Taiwan basics: Money

When I decided to move to Taiwan, I spammed Gretchen, my future Hsinchu roommate, with questions. She graciously answered all 50 of my long, in-depth, blabbermouth, doesn’t-know-how-to-be-succint, worried emails. I may not be much of a talker sometimes, but I’ll write your face off.

Quite a few people have contacted me, now that I’ve been here more than a few hours, about my move abroad, and they have the same questions I did. The biggest concern? Finances.

So I’ve decided to make a terrifically boring, long, couldn’t-be-succint-if-I-tried post about money.

This post is going to be like an adult movie – you’re going to see everything. Real numbers, real finances. And you’re going to get bored halfway through, fast forward to see if there are any good parts, then quit paying attention.

That’s an important place, probably in Taipei.

Taiwan New Dollar vs. US Dollar

Taiwan New Dollar, aka New Taiwan Dollar, NTD, NT, NT$, or 元

Taiwan is a cash-based society and utilizes full-dollar amounts – no cents or decimal places. It has four coins that dwarf coins in the US: 1nt, 5nt, 10nt, 50nt. There are 100nt, 500nt and 1,000nt bills that look like Easter threw up.

I guess you can’t really have primary-colored money. Not even Monopoly does that.

As of 2:30pm on 8 December 2011:
1nt        =   $0.033          $1     =   30.15nt
10nt      =   $0.33            $10   =   301.53nt
100nt    =   $3.30            $100 =   3,015.35nt
1,000nt =   $33.15

The 50nt coin. Imagine carrying 11 of these in your wallet, which I’ve done. It’s like lifting weights when you try to get your wallet out of your purse.

Financial Health

September 2010

Bank of America checking balance: $5,561.25 (thank you, cashed-in retirement funds)
Bank of America savings balance: $210.11

Student loan balance: $17,598.79
Citi credit card balance: $2,877.30
Second Citi credit card balance: $0
Bank of America credit card balance: $9,705.60
Wachovia car payment balance: $6,476.22

Total credit card debt: $12,582.90

December 2011

Bank of America checking balance: $221.75
Bank of America savings balance: $4.82

Balances pre-December payments
Student loan: $15,651,21
Citi credit card: $3,123.61 (month-long trip home in July, all on this card)
Second Citi credit card: closed
Bank of America credit card: $6,837.54
Wachovia car payment: sold

Total credit card debt: $9,961.15

That picture’s from 2005. The bank guy tricked me into taking my ID picture at 8:30am after a long week. It expires soon, thankfully. Below, my Alien Resident Certificate (ARC). It’s twice as thick as my Texas license.

But Mandy, if your finances in Taiwan are so great, why do your checking and savings account balances look so sad? I bought: 2 scooters (the first died a very ungraceful death), a heavy-duty winter coat, a visa to China, a flight to China, a week-long vacation in China, a month-long vacation in California/Texas/Vancouver, two trips to Hong Kong. And TUAPA owns my heart. Chew on that, Judgmental Judy.

My money and I play hide and seek every month. I think it cheats, though, because when I call olly-olly-oxen-free at the end of the month, it stays gone.

Finances:

Austin:
Income: $2,197.82 (my annual salary was $37,500)
Rent: $650 (29.57% of income)
Car payment: $306.50 (13.94%)
Bills and other debits: HELLO, DEBT

Hsinchu:
teaching and tutoring:
Jan 2011: 60,112nt  ($1,992.87)
Feb 2011: 31,000nt  ($1,027.73) (due to Chinese New Year. No work = no pay)
Mar 2011: 28,312nt  ($938.62) (thanks again, CNY)
Apr 2011: 46,912nt   ($1,555.26) (lost one tutoring job, teaching hours reduced)
May 2011: 36,912nt  ($1,223.73) (looking for full-time job)

working 9-4 at telecom company, 4:30-6 tutoring:
Dec 2011 total income: 69,742nt  ($2,312.13)

Taxes were taken out of my teaching income, which significantly reduced my pay. No taxes are taken out of my current paycheck; I’ll have to file and pay next year, likely around 8,000nt ($265.22).

Rent: Sept 2010 – Aug 2011: 8,000nt  ($265.22)
Sept 2011 – Nov 2011: 3,500nt  ($116.03)
Dec 2011: 5,000nt  ($165.76)

Current rent is 7.17% of my income.

WHO IS THAT GORGEOUS MODEL ON YOUR ARC?!? This is my worst ID picture ever.

Wire Transfers and Paying Bills

I list my mom as a co-conspirator on my Bank of America accounts, and she has a debit card to access my checking account. She has full access to my account, and all my Bank of America (checking, savings, and one credit card) and Citi (now just one credit card) statements go to my parents’ house.

I generally send money home on the 6th of every month. The 5th is payday, unless life is rotten and the 5th falls on a Sunday, and then the 6th is payday. The next day I take a wad of cash to E. Sun Bank, which Gretchen found. E. Sun Bank charges a flat rate of 300nt ($9.94) for wire transfers. To compare, I have an account with Taiwan Cooperative Bank and they wanted to charge me 800nt ($26.52). Way to fail, TCB.

That’s right, my debit card has three baseballs and fancy reflective decorations on it. I’m a winner, obviously.

Tangent: Non-teaching companies here have direct deposit only, not paychecks, and each company contracts with a bank or two for its employees. If I switched jobs here and the new company contracted with a different bank, I’d have to switch banks. Teaching jobs pay cash. You’ll never handle a Taiwanese check as a foreigner.

There are machines at the bank that print your register. You don’t have to do the math or remember how much that deposit was. It’s glorious. Note that the dates are listed with year 100 – Taiwan uses the worldwide date of 2011, but internally uses its own country date of 100.

I walk into E. Sun Bank with a wad of cash. I take in my ARC (residency card) and fill out a form with wire transfer information from BoA, which I get when I log into my account online.

The first time I wired money home, I’d hoarded over 96,000nt over the course of three months, so if anything was filled out incorrectly and I didn’t get the money, I’d be minus $3,000 and plus one heart attack. It was nervewracking.

After filling out the form the first time, though, I just take my copy back with me every time so we can copy the information and check the appropriate boxes. When Peggy, my favorite teller, helps me, I don’t even have to fill out a new form – I slide her the form/ARC/money, she works her bank magic, then has me sign a new form confirming the transfer. Easy.

The bottom red stamp is Peggy’s chop – her Chinese name carved into a small block of wood, which she uses to stamp official documents. I have a chop for my Chinese name and one for my English name, but I rarely use them.

The money I sent 7 December (yesterday) at 12:30pm showed up online when I checked my Bank of America account 7 December (yesterday) at 10:30pm. I paid my two credit card bills and my student loan bills online and voila – done.

Transfer details:

Amount wired: 32,000nt  ($1,040.90)
E. Sun Bank fees: 300nt  ($9.94)
Bank of America incoming wire fees: none, but I have a $12 monthly maintenance fee

My smallest wire to-date is $360.27. That was a rough month.

So there you have it.

That should cover more than you ever wanted to know. If I missed something, don’t be shy – just ask. I’m more financially stable here than I ever have been, and much of that is because I ONLY use cash. If payday is next Tuesday and I only have 500nt in my wallet, then I’d better only spend 500nt. There is no alternative. It’s a good life lesson.

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