How not to handle a financial mistake:

Awhile back a middle-aged guy came into the store and shouted at us for turning a bounced check over to a collection agency.

First off, all bounced checks go from the bank straight to the collection agency; this was the only way we could get the bank to stop charging us a returned check fee every time a check from a customer bounced. We don't even charge customers a bounced-check fee, even though we lose half of the check to the collection agency when it bounces. We just eat the loss.

We told him all that, but it was of no use. He continued shouting a long, detailed tirade that he had been apparently making at many places that day, civility be damned. And the details were illuminating:

He was here about his daughter. I've met her; she's an adult, nearly my age, and she has a full-time job with decent pay. Somehow she nevertheless managed to bounce 72 checks over the course of three days. I didn't even know you could buy that much crap in three days. Now her daddy was going from business to business shouting at people on her requested behalf.

They thought it was "unfair" that collection agencies were getting involved. They thought it was "unfair" that the bank charged overdraft fees for each check (which adds up to a huge amount, but it's part of the agreement I signed at the same bank). They think it's "unfair" that most of the other businesses charged a bounced check fee (even though there are signs posted at every cash register saying what the fee is). He thought it was "unfair" that the gas station was charging $10 per bounced check when the dozen or so checks she wrote there for all her meals and snacks were for small dollar amounts (Never heard of a grocery store? Or of paying in cash for a change?).

The total cost for all of her purchases plus fees, according to the red-faced yelling man, was over $3,000. The largest part was the overdraft fees (72 x 20 = $1440). Perhaps the saddest part of this whole thing was finding out that the yelling man was paying all of it for her. Way to make sure your little girl stays a little girl, dude.

And it reminded me of something I did last year at the exact same bank: I bounced seven checks in one day. Right after they went out in the mail, I realized they were from a closed account, not from the newer checking account. You know what I did? Well, first I ripped up all the remaining checks from the closed account (which I thought I had already destroyed). Then I called up the bank and apologized. I admitted that I made a really stupid mistake. And I offered to bring in cash that day or do whatever they needed me to do to reopen the account long enough for the checks to clear. Then I apologized again for making a really stupid mistake.

It ended up costing me $13 to wire some money to the main office, instead of $140 in overdraft fees and possibly extra fees from the places I bounced checks to. Then I said thank you a bunch of times to the vice president of the bank for being such an awesome woman.

What I didn't do was ask my daddy to "take care of it" by shouting at people and calling them crooks. What I didn't do was act like a bratty kid who can't handle my own affairs or pay for my own mistakes. What I didn't do was act like it was somebody else's fault. Maybe that's why it cost me less than $2 per check and didn't damage my credit rating.

To the father's credit, at least he apologized for yelling at us the next time he was in. But, by then, he had already lost the chance to get fees waived at the other places. I didn't tell him that the bank V.P. is an awesome woman who might have waived the $1440 in overdraft charges if his daughter had just apologized and politely asked for help. Oddly enough, people don't want to help you out when you send your daddy to scream at them, call them a crook, and whine about how unfair it is that the consequences for your actions are exactly what everyone told you they would be.

An alternate version of this wu has been concurrently published as Post of the Day at The Motley Fool.