By any other name, still the same

I was paying some bills this weekend and realized that hey, I’m moving in less than a month, and I should probably really stop, I don’t know, writing checks on an account I’m going to be closing soon. Duh.

Why yes, I HAVE managed to do all of my banking with a local New England bank instead of one of the eleventy national chain banks available in the area, thank you for noticing. Ahem.

So this morning, I got the kids off to school and did some work and then set out for the local branch of Big National Bank to open new accounts. Sure, I could’ve just stayed home and shoved paperclips into my eyeballs instead, to achieve the same level of joy, but this way seemed slightly more productive.

Now is the time where we take a break from me saying blah blah blah bank accounts and watching your eyes glaze over and instead veer into a related discussion, necessary for full appreciation of what follows.

When I got married (the first time), I changed my name. When I got divorced, I didn’t change my name back, because it’s the same name my kids have. Also because I am lazy. However, when I started freelancing, I went back to my family’s name for that, because it seemed like the thing to do.

Now that I’ve remarried, I’ve decided to officially change my name… to Otto’s name. (Um, we’re talking last names here. I’m not changing my name to Otto. That would just be weird.) So I will still have my Personal Life Name and my Work Name, but the former will be changing and the latter will stay the same. (Confused yet?) I won’t be changing my name until after I move, though, because why go through everything twice?

At my current bank, I have my personal accounts, and then I have a work account as a DBA; it allows me to work under my family name even though it is not technically my legal name.

Okay. Got all that?

I walked into Big National Bank and waited for an account representative and was then ushered into a tiny office where I explained my needs. I need a personal checking account with a linked savings account. I need them in my current name but I plan to change my name in a few weeks (no problems there; I need to change my license first, then they can change things). I need a business account set up as a DBA.

The account rep nodded and mmmhmmed and took my license and credit card and typed away and after about an hour had gotten my personal accounts all set. I signed some papers and then she said it would be much quicker to set up the business account, no worries. Just a bit of paperwork and some more typing, please bear with her.

She typed a bit and then started writing on some papers and it occurred to me that she hadn’t asked me what name I use for my DBA. “You’ve got that all set up for Mir Kamin, right?” I asked.

“No, Mir Lastname,” she answered.

“Well, right, but Mir Lastname DBA Mir Kamin. Right?”

“No, we set it up as Mir Lastname DBA Mir Lastname.” And then she pushed the paperwork across the desk to me, in illustration. And indeed—just as she’d said—it said Mir Lastname DBA Mir Lastname.

“Uhhhhhh…” I struggled to regain composure. “That… doesn’t make any sense.”

“What doesn’t?” she asked, as if people regularly stride into the bank and ask for accounts made out to Joe Smith as Joe Smith and Joe Smith (undersigned by Joe Smith, naturally).

“Why…” I searched her face for an emerging punchline, but she was genuinely puzzled by my confusion. “Okay, um, WHY would someone set up an account as their name DBA that VERY SAME NAME? What purpose would that serve?”

She blinked at me. Perhaps I’d been the first person to ask. “Well, people do it,” she assured me.

“But WHY?” I pressed.

“Well… because… they’re doing business… under their legal names.”

“In that case, why wouldn’t they just have an account IN THEIR NAME without a DBA?” I felt like I was arguing with the teacher, but I really WANTED TO KNOW. There were only two possibilities here: Either I was missing some clever nuance of the business world, or she was full of crap.

We stared across the desk at one another in tense silence. I began to wonder if I had been hasty in handing her a check for a thousand dollars, back when I still thought she was a reliable financial professional and not someone who might laugh at me after I left the office. (“Can you believe she fell for that? I TRICKED HER!”)

She wasn’t going to crack. Time stretched out between us and I had a sudden vision of being trapped in this office forever. I couldn’t take it anymore.

“Okay!” I cleared my throat. “Well, REGARDLESS, I need an account as Mir Lastname DBA Mir Kamin. Thanks.”

“Oh,” her voice held a note of dismay, “I can’t do that.”

“Wait, what? Why not?”

