The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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I Keep My Bling in the Bank
Jarel Melendez
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In 2004 I had a summer job at the Children’s Aid Society in New York. When I got my first paycheck, my supervisor, Mrs. Jean Marie DeVeaux, asked me if I had a savings account.

“I don’t have any money! Why would I need a savings account?” I laughed. I thought only rich people used banks. I had never been in a bank or known anyone in my family to use one. My grandmother, who took me in when my mother disappeared, pays all her bills with money orders.

Mrs. DeVeaux told me it was important to start saving now to plan for my future. She took me to Apple Bank, where she said I could cash my $250 paycheck and not have to pay a fee, like I would at a check cashing place. I was a little nervous and had a million questions in my head: Is a bank card like a credit card? What is the purpose of having a savings account? When you put money in a savings account, where does it go?

Learning the Business of Banks

Mrs. DeVeaux had her own account at Apple Bank and introduced me to the manager, saying, “Jarel is here to cash his check. He also wants to know how to open an account and join our Apple family.” She let out a little chuckle.

He said, “Oh, how nice! Sure! Let me sign that check really quick.” He pointed out the people at different bank stations, who are called tellers, and told me to come back to him when I finished cashing my check with one of them.

The bank teller was really cool and down to earth. After she gave me my money, the manager and I sat down and talked bank business. He explained that I could open up an account with as little as $100, and that the longer I left money in my savings account, the more my money would grow.

How it Works

Here’s how it works: The bank takes in and uses your money, but actually pays you for this in the form of “interest.” That means your money is actually working for you to make more money! He also explained that opening a savings account would help me establish credit, in case I ever wanted to buy a home or car or get a credit card. Best of all, having an account would allow me to cash all my checks there without ever having to pay a fee, like you have to at the check cashing place.

Then the manager told me that I needed a state ID, my school ID and my most recent report card to open a student account. I didn’t have any of those things! “When you have those ready, come in and we will open up this savings account,” he said.

image by YC-Art Dept

A Card Carrying Customer

It took me a month, but I finally got a state ID and all the other things he asked for and went back. The manager remembered me right away. He even remembered what outfit I had on, which completely blew me away! I signed a lot of papers and he copied all the papers and ID I brought in. Then he gave me a booklet explaining all the bank’s policies and rules, and a deposit book, which lets me record the money I put in and take out of my account. “Your ATM card should be arriving at your house shortly,” he said.

I left excited. I looked forward to receiving my ATM card, which lets you get money from your account at almost any ATM machine (although it costs extra if you use a different bank’s machine). It can also be used as a debit card — that means you can swipe it at a store to pay for things. But unlike a credit card, the money comes directly out of your account.

Expanding My Options

In time, I also opened up a checking account, which lets you write checks to other people. When they cash the checks, the money comes out of your account.

When I got a job working at a clothing store, I was able to get something called “direct deposit.” Instead of giving me a paycheck, they automatically put the money in my checking account, which saves me a trip to the bank.

Checking accounts don’t earn any interest, so it’s good to have a savings account too. My checking account is for everyday use and my savings account is for long-term savings.

Planning for the Future

My future plans include building a house, and for that I will need excellent credit. When it comes time for me to get a credit card, the banks will be able to look at my accounts and see I’ve been responsible in handling my money. Also, I want to make sure I have something to fall back on in case I get fired from my job or just have an unexpected expense.

Now I deal with my money much differently. Before, if I had a check in my hand, I’d cash it and spend it all on clothes, shoes, CDs and DVDs. But since my money goes right into my account, I don’t spend it on things I don’t need.

I don’t know how much I’m saving by not using a check cashing place, but I know it’s a lot because I don’t have to pay fees to cash my checks or get money orders. And I don’t have to stand in those lines, either.

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