A friend told us about a local Costa Rica bank with ties to a Panama bank, making it simple to open a Panama bank account. Everybody knows if you want privacy in banking, you go to Panama.

What everybody doesn’t know is that, these days, not only does Panama put your life under a microscope, they even want to see your tax returns! That’s comforting. We’ve opened zillions of bank accounts in the states: no one has ever asked for a tax return. I guess this is Panama’s twist on privacy: show them your most private confidential information, let them keep it on file in case anyone asks to see it and maybe you’ll be allowed to put your money there. They won’t tell. Honest.

Not only that, my "private" banker flat out asked me if I paid my taxes. Huh? Color me cantankerous, but his question raises a host of my own questions:

  1. Why does he ask?
  2. Does he ask everyone? Was I unwittingly wearing my Paying Taxes Sucks t-shirt?
  3. Is it presumed that a U.S. citizen wanting to open an account in Panama must be dodging taxes?
  4. Is that any of their business?
  5. If I didn’t pay my taxes [and I pay every penny I owe which is zero these days… one of the perks of not having an income], would there be some consequence for the bank?
  6. Why else would they ask?
  7. Are Panama banks now an enforcement arm of the I.R.S.? [Probably. An unintended consequence of the free trade agreement recently signed between Panama and the U.S., and soon to be signed here, thank you very much.]
  8. If there is ever any hint of impropriety on my part, like wearing that t-shirt again, if I were audited or someone were to try to lay claim to my pitiful sum… would Panama seize it on that agency or person’s behalf?

At least in the U.S., you are presumed innocent until proven guilty. For most of us anyway. Unless they really really really think you are guilty in which case you probably are and the U.S. can suspend habeous corpus – oh wait, they already did that. Anyway. This is America, for God’s sake. Oops, can’t say God and America in the same sentence. But, in America, if you haven’t done anything wrong, you have nothing to fear. Right?

And presumed innocent except for the presumption of guilt for the presumed terrorists in Guantanamo. And any other pathetic presumed participants in the WOT, not to mention the WOD… but those items really have nothing to do with me. Right?

Well, here in Central America, there is no such presumption and no beating around the bush about it either. Grab first, ask questions later… Suddenly, I’m thinking my $2 is still safer in the U.S. Since privacy is apparently unavailable anywhere and keeping it under my mattress makes it more likely to be spent by a certain person living in my house, why not get the most interest and security I can find? That’s looking like a U.S. bank.

Um, I’m open to suggestions here.

I’m wondering why banks make it so difficult and demeaning to open an account. I mean, you’d think they were doing US a favor! Banks make TONS of money off of our money: for every $1 I have sitting in a bank, that bank can loan $7 at up to 34% (via loans and credit cards). Plus closing costs and fees. And according to Mr. Bernanke’s Q&A yesterday, banks are trying to be able to loan more on my dollar… because, you know, they are hurting. Poor widdle banks.

But you’d think they’d be bending over backwards to get our money instead of enthusiastically turning us away in the name of the WOC. [WOC is the War On Crime. Since there is no Wikipedia link yet, I’m going to claim authorship and define it: the WOC encompasses the drug war, the war on terror, tax transgressions, muggings, plagiarism and leaving empty ice trays out on the counter. And everything else.]

A few years before we left the states, before expatism occurred to us, we had driven up to central Florida to open a savings account at an A+ rated bank. There were no A+ rated banks in our town. But, because this was after 9/11/2001 and because we didn’t have an address in that town, they refused to even talk to us.

We had money then. We had a Key West address. We owned property, phone numbers that were over 20 years old, passports, birth certificates, SS#s, fingerprints… the whole nine yards. But if we didn’t have an address in that town, we were suspect. Of what, I can’t imagine… can you launder money by transferring it from your personal account to another personal account with a paper trail? Talk about money laundering for dummies. Is laundering money illegal if it’s your money and you got it legally? Probably. If it’s not yet, it will be soon.

Why do I want privacy? Hard to explain "why" to anyone who has to ask. I guess it’s kinda like sex: if you haven’t been scr-wed yet, you can’t even imagine it.

Previous Post
Next Post