Another cord cut

IT SAT IN my email folder at dawn on Monday. Your account has been canceled. Your credit card, that is.

My last Gringo card. Zapped for inactivity.

I moved south 16 years ago with four credit cards, all issued by U.S. institutions and all paid in full every month via the checking account I opened in 1999 at Banamex USA,* the U.S. branch of the Mexican behemoth Banamex.

I’d been a longtime Wells Fargo Bank customer, but I was planning my move to Mexico.

sailor-knot-9-ana-maria-edulescuThe four cards were a Wells Fargo Mastercard, an AT&T Universal Visa and two other Visas from another bank, somewhere in the Dakotas, the name of which I have long forgotten.

The two Visas from the Dakota bank were the first to go. I had to cancel them both 12 years ago after one was skyjacked by Sky cable television down here. Never give Sky your credit card number for recurring charges.

That is very good advice for most Mexican firms.

That left me with two credit cards, which didn’t concern me.

A few years later, Wells Fargo sent a renewal card to my post office box here. But due to living in Mexico — a shady land, you know — they insisted I go to a bank here and jump through all manner of hoops to prove I am who I am.

Screw that, I muttered to myself as I cut up the card.

That left me with just one card, the AT&T Universal Visa. I was starting to get a little nervous. To have a backup, I went to Banamex here where I had a checking account and requested a credit card. They gave me one with a $10 limit, only a slight exaggeration, and there was a fat annual fee too.

About a year later, I got a hair up my keister about something, and I canceled the card. I hadn’t used it much.

So, back to just one credit card.

THE LETTER

Then the letter came in 2014 from Banamex USA. Your checking account will be canceled shortly. That happened due to a new U.S. law known by its initials, FATCA.

It’s all Barry Obama’s fault, of course.

Banamex USA was my only way to pay off the U.S. credit card. No other option existed.  I do not now qualify for another U.S. bank account. No U.S. address or driver’s license.

That effectively nulled my last credit card. But I never canceled it because, I thought, maybe one day I might need it, though I could not imagine how, where or why. I held onto the account, my final Gringo credit card, a lifeline.

There was no annual fee.

For many months, I was left only with a Banamex debit card, which is not as secure as a credit card, especially online.

I asked for my Banamex credit card again. They wouldn’t reissue it. It was due to FATCA, but they danced around that fact. Irked, I canceled my Banamex account that I’d had for 14 years. They didn’t seem to give a hoot.

Heartless, greedy capitalists!

HUNTING ALTERNATIVES

I opened a checking account just up the street at HSBC-Mexico. I asked for a credit card. Not just yet, they told me. Later maybe. Later came and went. No credit card.

So I went even farther up the street and opened a checking account at Bancomer, still keeping the one at HSBC. Again, I requested a credit card. Wait three months, they said. I waited, and they gave me a credit card. Yipee!

And another for my child bride. For this and other reasons, I’ve become a yuuuge** Bancomer booster.

I requested a credit card from HSBC many times, and they always said no with little explanation. I gave up. Months later, out of the blue, they asked if I wanted one.

I said sure. Go figger.

So now I have credit cards at both Bancomer and HSBC. I also had my AT&T Visa, the Gringo card, till this week, useless as it was, an emotional tie to the old country.

Gone now, like so many other cards and cords.

FORGET AMERICA

My goal these days is to have as little to do with that troubled land above the border as possible. The norm, it seems, for Americans living in Mexico is the opposite, to keep connected to the greatest degree possible.

They keep bank accounts, addresses, homes, relatives. You name it, they keep it. Their Mexican ties seem tenuous.

They’re always visiting up north. They’re always having friends bring down “stuff” they can’t find here, stuff they think they can’t live without. Someone recently posted on a Yahoo forum catering to local Gringos a list of “essential” stuff one needs from above the Rio Bravo. I guffawed.

  1. Workshop tools, as if you cannot find tools in Mexico.
  2. Down comforters, as if Costco doesn’t offer them, and so does Bed, Bath & Beyond.
  3. Mosquito nets, as if they’re not easy to find here.
  4. Smartphones. We Mexicans still use tin cans and string.
  5. Up-to-date laptops. Best Buy, Walmart, Sears, etc., in Mexico just sell crusty Commodores and dusty Ataris.
  6. Linens “to fit your bed.” Somehow, my Mexican linens always fit my beds, both king and queen.
  7. Walking sticks. Certainly, no walking sticks can be found here. I wonder where I found mine?
  8. Good binoculars. Only defective binoculars are sold in Mexico, of course, leftovers from pirate times.

That’s just some of the stuff I saw on the list, all of which is available in Mexico. Do they cost a bit more at times? Sure, but factor in your minuscule electric bill and fresh, cheap veggies and low restaurant tabs, you’re way ahead.

And the beautiful women.

I don’t go north anymore, nor do I have things smuggled down. It ain’t necessary. You can live quite well here with what’s available, and that’s what I try to do.

And now I have no Gringo credit cards at all.

