Hearing stories about people spending years in the cooler after their cheques bounced, has made me very nervous about signing cheques.
As you know landlords here take post-dated cheques for the yearly rent and God forbid, if there is no cash in your account to cover the amount, then you are in serious trouble. The fact that a bounced cheque is a criminal offence kept bouncing around my brain when I got a call from my landlord to come and have my lease contract renewed.
I live in The Gardens in Jebel Ali, a beautifully landscaped community of about 30,000 families. It was built for people working at the massive port nearby and the growing free zone area with its hundreds of bustling industries. But people opted to live in Sharjah instead, way, way down north, through the Shaikh Zayed Road and beyond.
Every year, when I renew my lease, I usually go through this routine of proving who I am by producing my passport. I also have to sign a declaration that I am not sub-leasing my two-bedroom flat to 10 people. Then I have to write out six cheques.
I have read stories of people who go from living a normal life to descending into a very bad place in an instant because their post-dated cheques bounced. Financially savvy people say it is always a good idea to have a small overdraft line to cover such situations. Through online banking, you can view your account from time to time to check your balance, they say.
But every time I see my balance online, it gives me a heartache as it keeps dwindling faster than I can sustain it.
Back to bounced cheques and there are various ways this can happen say financial whiz kids. Your spouse forgets to tell you that he or she has used the debit card. You write a cheque expecting to deposit in money when the time comes to have it cleared. You sell your car and the nice man gives you a cheque, you deposit that it in and later find out that it has bounced and he has left the country a very rich man.
Over the years, our cheque books keep running out and my wife applies online and I get a call to come and pick it up from the bank’s head office.
Banks also make me nervous, because I am not too good at handling money and financial transactions and the other thing is that waiting in queues for long hours makes me feel dizzy and my feet pain.
Thankfully, this time, a courier brought the cheque books to my office and I was saved the trouble of going to the bank. While I hate writing out cheques, the smell of a crisp, new cheque book makes me buoyant and I love to flip through the cheque book leaves and see my name in print in each of them. Over the years, the amount I write out in the cheques for my landlord has gone up steadily and signing away this big amount makes me even more tense. “Sorry, please write out three new cheques,” said the person renewing my lease after I handed them to her. She said I had overwritten on them. So I tore them up and went through the whole process again and gave it to her.
After a week, I got a call that one of my cheques was not honoured because I had overwritten on one number. The landlord gleefully fined me Dh2,000 and no amount of arguing that the cheque was not honoured not because of lack of funds, but because of overwriting, helped. I was also asked to get cash for the amount of the cheque which was returned.