Banking blues

Since I have most of my money in Washington Mutual Bank, every time I see a WaMu headline in the newspapers, I read the article under it very carefully.

I do not like it when they say "shaky WaMu" and "the ailing thrift" and say stockholders are only getting a penny per share dividend as of the first quarter of this year, compared to 15 cents last Dec. 31 and 56 cents Sept. 30.

Mind you, I am not a shareholder. I am just a client who has had savings and checking accounts along with IRAs, etc, in WaMu for many years. I have always kept my business earnings and IRAs in one bank and other family income in another bank.

I was proud of WaMu during that last big fiasco that sank so many savings and loans some years back because it managed to stay out of it.

This time, however, it turned up listed among "battered financial institutions" now "paying dearly for delving into subprime mortgages." Even when the headlines suddenly told of a $5 billion (Wall Street Journal) or $7 billion (Associated Press) cash infusion from a private equity group to WaMu that had Wall Street cheering, the accompanying text warned that this meant the bank would be gone "as we know it within two years." I don't know what that means. I know what it means when they say 3,000 employees face layoffs and that some of the bank branches will be closing.

But let me get down to business here. I have always heard that the federal government insures the money you put in a bank up to $100,000. What if you have more than $100,000? How do you protect that money if your bank goes under? No, I don't expect WaMu to go under. That $5 billion or $7 billion cash infusion was its "rescue," the lifeline to survival, according to banking experts.

I've heard and read about the Great Depression of 1929. "The nation's banking system revealed signs of alarming weakness as runs on banks became increasingly frequent and the hoarding of currency set in on a large scale," says the Encyclopedia of American History. "From 1930 until the eve of FDR's inauguration, a total of 5,504 banks shut down. These banks had total deposits of $3,432,000,000."

By inauguration Day virtually every bank in the Union had been closed or placed under restriction by state proclamations. It was in his inaugural address that Roosevelt affirmed that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

Anyway, I called the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.) which won't comment on WaMu or any other operating institution, only on how FDIC works. It turns out it isn't difficult. They insure in four categories, Individual, joint accounts, retirement and revocable trusts. You can set up individual accounts for each member of your family under different names so that each is insured up to $100,000. If you set up joint accounts, all parties will have equal ownership and withdrawal rights. You might not want that.

If you want to personally control the movement of your money, you should instead use revocable trusts that are payable on death to qualified beneficiaries, each of whom is insured up to $100,000. The only qualified beneficiaries for trust accounts are parents, siblings, spouses, children and grandchildren. A niece, for example, would not qualify. If you have access to the Internet, there is much more information on FDIC on its web page. And, of course, I guess if you're really loaded, you can always put your money in a bunch of banks. I seem to recall a crook one time who hid his stash in so many banks they have never all been found. Hmm. Who's collecting the interest?

Adele Ferguson can be reached at P.O. Box 69, Hansville, WA, 98340.

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