An account of interest

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IN the somewhat long ago, now, I was encouraged to open and nourish a savings account at the bank, and I would trudge over promptly when I had a spare coin to build up my fortune to adorn my future. Saving ways were thus inculcated in my fetching up, but I was also told this was a good thing for everybody. The bank, they told me, paid interest to me, but in turn it lent me money (along with the money of other depositors) in a way that promoted the general prosperity -- we helped the bank build railroads and houses and schools and we did all sorts of things that made ours a better country. The bank, I was told, couldn't do a thing if it weren't for me and all the other good folks who had savings accounts. Now, in the evening of my fiscal career, I have just had a statement from the bank showing that $1 has been lifted from my savings account as a ``service charge.'' This, naturally, terminated a long association that has built a good many schools and railroads. I went at once to withdraw the whole caboodle and made such a touse that the bewildered bank manager gave me back my dollar.

The very idea, I said. I shall look about now to see if I can find a repository for my funds that isn't going to penalize me for my generous public benefactions and isn't likely to bite the hand that feeds it. If I can't, I expect to fritter the whole pile away in riotous living and adorn my future. I feel no confidence in a bank that will potshot its own foundation.

I had a savings account earlier that ended more pleasantly. It was when I was a 4-H clubber and won a prize in the country contests. My honor had something to do with poultry, because that was my ``project,'' and it may have been for most eggs in a week or for the best rooster crow. The 4-H prizes were adjustable, so nearly every boy and girl got a prize. My prize was a brand new savings account with the Fidelity Trust Company.

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The Fidelity Trust Company was Portland's and probably Maine's foremost financial institution and was growing by leaps and bounds. To encourage the younger generation toward savings, the bank donated a number of prize passbooks, each started with $1. Along with my passbook I got a letter from the president telling me if I nurtured this nest egg it would grow and grow and might well be the bedrock of an amassed fortune. Since I already had my nest egg in another passbook with another bank, I put the Fidelity Trust Company prize in my seachest at the foot of my bed, and it stayed there in a condition the banks now term ``inactive.'' I made no deposits and took no withdrawals. The Great Fidelity Trust Company got along without me and was able to work itself into a great disaster.

It was in 1933 that our big business turned into the grand depression, and to celebrate the birth of the New Deal we had the closings of the banks. The Fidelity Trust Company was an early and major casualty. I dug out my 4-H prize passbook and lamented the loss of exactly one pre-Roosevelt dollar. The book was exactly as when I won it -- no deposits, no withdrawals, no interest. I thought how I might have used that dollar -- a supply of jawbreakers or perhaps some Neverleek for my bicycle tires -- and now it was gone, gone, gone.

But no! In a short time I received a letter from the conservator of the distressed Fidelity, and it was a notice of the intentions to resolve the difficulties. Mostly, everything would work out around 10 cents on the dollar, but there would be an exception with small savings accounts.

All savings accounts under $100 would be honored in full. If I would kindly sign and return the enclosed release, in due time . . . . And in due time I got a check. But not for $1 -- my check was for $1.48. Accumulated interest. In its final agonizing gasp, the defunct Fidelity Trust Company kept faith with me, and as a valued depositor I had my reward. The entire American Capitalistic System was in jeopardy, the bank was a goner, but the 48 cents were rightly mine.

And how long will a $1 savings account last these days when there's a ``service charge'' of a dollar a month?

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