For many of the bills that one would pay through the Banking Center, the funds are deducted from your account on the day they were set up to be paid (that is, if you set up the payment a week or so in advance). However, many bills, and of course all checks to individuals, sent out through the Banking Center will not be deducted from the account until the payee has presented the check to the bank.

Upon setting up a series of checks to be sent out, they are all listed in the left-hand column of the page as being scheduled. Conveniently, the sum of the various checks is also presented. On the day the checks are sent—the pay-by date—these checks continue to be present on the left hand column with the status “Sent Today,” assuring you the checks are in the mail.

However, a day later, all of these sent checks disappear from the main page. You can see, by scrolling down the page and looking at individual accounts, that they have indeed been sent (or “processed,” an inexact term as it suggests a completed transaction). This is an easy bit of information to present—checks that have been “processed” but not presented—but the BoA site decides to avoid it.

To determine which checks have been sent and presented, one has to move back and forth between these two pages and match up the sent checks with those presented. If the check has not been presented, there is no way to know what is happening with the check. There is no easily available piece of information on pending checks paid through online banking (of course, checks paid in paper would not appear there, though a space to input this information would surely be useful), as there is for pending debit card purchases, or holds (both pieces of information, consequently, are themselves presented on different pages).

This is, one supposes, one of the primary reasons that Clarity Statement asks you to keep a personal register. If you—like I do—send out fifteen checks or so on the first of the month or on payday, and a few thereafter, it is impossible to remember which company has presented their checks even if (or mostly if) the majority show up in the Accounts Detail page.

What happens—and this is what happened to me [endnote 19]—is that a check will be presented some weeks after it has been sent, and you will have forgotten about it, or have been unaware of it not having been presented entirely, and it will be presented against insufficient funds.

Reviewing these payments in the screen attached to the individual payee will show that the checks have both been processed on the day they were assigned. I discovered, after clicking around a bit, that the “View payment” link next to an individual check—which takes you to the page which the above tutorial suggested was only useful for making or changing a value—has a single line of text different between similar pages for presented and checks not yet presented. Presented checks have a sentence stating “Funds were withdrawn from your MYCHECKING account on [the date].” Pages for checks not presented state: “Funds for this payment are withdrawn from your account when the Pay To account cashes the check.” The difference between these two pages is just these two phrases.

This is the only place on the entire website where information about unpresented checks exists, despite the value of this information—along the lines of holds and pending debit card purchases. Considering that checks are often written in large sums—one doesn’t write a check to buy a can of coke—the check is most likely to be deducted from the account first, which then triggers a series of overdraft charges.

Worse, those of us who are hitting the end of our available balance tend to buy a lot of little things to avoid having an overdraft—buying, then checking to see if the recent small purchase has been reflected on the site. Hence, a series of overdrafts will be triggered after the first big check came in. (My own example is having a check for $140 to a doctor I sent in my previous state not be presented for a few weeks. I was hitting the end of my pay period and so was making small careful purchases. The result was 4 overdraft fees on one day, and 2 on the next!)

Why BoA does not provide this useful information—as easily as it is provided on other online banking sites—is an open question. I suspect that the income brought in by this frequent occurrence—which is never addressed in the fluffy tutorials and InfoCenters on the site—is useful for the bank’s budget.

As for “alerts” set up for when your balance is getting low, they are useless for those of us who check the site obsessively [endnote 20] and know quite well when our accounts are low, and also useless as they don’t consider holds and unpresented checks [endnote 21].

Even worse, in my many calls and to the bank’s customer service, none of the representatives were able to provide me with this information. Finally, I got one person on a chat session who showed me where this was, but as you can see below, it was after he had to check with his boss or some other references—that “hello?” was for when I thought I’d lost him. And, in fact, his first answer was the answer I often got over the phone, which is that you don’t know about these checks until they are presented. I asked him the same question, but in different words, to get the final answer:

You: I have a question: if I send out a check through Bill Pay but it hasn’t yet been presented at the bank, is there anywhere on the website where I can find out the status of that check. Does it show up as “pending” on my account?

S: The draft checks we mail to the pay to account will only show reflected on the account once the pay to account has cashed or presented the check for payment.

You: Ok, so say I mail out the check on the first of the month (along with 14 other check I send out through bill pay on the first of the month), how do I find out whether or not that particular check as been presented?

You: Is there any screen where that check, and not the 13 other checks, is singled out as not having been presented? I ask because I’ve gotten in trouble with this.

You: Hello?

S: I see. The check numbers for each of the payments is listed in the Payment Details screen and can verify if the payment is posted against the account with the check number.

You: So I have to click through to the View Payment for each check to find out?

S: To verify each payment is cashed, yes you have to click through the payment in question.

Well, I don’t want to be too hard on the guy—there was probably just some miscommunication here, though it took him a long time to parse my sentence—but this is certainly information I never got on the phone. And this chat session illustrates a pretty frank admission to the difficulty and tedium involved in following through on every check in Bank of American Online Banking.

This post is a section of Bank of America Online Banking: A Critical Evaluation. This essay is also available as a book which can be downloaded for free at Lulu (where an inexpensive, not-priced-for-profit print edition can also be purchased) and at Scribd. The table of contents for the blog version of this essay can be seen in its entirety here.