“Have you registered your business name?”

“Have I… what? No. It’s my NAME. Well, sort of. No, it’s not registered.” Register it where? For china? Stemware?

“Well then we can’t do it as a DBA. I’m sorry.”

“Um, I’ve been doing business as Mir Kamin for a couple of years now. And I already own a DBA account in that name. Small Local Bank had no problem letting me set it up.” I tried to keep my voice pleasant. I put down the ballpoint pen I was holding so as not to slip and jam it into her hand, which was nervously tapping on the desktop.

“Well, you know…” her eyes darted to the doorway, “the Patriot Act, you know. You have to be registered.”

Now it was my turn to just look at her and blink.

“Well…” again, a glance to the doorway. “I think we can do it. I mean, I think I can. Let me just see, here. Clearly you’re not trying to defraud anyone.” She started typing again.

I dug a fingernail into my palm to keep from laughing. On the one hand, yes. I’m not exactly a terrorist threat. On the other hand, is it a rule or isn’t it? Do they get to pick and choose who looks like a threat to security? How do they know that the very safety of the American people WON’T be jeopardized by a freelance writer who CLAIMS to just want to be able to cash her checks?

Nearly two hours later, I had my three new accounts. I had input a PIN for my ATM card, and we’d set up my access to online banking. All three accounts were linked to one another, I had temporary checks, and even a spiffy bank bag. My faith in humanity—or at least serendipity—had been restored.

When I got home, I logged on to my new online banking center and started setting up direct deposit and billpay and all of that. And then I noticed that the account exec had transposed a number in my address.

I called and asked them to fix it. And then I started working on my diabolical plan to overthrow the government using my DBA account!

(GOLLY but am I looking forward to going in to change my name on my personal accounts in about a month.)


  1. Sandee

    But, you won’t have to do it at *that* bank, will you? You can do it at the new home branch!

  2. Krisco

    That is so annoying. She just couldn’t admit that she had no idea what a DBA is or what it is for. OR what the rules are on using a DBA at all!

    So much for the training program at Large National Bank.

  3. InterstellarLass

    The only reason I haven’t changed my bank account in ever so many years is because I don’t want to memorize a new account number even though my big national bank does several things I don’t like. They all seem to have the same policies though, just under a different name. So that justifies it in my mind.

  4. rudolf

    I didn’t know you are a database administrator!

  5. Mother Chaos

    I’m going to be snickering for an hour, I swear I am. Having worked for in the past, I can state with absolute authority that approximately 85-90% of the people working in the branches have NO IDEA what they are or are not actually allowed to do.

    They find out when someone like me calls and says, “Hi. I was going over some data cuts from your branch and I noticed some oddities…got a minute? Or perhaps half a day?”

  6. liv

    oh my. maybe you’ll take the paper clip route next time. ;)

  7. Daily Tragedies

    Hopefully you have better luck than me, but when I moved from one region of the country to another (still banking with Big National Bank), every time I deposited something/made a withdrawal/needed my bank account number for anything, they looked at me like I had three heads. “Oh, you must’ve opened this account somewhere ELSE. Our account numbers HERE only have nine digits” and mine had ten. Or some such nonesense. Who cares? Please, just give me my money!

  8. Krisco

    I have even more to say. And that is: I would have been so tempted to say – Do you know what a DBA IS?

    But then, your checks would have never arrived and would have been wrong. So good choice not asking that. : )

  9. Zee

    Oh lordy, I hated having to change banks when I moved back to Oregon from MA – particularly considering I really liked the bank I had in Boston. Unfortunately it was a regional bank so, if I’d moved to New Hampshire it would have been fine. Oregon not so much.

    But I went through the same Patriot Act crapola you did – and I didn’t even have a DBA – I just wanted to put my name and address on my account and I had to go home and get stuff two different times before they finally let me set things up! I needed a driver’s license AND a passport AND a Social Security Card to prove I was an American citizen. Isn’t that the point of the passport? And no, of course they couldn’t tell me to get all those things in the same trip.

    These bank people – I think they’re out to make us all nuts. Glad you were able to things set up, though, FINALLY!

