I recently ended my decades-long relationship with Bank of A(ss)merica and moved my checking and savings accounts to a credit union. This was something I’d wanted to do for some time but hadn’t out of pure, grade A laziness. The final kick in the ass was BofA’s announcement of a $5 monthly fee for using your debit card – TO ACCESS YOUR MONEY. The behemoth has since decided that perhaps the fee wasn’t such a good idea. (I expect they’ll bring it back once the Occupy people have gone home and everyone is distracted by the next Kardashian divorce.) November 5th is Bank Transfer Day. I was ahead of the curve for once. Put it on your calendar because I’m nothing if not totally unfashionable.
If you are at all interested in changing where you keep your money because you’re tired of getting bent over with no reach around, here’s the list of places I checked out in the Houston area. Each was recommended by a friend whose opinion I trust.
- Central Bank: local Houston bank since 1956 – offers free checking – pays interest on your checking account if your average daily balance stays above $1,500
- Smart Financial: started out in the ’30s as a local teachers credit union – offers free checking (non-interest bearing) or pays a dividend on your checking account, which must remain above $1,000/month average balance to not incur a $10 fee
- USAA: formerly a bank for military only – strictly an online operation, so there’s no way to deposit cash or interact in person with a bank employee – on the flip side, you can deposit a check by scanning it with your phone – offers free checking
- Houston Federal Credit Union: federal credit union since 1960 – offers free checking/no interest or interest bearing as long as daily balance doesn’t fall below $750
- First Community Credit Union: the one I chose – in business since the ’50s – they pay a dividend on your checking account with no minimum balance – free checking, first box of checks is free, and they refund ATM fees.
When I walked into the FCCU location nearest my house, I felt like I was at a small town bank. Not because the place is small, but because it didn’t feel as corporate as BofA. The people working there were nice, and I never felt like they were hustling me. I was in and out in under 30 minutes – that’s setting up two accounts – and I left with my debit card. Not a temporary debit card. The real thing, with my name embossed on it. I guess that’s the benefit of a smaller operation. I didn’t have to wait for a week to get my card from the mothership. I was already in the mothership. My free checks arrived about a week later. At the end of the month, it’s pretty satisfying to see a dividend payment among my various debits and deposits. Where big banks nickel and dime (and $5) you, my credit union is paying me back some of the interest they’re earning on the money I deposit there.
Something to keep in mind: From what I understand, your account is never really *closed* at these asshole banks. If an electronic transaction goes through in a few months – say, I forgot about updating my EZ tag account and it does its automatic billing thing – instead of the old bank kicking back the charge because I’ve closed my account, it will instead reopen my closed account, accept the charge and then add a nice overdraft fee on top of it. How thoughtful. So you have to be sure you’ve thought of every account you have, whether it’s a recurring monthly charge or something taken out of your account annually. Ultimately, it’ll be worth the hassle.
PS: BofA customers – though the website says the only way you can close your account is by mailing a letter stating that desire, I was able to close my two accounts using the chat feature – on a Saturday, no less. Took about 10 or 15 minutes total.