Angelika The American banking system is quite different from the German system in that recurring debits ("Lastschriftverfahren") are virtually unknown and wire transfers are complicated. That is most likely because Americans want to decide by themselves when to pay their rent, their electricity bill, telephone bill and so on.
Consequently, you have to write several checks a month to pay your debts. Those checks will be sent via mail and at some point the receiver will cash it. Since American banks don’t offer overdraft loans, you really have to keep in mind when and whom you wrote a check. If a check can’t be cashed in because there is no coverage, you are seriously in trouble. So you have a booklet to fill out all in- and outcoming transactions, so you know the current balance in advance.
Actually, you could simply get your account statement but it only shows the current balance and not the sum that will be on the account when all checks are cashed. That sounds a little complicated and kind of pedestrian and I tell you one thing: It is! At some point, you are going to lose track of your balance and you are desperately looking for a missing asset because you made a miscalculation in your booklet or you forgot to fill in something.
As a last resort, you ask for the last bookings via phone banking. Phone banking is quite popular in the U.S., since it saves writing a check. On the other hand, this kind of business sounds fishy to Europeans and doesn’t make you keep track of your finances. Michael states that the cost of mailing a letter in the U.S. is only as cheap as it is because there is an enormous number of checks being sent via mail every month.
Generally, Americans are jugglers concerning their finances, they barely pay in cash, but with a large variety of credit cards or personal checks. Also, it’s getting more and more common to use ATM cards. They often lose track of their balance at the end of the month and have to revolve charges by paying one credit card with a different one. Many are in debt because of this.
By the way, it’s not possible for a foreigner to receive an American credit card instantly. That’s because they don’t have a credit record yet. The credit record tells if you’re trustworthy and if loans that have been taken once, have been paid back as planned. Even if one owns a German credit card you don’t have an American credit record due to the fact that both the American and the German system aren’t connected to each other. So we have to deal with the fact that any 18-year old American has a bunch of credit cards but we have to wait for a year to get such a plastic card. After a year we’re going to be residents of California and are thus trustworthy. Why is that? To be honest, I can’t tell you.
Thanks to Boris Kleinbach, firstname.lastname@example.org for translating the original German text to English.