  10. Kelly

    De-lurking today after a LONG time reading. (And I sorta-kinda met you through Daring Young Mom at Blogher last year… but you probably, most likely don’t remember me as I blended into the walls really well.)
    ANYWAY. What I was de-lurking to say was this:
    I LOVE it that the bank chick used the freaking Patriot Act as an excuse of why she was (is?) a dumbass. I mean, inside her head must have looked something like this:
    “Hmmm… I really don’t know what a DBA is and I just royally screwed up and I don’t want to fix it so….. AH! Patriot Act! That sounds like I’m smart AND it’ll probably cover my ass.”
    Oh. And a belated congrats on your wedding!
    How great to marry your best friend. I wish you all the happiness in the world!

  11. Cele

    It now makes sense why one couple that shopped in the store where I clerked had a bank in Kansas despite the fact they had lived in Oregon for decades. I will never change banks again.

  12. LyndaL

    We don’t have the Patriot Act in Scotland (obviously!) but we do have…..Money Laundering regulations! You have to prove you are not trying to launder funds for the mob by paying your credit card bill, or something. Best question I was asked was when I withdrew some money from a savings account – so that’s MY money which I had paid into MY account which I had to produce 40 different items of ID to open in the first place – and the guy on the phone asked me what I was withdrawing the money for. I paused as I wasn’t sure I had heard him right. “Pardon?” “Can you confirm why you want to withdraw the funds?” I was slightly stunned and asked why he wanted to know. “For money laundering purposes” he said. I actually laughed and pointed out that this was MY money and I could do what I liked with it. He repeated that he had to ask me the question. So I told him it was for drugs.

  13. Stew

    The PATRIOT act? Just….wow.

  14. Jody

    I just had a friend go through something similiar. She had to file with the courthouse before the bank would open an account for her. Also, you have to publish a DBA statement in the paper. You can go to legalzoom dot com and read about it.

    Why the hell she threw out the Patriot Act is beyond me.

  15. David

    Right, then. Back to the old trusty standby: Cash only, buried in a cookie jar in the back yard. Oh, but make sure it’s clean and dry and aired out before you spend it. See, nowadays? All cash that smells musty from being buried in the back yard? Is automatically presumed to be drug money.
    Barter system, anyone?

  16. Frazier

    To be fair to the nitwit at the bank — you probably should register your DBA. In Texas, you have to register with the Secretary of State. I’m not sure what yankee law says, but probably something similar. It’s not difficult or expensive. Maybe put it on your to-do after the move.

  17. Brigitte

    I would have accidentally let my internal seething get the better of me, grabbed my check and all the paperwork back, and DOOMED myself to another wasted day at another Big National Bank. You are good at holding it in!

  18. Lucinda

    Gotta love banks. I notice there seems to be an Oregon theme here. My branch of Big National Bank here is Oregon is really trying to get me to switch to local bank. My favorite is when the bank told us we couldn’t deposit checks made out to Scott LastName into our business account named LastName Guide Service because he wasn’t on the account. Why on earth would we open an account like that and not put him on it??? Eventually they realized they had deleted his name from the account (oops) after they failed to mail new check cards to us at out new address 2 years after moving. Somehow they had changed the address correctly on every other account we had with them (4) and even this one actually but not on the whole sending-them-debit-cards area. And yes, they spent about 30 minutes telling me it was my fault until it became obvious I wasn’t going to leave. Gotta love banks.

  19. Bob

    Mir, Mir, Mir. Haven’t you learned by now that when someone does something that obviously displays they don’t have a clue – asking for an explanation is an exercise in futility, and guaranteed to make the vein behind your eyes throb (i.e. having to use the previously mentioned paper clip).

