I discovered a 30-year-old bank account

When I was around nine years old, my parents opened the first back account in my name, seeded with money I received as a birthday present. That was, of course, a huge deal to me. My own bank account!

sparbuch-cover

And I had so much money, peaking at just over a hundred deutsche Mark! That’s around €50 or $57(US) in today’s world. This is a veritable fortune when you’re nine.

handwritten transactions

A Pass-Booke from Ye Goode Olde Days, whynne Transaxions where Hand-Wrytten. (Clicketh to zoome.)

This is called a passbook. (I had to ask a friend for this!) According to Google: “A passbook is a booklet wherein a banker records his customer’s account as it appears in his ledger.” TIL!

My family moved from Germany to Denmark in 1985 and I’ve since realized that I never closed that bank account. I’ve kept that small booklet in my desk drawer for thirty years, and every few years I’d notice it and think, I really should find out if that account still exists. But I never did, and the account grew older and older.

How long does a bank even keep an account, if the account holder has moved away without giving a new address and without ever coming back? What happens to the account after so many years? I was about to find out.

Recently I decided to do something about this account. I dug it out of my desk drawer (yep, amazingly it was still there after having moved eleven times!) and had a look at what it actually was: an account with 17 DEM (€9/$10) and the last transaction was in 1985. Not a lot of money, and that’s probably a good thing because I had little hope of recovering the balance after ignoring it for thirty years. But it would be fun to try!

It turns out that the bank branch that had my account has moved but still exists. I’m surprised: this was, and still is, a very small village. It’s part of a banking organization that still exists in the area, so I filled out an online contact form on their homepage. I stated the account number and the old branch routing number printed in the passbook, as well as my name and current contact information. A glimmer of hope, but you know… come on, really?

Two days later I receive a phone call from Germany. A woman confirmed that my account was converted to a dormant account eleven years ago and still exists! She could not tell me the balance over the phone but it would be enough for a meal and a drink. She told me that when it’s reactivated there will be eleven years’ worth of interest added to it on top of what she was seeing on her screen.

Fabulous! I honestly had not expected this outcome. To claim the account, All I had to do was to send a simple letter specifying where I’d like the funds transferred to, along with the original passbook and a photocopy of my current passport. So I quickly sent the paperwork by registered mail to claim my sleeping riches.

… and then I began second-guessing myself.

Isn’t it awfully nice of the bank to maintain my account and let it gain interest for thirty years? As banks go, that’s almost suspicious, isn’t it? What if they also add thirty years’ worth of account-upkeep fees?! I have no idea whether there was ever any fees for having the account in the first place, or whether there would be fees to have it reactivated and the balance transferred. Wouldn’t it be fun to receive, instead of a check, a €2000 invoice for incurred fees? Nope, no fun at all.

Taunus Sparkasse Kontoschliessung

I’m rich! I’m rich! I’m fabulously wealthy!

In the end, what I received was a whopping €22 ($24). I know this is sort an anticlimax to my reader(s?) – it was for me, too. But it’s the end of a thirty-year story that I finally got around to completing – and that’s something!

Besides, keep in mind that I started out with so little money and it actually tripled over the course of thirty years (possibly a lot more; I have no idea whether they deducted some account-closure fees). Compound interest – it works! Lesson learned: if you forget an account for a long time, make sure there’s plenty of money in it!

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