It's not breaking news that many American consumers are fed up with their bloated corporate banks. Online resources like Break Up With Your Mega Bank can give you the top reasons why, as well as what to do about it: namely, move your money to a smaller institution that values your patronage and treats you better.
One of my resolutions for 2012 was to switch my money from Chase to a community bank or a credit union ASAP, which I did in January. I opened an account with Alliant, a national credit union. In addition to the reasons linked above, here are a few little examples of why I dumped the big bank.
1. Chase is all like, 'Either respond to this letter or we're putting you on a bunch of mailing lists.'
In November I got a letter from Chase saying if I didn't respond via mail, fax, or online to state my preferences, I "may begin to receive offers in the mail about these products and services" (there were nine categories of products and services listed above).
Sigh. So I stated my preferences online, then got this:
"After five years (or sooner if you move), you'll need to contact us to renew your choices."
Don't you love it? Because in time you might decide that you do want to get loads more junk mail after all. Also, this fix is only good for five years or until you move, and then you better hope your chosen reminder system was something better than a Post-It note. At that time you have to figure out where you call or go online to re-state your preferences. You know all those tasks you need to do when you're moving? Add this to the list. Why? Because fuck you, we're Chase Bank.
2. The double tap.
(Above is a screenshot of my Chase app for the iPhone.)
First, I'm not sure how this happened to begin with since I was vigilant about only using Chase ATMs to avoid getting charged to access my own money. But this double-charge happened at least two occasions that I noticed.
The first time, last summer, I stopped into a branch when I saw there was no line to ask about it and was told I would have to call Chase about it becuase the teller couldn't figure out what was going on. So Chase might have indeed squeezed this extra $2 or $4 out of me since I was not inclined to follow up about such a small amount.
Why was I charged this "service fee"? Hell if I know. It's probably something they snuck by in one of those tiny-print policy additions they send in the mail that they (correctly) count on no one ever reading. It's their "we know you didn't feel like reading the fine print" charge. I knew I only had weeks to go with Chase as my primary bank when this appeared, so I didn't pursue the matter.
It's shit like this, Chase, on top of the reasons linked above, that made me move my money.
If you, too, are not gonna take it anymore, some pointers:
- Although moving your money to a new financial institution can be done entirely online, you can't do it all in one sitting. But it's not bad. Like almost everything worth doing, this is a matter of taking smaller steps. Checking off each step feels like an "F you" to the man.
- Decide what features and services you want from your credit union or community bank and begin your search from there. A big one for me was not being charged to access my own money. I also wanted direct deposit, online banking and a phone app preferably, though I knew the app was asking a lot from smaller organizations. (Alliant has a newly improved app!)
- Before you switch, I recommend saving up a few hundred dollars to keep as a buffer in your mega bank account, to cover for the automatically deducted bill payments that might have slipped through before you change them.
- So far I'm pleased with Alliant credit union. Things I wasn't looking for but were pleasant surprises: they have 24/7 customer service (even on holidays), they have a budget tracker tool on their site akin to that offered by Mint, and you can check your credit rating right on their website without it dinging your credit score (from what I understand).
- Once you set up your account and get your paychecks going into it, you can switch over all your auto-pay bills. This is where it takes a bit of time.
- Beware when switching automatic credit card payments to draw from one bank account to another, sometimes the payees (banks) pretend it takes a few cycles to kick in--as if it involves anything more than a few keystrokes to make the change. This is another example of how they get ya. If you don't calibrate your payments just right, such as making one or two payments manually during the interim switch over period, which they can count on a percentage of consumers to do, you incur more penalty fees, your APR jacks up to 28%, and you are screwed.
- Even once you switch automatic payments for utilities and other monthly bills, keep your old account open with some bucks in it. For me there were a few bills I had forgotten-- once a year stuff like my website domain registration.
- As for the free cash access I wanted, Alliant has more than 80,000 surcharge-free ATMs nationwide (with the green Allpoint network's logo). You can find them with the mobile app, online, or by calling customer service. I've found in Manhattan/Brooklyn I can use the ones in McDonald's and some CVS and Duane Reades.
- Paper checks: My CU's only local branch is at Newark Airport, but there are a few ATMs in Manhattan that accept checks, or you can mail them in. Paper checks are going extinct anyway, and I've only had two this year so it's not a big deal.
- I'm seeing the light at the end of the tunnel of my long-bemoaned credit card debt. But before I wrestle my way out from being bent over a barrel by them, now that I've done all this, it makes no sense to keep other credit cards issued by mega banks. So my next project is finding a worthy/ lesser evil credit card and transferring as much of my balances over there as I can. My CU offers a card and loans, and the Green America card looks good too.
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