  20. Niki

    I once had a woman in Talbots tell me she couldn’t look up the account number on my mom’s credit card (though I had the receipt) to do an exchange (NOT a refund) because the new “privacy law” said she couldn’t. I very calmly told her that the then “new privacy law” was called HIPAA and it had everything to do with health insurance, privacy, and portability, and absolutely nothing to do with the credit cards or pants exchanges. She insisted she could not. I told her I was sure it might be a company policy, but the law had nothing to do with it. I then had to get my mom to fax her a copy of her statement with the purchase on it (though again, I had the receipt, with the information), just to exchange a faulty pair of pants. Needless to say that when I visit the store now, this woman does not speak to me.

  21. Karen

    I too have been thrown that same Patriot Act line. They even showed me a dusty placard about it! Nevertheless, I have personal accounts as Karen StupidMarriedNameButDivorcing, and a business account as Karen StupidMarriedNameButDivorcing DBA Business Name. But I go professionally by Karen MadeUpName, and when the divorce is final I’m going to be known as Karen MadeUpName professionally AND as Karen FamilyNameThatIsReallyCloseToMadeUpNameHowConfusing. Fun.

  22. Melisa

    Bank Girl would make a good government employee. You know, just make it up as you go along.

  23. Katie

    DBA’s are usually only one sheet of paperwork and about a $25 fee at a local courthouse. I have one for both my business name and “Katie Fleck” (not my full legal name) just to cover my butt. But in your case, I wouldn’t even worry about filing a DBA until you are settled in your new place.

  24. Kelly

    What fun! Just the way you wanted to spend your time, I am sure. When I got divorced, I took back my maiden name…then when I married hubby #2 of course my name changed again. I still have cards in all three names, get mail in all three names…what a pain in the ass! It really is awful to try and change it all! I also have a business name (which I registered…teehee) so that is another issue. I feel for ya girl!

  25. Amy-Go

    I think Mir Otto has a nice ring to it!

  26. meritt

    Reading this… I almost wanted to cry out of frustration. LOL. I’ve blogged about my own frustrations with my current bank and how much I hate them… but the thought of dealing with them to close my accounts and open new ones is just so daunting and the problems I anticipate (dealing with morons) just makes it easier to simply let it stay where it’s at.

    Sad isn’t it? LOL.

    Thanks for an awesome post. ;)

  27. Heidi

    As confusing as all this is, just THINK of the hilarity that would ensue if you really did change your name to Otto StupidMarriedNameButDivorcing…

  28. hollygee

    Oi, the Patriot Act.
    Yes, in order to get a business account for my DBA name at my new regional bank (because the big behemoth bank that I used in Vermont doesn’t do business in the Bay Area [?]) I would have to register, and that will be an $35 on top of the extra bucks for the business account over a personal account.
    Also, I have to have my birth certificate to prove who I am to get a California driver’s license, but as my birth certificate is still in storage in Vermont, I’ve had to send away for a copy. And in order to prove that I am who I am, I had to have a notary sign a form saying that she had assured herself that I am me — based on my Vermont driver’s license, which I got when I moved to Vermont from Washington state and, at that time, didn’t have to go through all of this.

  29. emery jo

    Bank of America, perhaps? I’ve wasted many hours of my life talking circles in Bank of Americas.

    Makes me want to pull all of my money out in cash and stuff it under my mattress.

  30. Aimee

    Okay, so I’m not saying the bank lady *wasn’t* an idiot, because she should’ve known why you would want your business account set up under the DBA. However, I work in finance and the Patriot Act has caused pretty much ALL banks to make changes. My company deposits checks on behalf of its clients, and it used to be that if we got a check that we needed to endorse to our client, we could do it without any problem. Now none of our clients’ banks will take those checks, and it’s because of provisions of the Patriot Act — specifically, because they can’t process checks with more than one corporate name on them. Those changes might not have trickled down to your local bank yet, but it will.

  31. Rachel May

    Hey, thanks for posting this. It reminds me that I have to call my bank.

    I switched from Big National Bank #1 (rhymes with Cells Largo) to Free Checking at BNB #2 (sort of rhymes with Dumbass, which perhaps should have been my first clue) in order to avoid fees. Guess what? BNB #2 has new “online security” and therefore feels the need to have me agree to pay “associated fees”, and doesn’t even tell me how much those feels will be! Aargh!

