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The sad story of the actor with a drawer full of cheques he just can’t cash

Pricewatch Extra: Reader faces exorbitant fees when seeking to cash ‘residuals’ cheque payments for reused or repeated US work

Pricewatch doesn’t often hear cries of help from well-known actors, but one landed on our desk this week that piqued our interest – and not just because we’d seen the sender on the telly.

While the problem this acting reader has may not be one many others are likely to have to deal with – unless they too are in the habit of getting “residuals” for their roles in US dramas – it is a reflection of how our world is changing and how we can be at the mercy of the whims of banks at home and abroad who might not care about us as much as they should.

You might not be entirely clear on what residuals are – Pricewatch wasn’t – and in case you’re not we should explain that they are the extra cash a writer, actor or director can get if the work they have done is reused or repeated on the television or on airplanes or on streaming services or anywhere else for that matter.

“They really aren’t that much,” the acting reader – who asked to remain anonymous – told us.

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“There might be 60 dollars here or 150 there,” he said. “But they come fairly regularly and are handy when it comes to paying my electricity bill or health insurance. I used to have no problem cashing them with Ulster Bank.”

Now, Ulster Bank has – of course – left the Irish market, so our acting reader started bringing his residual cheques to PTSB where he also has accounts.

“Until recently they would only cash US cheques above $100 and the fees attached to doing it were ridiculous,” he said. “They were charging $80 and more to cash every single cheque. Not only that but the process was taking at least 10 weeks. That was bad enough, but things have gotten even worse and they will no longer allow me to cash a cheque unless it has a value of at least $250.”

He is most aggrieved because now he has a “drawer full of cheques for less than the $250 threshold and I can’t cash them anywhere. I have tried the credit union – and they won’t take them. And I have tried An Post but no joy there either”.

When Pricewatch suggested he get back on to the studios that issue the cheques and remind them that it is, in fact, the 21st century and maybe they could come up with a more efficient way of sending money across the Atlantic – like an Electronic Fund Transfer – he said he had tried that but the studios were not for budging. They like to keep it old school.

“They have just told me that this is how they do it and that is that. Is there anything I can do or any way you could help?”

Well, we like a challenge so we do which is why we set off to try and find out if anything could be done.

We went to PTSB to see why it had increased the minimum value of the international cheques it is prepared to cash from $100 to $250 and to find out how on earth could a charge of €80 or more to cash a single cheque be possibly justified.

The first thing we were told was the bank would make contact with our reader and explain the situation to him which it duly did.

After that a spokeswoman explained the situation to us.

“When a customer lodges an international cheque for processing, they are subject to charges from the international bank from which the cheque was drawn,” she said.

“PTSB has no control or influence over the amount charged by the international banks, nor the time frame in which they process the cheque. PTSB charges a flat administrative fee of €8.50; however, the international banks will subject each individual cheque to further charges which they deduct at source.

“In our experience, the average charge applied by the international banks is $150, and since 2023 we have observed charges of up to $500 being applied by them.”

And we think we are being ripped off by our banks in Ireland?

The spokeswoman noted that over the course of last year, PTSB processed only two US dollar cheques for less than $250 (possibly from our acting reader) and the charges applied by the international banks equated to around 62 per cent and 48 per cent of the value of the respective cheques.

“As a result, and to protect the best interest of our customers, we no longer submit international cheques of less than €250 in the applicable currency for processing because of these significant charges being levied on customers. Instead, we recommend customers process payments via EFT/Swift transfer to maximise the value of the cheque they will receive, in a significantly shorter time frame.”

We also went to the Central Bank to see if it had any thoughts on how our acting reader might be able to cash his residuals.

The news wasn’t great on that front either, and a spokesman said the Central Bank would not be able to “comment on individual interactions with regulated entities”.

And it was at this point that we ran out of road. Our acting reader can’t set up a US bank account because he is non-resident; the film and television studios appear unwilling to budge – almost as if they profit from his inability to cash the cheques; and the US banks can charge whatever they please for the service – no doubt in the hope that people will just give up on cheques and allow them to dispense with the fiddly service altogether.

We did suggest that he make a collage of all his suddenly useless cheques, frame it and put it up for auction, but he did not seem overly impressed by our notion. If anyone else has any more clever ideas we’d love to hear them - pricewatch@irishtimes.com.

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