On Lunches of the Free, Questionable and Payback Variety

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There may be no such thing as a free lunch, but as a number of readers were all quick to point out, it can come at a pretty good discount.

As reported previously, a member of Mississippi-based Navigator Credit Union spent more than $100,000 that had been accidentally deposited into her account. Over a one-year period, 33-year-old Terica Crook (you can't make this stuff up) withdrew via ATM transactions and check-card purchases the $100K Navigator erroneously credited to her account.

Crook could have faced up to 10 months in prison, but a judge sided with the public defender and agreed that would serve no purpose. Instead, Crook was given five years probation and ordered to pay back the one-hundred large at $200 a month.

And that, as all those readers were quick to note, translates into a repayment term of 41 years!, all of it interest free. Crook will be 74 when and if she makes her last payment. Media reports didn't say where the funds went, but we're ruling out T-bills and precious metals. As more than one of those e-mailers noted, "I'll take $100,000 in exchange for five years probation and a $200 a month payment plan."

• You have no doubt seen or perhaps even participated in some of the boisterous town halls on health care hosted by various members of Congress around the country in their home districts. The SRO crowds, media outlets around the country reported, were testimony to how strongly Americans feel about the issue. Alas, apparently there is another topic on which they feel even more strongly-overhauling the process of paying for a Slurpee.

As you may have read, 7-Eleven stores around the country gathered more than 1.66 million signatures on a petition that is part of the convenience chain's "Stop Unfair Credit Card Fees" campaign. The company said that was more than the 1.3-million Americans who put their names to various health care-related petitions. In this case, 7-Eleven has joined with other retailers in protesting what they call an interchange rate "cartel" by MasterCard and Visa.

Regardless of how you feel about the issue, how many of those who signed their names between grabbing a coffee and a donut or a traffic-cone-sized soda and a burrito or a case of beer (or all of them) do you really think had a good, solid grasp on the issue of interchange income? Probably a larger percentage than those who have any idea what any of the health care reform proposals actually mean.

• From the I'll Take My Chances in the Next Life Dept., a robber recently hit Delaware-based Holy Rosary Credit Union.

• And speaking of good and evil and rates on plastic cards, the Internet, and YouTube in particular, has proven to be the modern day public square when it comes to venting over life's aggravations. Consider this less-than-subtle customer feedback from a Bank of America cardholder, who begins her YouTube video with, "You are evil, thieving bastards." Those are the words of customer Ann Minch, who says BofA increased the APR on her credit card from 12.99% to a payday lender-like 30%, despite the fact she claims she never made a late payment or gone over her limit.

"I could get a better rate from a loan shark," Minch says in the video. Later she adds, "You have reaped ungodly profits in your behemoth casino scams, then lost, only to turn around and usurp the wealth of this great nation by the outright rape and pillage of middle-class Americans whose sweat and toil built it."

The video, titled "Debtor's Revolt Begins Now" actually enters into conspiracy territory by talking about the "banking elite, the Federal Reserve and the federal government." But the conspiracy angle has probably only helped, and as of last week it had had more than 461,000 page views, proving YouTube's capacity to spread the word exceeds anything even the loudest voice could hope for from atop the soapbox in that public square.

One media report said that all that publicity led to a phone call from a BofA executive who told Minch that in fact she had two late payments, which is why her rate was raised. The bank offered to compromise with a 16.99% APR, but that only led Minch to respond that with billions of bailout dollars from the federal government at 0% APR, whatever the rate on the card, that's a heck of a margin for the bank to profit from.

If you want a sense of how others are responding, link to the site and read the thousands of comments. Seems like there are an awful lot of folks there who could use a credit union credit card (and probably an equally fair number who are the last credit card-holders credit unions need to see).

Frank J. Diekmann can be reached at fdiekmann@cujournal.com.

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