  32. Valerie

    I know nothing about DBAs and you didn’t ask for advice anyway (but this thread has been very educational and I might need this info someday). But I am wondering… is there any way, once you move, that you can find another Small Local Bank in your new place of residence? Other than the mighty fine interest rate I’m getting from a savings account at a Big National Bank, I prefer to do all of my banking with my credit union. Not only do they know who I am, but they jump through hoops to help when necessary. I’ve never had that kind of service at the Big National Banks.

  33. Momsy

    Patriot Act? And yet BoA gives accounts to illegial aliens . . . wondering how they get around NEEDING to have SS #s?

  34. Randi

    DBA? That’s the first time I’ve ever heard of that!

    Smile, though, it could’ve been worse – you could’ve been trying to change all the utility bills to the new name!

  35. ScottsdaleGirl

    I am wincing at the thought of you waiting in the Social Security office to change your name from Mir ___ to Mir Otto. Those places freak me the Elle Out!

  36. Jenny

    Ah, the Patriot Act. As someone else mentioned, this happens a lot with HIPAA, too. Sometimes it’s really entertaining to get someone who really has no idea what the rules actually are, but who thinks that something might be a Rule and so plays the “I’m sorry, but its the law” or “I have to do it like this because there’s a law” card. At that point, I get to say, “Really, because I happen to be a lawyer. Tell me about this law of which you speak!” Cue tense and awkward staring, eyeball twitching, etc.

    I know that not everyone is an absolute dumbass, and oftentimes the fault lies with the employee training program that (a) didn’t explain the rules completely, (b) didn’t explain the reason for the rules or (c) maybe just explained the rules dead wrong anyway. But honestly!

  37. Nancy

    Just to let you know – when my son went to college in Pennsylvania, we opened an account in a big national bank. It shall remain nameless, but starts with an S and they think they are a kingdom. After being assured that Big Bank S in Pennsylvania would have no trouble talking to Big Bank S in Massachusetts, we discovered that this was a lie, and they would never talk to eachother. This meant that when he came home he could not transact business inside the bank, just through the ATM. Not a problem until he went abroad for a semester and was overdrawn on the account in London(not his fault – another Big Bank S screw-up) and I could not go 1/2 a mile downtown to BBS and deposit money, I had to WIRE the money from my little local bank. 2 years ago and I’m still not over it – can you tell? They never refunded the expenses I incurred due to their stupidness. My money stays in the small local bank where they know my name, and I talke with the manager about my problems.

  38. Florinda

    Yikes, I feel for you. I (re)married six months ago and just got through all the name-change malarkey. I’m keeping my old name professionally because I’ve had it for over 20 years, even though I no longer have the husband it came with. I’ve got a combination last name – old and new, no hyphen – legally, since professional name is also son’s name and want to retain it for that reason. Personally I’ll answer to either last name, but the new husband is happier when I use the one I got from him :-).

    Regarding the DBA thing, some states do require that name to be legally registered as well; my employer in California has to register theirs, since the legal corporate name is different. Your new, big bank are probably sticklers. Bureaucracy sucks… But as someone’s suggested already, maybe you can move these accounts to a smaller local bank once you relocate and get established – think of the pleasure you’ll have closing them out!

  39. ishouldbeworking

    FirstMarriedName DBA FamilyName changing to SecondMarriedName + banking business bureaucracy + Patriot Act BS = my head spinning!

    If/when I get to the point of needing to change from FirstMarriedName to SecondMarriedName I hope my credit union doesn’t put me through all of that. Of course there are several bridges to cross before I get to that point ;)

  40. becky

    1) that is why i use a local credit union. i can’t stand the big national banks. and when we move back home, i will go to the local bank, the one where i had my very first savings account, and where everyone knows you.

    2) that is also why i didn’t change my name when i got remarried. i didn’t want the hassle of changing over all of my accounts, ssn, dl, passport, etc. i might eventually hyphenate it, but i doubt it. it’s cool that you want to be known as mrs. otto. i didn’t want to do it because i also use my maiden name professionally, and hubby’s name is harder to spell and pronounce. plus, he didn’t care if i did or not. my family doesn’t understand it though. heh.