If you read all this, you’re a better man than I am.

* * * * *

* Banamex USA is closing entirely this year. There has long been talk of its involvement in money laundering. HSBC’s reputation along those lines isn’t much better.

** Trump allusion.

(Note: There is a Mexican credit bureau. It has no connection with credit bureaus in the United States, so you start from scratch below the border no matter how good or bad a credit rating you had in the United States.)

Credit card craziness

WHEN THE PRESIDENT called Barry signed legislation a year or so ago, he canceled my U.S. bank account and the U.S. accounts of many other U.S. citizens living outside America.

This colossally ill-conceived legislation goes by its initials, FATCA. You can look it up if you care. Basically, it was intended to nail fat cats who were hiding their riches in offshore accounts. What it actually did was hose innocent Americans, mostly retirees, who had the good sense to live elsewhere.

I was one of those hose-ees.

flagThe United States is the only nation on earth that taxes money held by its citizens in other countries. It is a desperation move due to the sea of bloody red ink the nation irresponsibly swims in.

Entitlements add up. Redistribution only goes so far.

FATCA did not directly cancel all those U.S. bank accounts. What it did was impose burdensome paperwork on banks in the United States with account holders living beyond the borders. And many banks, likely most, found it more convenient to just close the lower-end accounts.

Last July … with very little warning.

My U.S. bank was Banamex USA, the American branch of one of Mexico’s biggies, Banamex. Don’t let the name fool you. Banamex USA must play by U.S. rules. It’s owned by Citicorp.

WE DON’T WANT YOU ANYMORE

I opened the letter that arrived in my post office box in late June and read: After examining your account, we regret to inform you that we can no longer service your account. It will be closed on July 1.  I was mildly annoyed. It was only later that I began to think of all the fish I had in that sea.

The enormity of this event began to sink in.

I receive two pensions. One is Social Security. By pure luck, just months earlier I had switched the automatic deposit from Banamex USA to HSBC-Mexico where I had just opened an account due to dissatisfaction with the Mexican Banamex. But the other, corporate, pension was deposited in Banamex USA.

That corporate pension is distributed by an arm of Wells Fargo. I phoned them and was told they only did direct deposit to U.S. banks, not foreign ones, and the sole alternative was a check in the mail. The problem with Option Two is that you cannot deposit or cash a U.S. check in Mexico anymore.

Thank U.S. legislation again.

It is virtually impossible these days to open a U.S. bank account without a U.S. address and driver’s license, neither of which do I possess. So when Banamex USA dumped me, well, …

After lots of stress and frantic activity, I got Wells Fargo to initiate pension direct deposits outside the United States. I imagine I am still the only person they do that for.

When I moved to Mexico in 2000, I had just opened a checking account at Banamex USA, and I had three credit cards which were paid online from that account. Then the credit cards began to fall by the wayside.

The first to go was a Visa I used to pay for Sky TV in 2003. Without going into dreary details, Sky began to abuse the card. I asked the issuing bank to stop them, but the bank told me they could not, that only Sky could cancel the agreement.

Absurd. So, I canceled that card. Adiós, Sky TV. But adiós credit card too.

Two cards left. One was a Wells Fargo Mastercard, and the other was an AT&T Visa. I had my Mexican mailing address on both. Renewal cards for the AT&T Visa were express-mailed here with no problem. The Wells Fargo people, however, were much more ornery.

Their “fraud department,” before activating a renewal card, insisted I go to my local Banamex branch and have all manner of complex paperwork done to prove that I was the person I said I was. This paperwork would have been a real challenge at a Mexican bank where procedures are quite different.

WHERE THE SUN DON’T SHINE

I told Wells Fargo to put the card in what would have been a painful place had it been on a human being. There would have been no sunshine there. So I was down to just one credit card.

I consider two credit cards a minimum, so I went to my Banamex branch here in town and requested a credit card. They gave it to me with a limit of just 15,000 pesos, about 1,000 dollars. They absolutely would not raise the limit to something reasonable. And there was a sizable annual fee.

About a year later, I canceled it in a snit, and was left with one card. I use credit cards exclusively online, absolutely nowhere else, but online is important because I shell out not much, but regularly, online.

And then came last June’s letter from Banamex USA, canceling my account and leaving me with no easy way to pay the AT&T Visa card. I still have the card, but it sits idle and useless.

I returned to Banamex and asked them to reissue the card I had canceled. Nah, they said. FATCA was not mentioned, but that is without a doubt the reason they would not reissue the card.

My U.S. citizenship was mentioned. Thanks to Washington D.C., again.

I canceled my longtime account at Banamex in Mexico. It had always been a pain anyway.

TOO OLD TO TRUST

So I went into my local HSBC-Mexico branch and asked for a credit card. At age 70, I was too old, I was informed. Yes, age discrimination is alive and well down south. It’s an unfair world. But I don’t get huffy. It’s life.

