
    En fin, estamos en Chile.
    El mejor ejemplo es la sorpresa que nos causa ver cómo venden el diario en otros países, dejando la caja abierta para que la gente pague y se lleve un diario, mientras sabemos que si lo hicieran acá, alguien abriría la caja y se llevaría TODOS los diarios, sólo por que puede hacerlo.
    No quiero extenderme tanto, como lo acabo de hacer, es un tema que me interesa bastante. Disculpas por la extensión del comentario.

  16. @Marmo. Como siempre muy buena e informativa tu interpretacion. Vivi seis años en USA y mas de treinta y cinco en Canada. A groso modo, los Americanos son sin duda los mas seguros y vociferos acerca de sus derechos. En cambio los Canadienses van muy lejos de ellos y no tienen el ‘will’ de enfrentar a cialquiera institucion o persona publicamente.

    Me alegro que la situacion este mejorando en Chile, y como tu dices, se trata de tener un publico mas educado y mas al tanto de lo que son sus derechos. Gracia por tomarte el tiempo para reponder en forma tan extensa. Abrazos de Canada.

  17. Margaret, I had no idea. I have paid by this method too without repercussions, thank God. I will be returning to Chile soon. Looking forward to “waking up every day with not a clue on what will happen in the next 24 hours.” Thanks, Tomas Bradanovic! I’m still laughing……

  18. Sally- well, if one person has learned something, then my mission has been accomplished! hahaha… let’s have coffee when you get back!!

  19. Hey Peg; I could be wrong and I don’t know if any of the comments reflect this, but in the U.S. the bank would (ideally — and it has happened!) catch that the date is incorrect and refuse to cash it until the March date. So technically, I would say it is the bank’s error and they should not hold the account holder responsible for the repercussions. But I’m sure in Chile, like here, it is NEVER the bank’s problem, only the average jane 😉

  20. Hi Kathleen- I worked at a bank for years (back in my programmer days) and we had to take all sorts of basic banking courses, and I am pretty sure that they only filtered PAST dates, not future ones. Regardless of how it works in the US, here in Chile it is not a bank error because it is absolutely legal. They cannot refuse to cash a check based on a check that is post dated…
    And why am I not surprised that the Clínica Santa María has not gotten back to me to explain or even apologize. They got their money. They’re done with me…

  21. @Kathleen As Margaret said in her post, legally “post-dated checks” do not exist. In theory paying with a check here is like paying with cash so the be bearer has the right to cash it immediately. There is a reason for it and that is that i.e. some people would pay for something with post-dated checks and then instruct the bank not to pay those checks. So if the receiver gets suspicious about the checking-account holder, he/she can cash the post-dated check(s) immediately. I know this might not make sense to you, but it makes perfect sense to us.
    In Margaret’s case though, I think that it was done by mistake. My guess is that the person responsible for handling the deposits was on vacation and a colleague took over her/his duties and made a mistake. Not that the clinica is going to admit it, of course.
    @Margaret Did they ever get back to you?

  22. No Sari, they never did. I think I figured out what happened. The date they cashed the check was just about 6 weeks after the date on the bill. Of course I never got that bill til 2 weeks later, and the date on the check is the one the accounting office gave me… but that’s the only thing I can figure. The way it works at Clínica Santa María (maybe elsewhere too?) is that I had to write 2 checks- one for the hospital and another for the doctors. The doctors, I’m happy to say, cashed their check on the date they were supposed to.

  23. Sari: I heard that the reason a post dated check is illegal is because if it were legal it would became debt and not an order of payment. And debts have a different law than checks. A bad debt is a mistake and a bad check is fraud. If you make a payment with a postdated check, and you don’t pay it, it would be unfair to treat it as fraud instead of debt.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s