  41. JamieLee

    Oy. I hate that kind of stuff. Mostly because when I do it, I always get that furtive/guilty look on my face. I live in fear that I’m going to ask them to do something that is clearly illegal, against banking rules, or just plain dumb. I spend the entire appointment waiting for some official looking person to come out and take me into custody.
    Glad you survived the ordeal. Hurdle number one cleared.

  42. Judy.

    Good news! In Georgia, business names do not have to be registered, unless they are incorporated. We have a DBA and it was just a matter of telling them at the bank that’s how we wanted to do it. Of course, we’re not with a huge national bank, either.

  43. Melissa

    When I went from Melissa Divorcedname to Melissa Marriedname I had to also relocate from Arizona to Massachusetts which meant changing my license at the same time. Ugh. Trying to explain that my birth certificate, divorce decree and marriage certificate were all legit tried my patience and took for ever! It also explains why my license photo looks like Nick Nolte’s mug shot. Not pretty. Good luck!!

  44. Melanie

    I hate big businesses, small local places almost always seem to serve you so much better. And the people get to know you and are nice. Why is it that even at a big, nationwide place where they see you every day they still don’t know you?

  45. JayMonster

    Like others, I have gone through similar issues, but unlike the HIPAA example given above, the Patriot Act DOES have new regulations for money and banking.

    While of course I do not know how things work in New England, I do know that here in NJ, you would not have gotten the account unless you had a DBA form notarized and submitted to the county.

    To avoid that I actually incorporated in DE (easier laws for registering a corporation) and got a separate Tax ID. Sounds like more work up front (and it might be), but it has saved me a number of times dealing with corporate idiots such as you encountered.

    Of course, being the technologist and stupid people hater I am, I would never deal with a bank that didn’t let me create new accounts online without having to talk to some numbskull.

  46. dana

    Golly. This makes me laugh. My father was a self-employed tavern owner and he had a DBA for his business name. I don’t think he ever had any trouble with not-so-bright bank people like that!

  47. Mara

    ARGGH, stupid people drive me nuts. That lady clearly didn’t know anything about setting up business accounts, as almost all DBA accounts ARE IN A DIFFERENT NAME than the person’s legal name. The whole point, right? Sally Jones, DOING BUSINESS AS Sally’s Attic, or whatever? Anyways.

    1. Some people DO have DBA’s set up in their legal name. Being just a lowly bank teller, I have no idea what the point of that is– I asked one guy (with that setup) and he looked at me as though I were an idiot and said, “For tax reasons.” Whatever.

    2. The Patriot Act does indeed control every aspect of business banking. From what I understand, it goes something like this: most money laundering is done through false business accounts and a lot of it benefits terrorists and other BAD PEOPLE like drug lords, etc. To prevent false business accounts from being opened up, any account opened for a business requires proof of that business: the incorporation papers or whatever. Unfortunately that means that for every one BAD account *not* opened, hundreds of innoccent business owners are hassled. That woman was right only when she finally realized that no, she couldn’t open the account without the DBA certification. At least, not if she worked for BofA where they are really really really anal about THE LAW.

    3. I can’t figure out half of the clever hints people use about their bank names– which is why I came out and said where I work. I get “sounds like Cells Largo”, but what kinda-rhymes with Dumbass? And what starts with S and thinks they’re an empire? Please, enlighten the un-clever!

    4. The company I work for does many annoying things, like giving me an 8-cents-an-hour raise. But it does not give bank accounts to illegal aliens–just legal ones. There was a big hubbub a few months back when they rolled out this LA-centered trial program about helping their Hispanic customer base build credit, but it was never about opening accounts (or credit cards) for illegals, just for people with bad or no credit. Fact-check, anyone? The main reason banks do so many frustrating, annoying things is that they are terrified about breaking these federal laws, like the Patriot Act– they are hardly likely to start opening accounts willy-nilly for illegal immigrants when poor Mir can’t even get her DBA opened up!

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