As I consider two credit cards a minimum, I also consider two banks a minimum, so I opened an account with BBVA Bancomer. For a credit card, they require an account to be open a few months and that a minimum balance of 6,000 pesos be maintained. I did that.

On Wednesday, they gave me a nice, shiny, blue Visa card with a 50,000-peso limit, which is okay. My child bride has a high-balance account with HSBC-Mexico that came with a no-questions-asked credit card, and spouses automatically get one too. I got one last year, but it’s connected to her account.

No matter. My two-card minimum is fulfilled.

So what did I do the eight months between the time my AT&T Visa was sidelined and getting my own Bancomer Visa this week? I used my HSBC-Mexico debit card for online purchases, which is not wise. Debit card purchases come right out of your checking account. A credit card provides a security barrier.

LAND OF THE CHESHIRE CAT

catWeirdly, a week ago, every online account that used my HSBC-Mexico debit card found that charges were rejected. This came out of the blue.

HSBC-Mexico says there is no reason for this to be happening, but it is happening. I view this as part of the Alice-in-Wonderland tone of Mexican life.

Thursday, I switched all online charges to my shiny new Bancomer Visa. I am a happy boy. Everything works out if you wait long enough. It is the way of the Goddess.

(If you read all the way down here about my credit card situation, you deserve a medal.)

* * * *

(Update: About six months later, I got a phone call from HSBC-Mexico, asking if I wanted a credit card. Apparently, I’m not too old to trust after all. I accepted the card.)

In good standing

LOTS OF THINGS change when you move over the border.

Your trustworthiness, for example. If you had a superlative credit rating in the United States — as I did and do — you immediately lose it when you move south. It’s not that you lose it. It’s that Mexico pays it no mind.

One would think that with today’s global interconnectedness, especially in monetary matters, that a sterling credit rating would follow you, but it sometimes does not.

After about eight years with a checking account with Banamex, one of Mexico’s largest banks, I decided to ask them for a credit card. There had never been an overdraft or any problem whatsoever with that checking account.

First, a little background:

* * * *

In 2000 I moved over the Rio Bravo with four U.S. credit cards, two from the same institution. About three years later, I had to cancel the two from the same institution due to problems with skanky Sky TV. (Don’t ask.) That left me with two cards.

Flash forward a few more years. A renewal card, a Wells Fargo Mastercard, arrived in my local post office box. To activate it, however, Wells Fargo insisted that I go to any local bank and ask the manager to jump through an incredible series of hoops designed, in some mysterious way, to prove that I am who I am, not some Mexican crook.

dollarI knew that would be a major headache.

Cancel the freaking card, I told the surly Wells Fargo “fraud” rep who was giving me his best Mike Hammer impersonation on the phone.

That left me with just one credit card. Whoopsies!

Try to get a credit card from a U.S. bank, no matter how sterling your credit rating is, after you tell them you now live in Mexico. Might as well confess you’re in the Taliban.

The remaining credit card, a Visa I’ve had for 24 years, thinks I live in Miami. I have a mail service there. The renewal card goes to Miami, and I have it expressed to a DHL office in the nearby capital city where I pick it up at my leisure.

That’s it with the background.

* * * *

So I ask my Banamex for a Mexican credit card. The only thing they will give me is the most basic card with a 15,000-peso limit, a bit over 1,000 U.S. dollars. In contrast, my U.S. Visa card has a $25,000 limit. Banamex has higher-limit cards, but it won’t give one to me.

No way, José.

Why? I had no credit history in Mexico. Even though Banamex is owned by Citicorp, it seems they cannot or will not access my credit history above the border.

So I get the basic card, use it here and there and cancel it when the second year’s annual charge comes due. The first year was free. I’m back to just one credit card.

Then a light bulb ignites over my aging noodle. Banamex also has a branch in Los Angeles (BanamexUSA) where I have had a separate checking account since 1999.

I will ask them for a credit card, and since they live above the border, they will check my Gringo good credit rating. Surely, they will.

I apply. They say no way. Forget it. Why? I have no credit history in Mexico. Apparently, the one year with the basic card at Banamex in Mexico meant nothing, and they don’t check my credit rating in the United States.

I write a letter to the headman in Los Angeles politely pointing out the utter silliness of their system. And I get the credit card! Now I have two, which is enough.

A year ago, I left the minimum required in the Banamex account here, and moved a block south, opening two accounts at HSBC, where there are shorter lines and a better website. We moved a fat chunk of cash from investments above the border into my wife’s account, which made her qualify automatically for a credit card with a high limit and no annual fee.

A year ago, I signed on with the Mexican credit bureau, headquartered in Mexico City. For an annual charge of about 18 bucks you can keep track of your credit rating in Mexico. A year ago I had no score at all. Now I’m in the top 25 percent, credit-wise.

How that came to pass, I have no idea.

But we now have three credit cards between the two of us. One works best above the border. One works well on either side. And the third works best in my new nation.

All is well and good.

P.S. I use credit cards only online, 100 percent. I never carry one.