Long time readers will remember an article I wrote last October about Big Banks wanting to charge $5 to account holders who use their debit cards. As we all know consumers revolted against this fee and the big banks thankfully relented. Now it seems that one of the Big Banks, Bank of America, is back at it, trying to figure out how to charge fees to its customers.
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A recent article by the Wall Street Journal reported that Bank of America is currently testing charging higher fees to account holders in Arizona, Georgia and Massachusetts who fail to maintain a certain monthly balance, buy other Bank of America products or bank strictly online. The new fees range from $6 to $25 a month, MUCH higher than the previous $5 debit fee that they tried to charge.
It seems the Big Banks have not learned their lesson. If they can’t implement fees in one area, they try it another way. They will go to any length to abscond with their customer’s money in the form of fees and hidden charges. What they don’t seem to realize is that they are building a bad reputation among consumers. There is a growing feeling among consumers that these banks are just out to squeeze as much profit out of account holders as possible, instead of giving them great service for a reasonable price.
In fact studies show consumers are fed up with big banks and their fees. Last year credit unions more than doubled the number of new accounts. More than 1.3 million Americans opened new credit union accounts last year, up from less than 600,000 in 2010. Most experts agree that those numbers will continue to grow if banks keep acting like they have no competition.
More and more consumers are choosing credit unions because they are seemingly the antithesis of big banks. Credit unions are not-for-profit financial institutions. They are owned and controlled by their members, not stockholders or people only concerned with the bottom line. Despite these differences, credit unions still offer most of the same products and services as the big banks do, savings and checking accounts, loans, ATMs and online banking just to name a few. And because they are controlled by their members (not stockholders), they often can offer better rates and lower fees than other bigger banking institutions.
A recent voter survey by the Credit Union National Association found that more Americans believe credit unions are safer places to sock away their money than banks. 40 percent of consumers choose credit unions, while just 34 percent said banks were safer. Just four years ago that same annual survey went a completely different way. In 2008, 72 percent of respondents believed that banks were the most financially safe and sound institutions. That’s a four year decrease of a whopping 38 percent.
I’m seriously considering making a change myself. So far my Bank of America accounts are still free to use but when they start implementing fees for me to use my own money I may switch financial institutions. The problem with switching banks is that most people wait until they have to switch banks and then their choices can be limited.
You’ll find the best banking options if you invest a little bit of time and research into your hunt. Since I know most people would rather be spending time with their kids or doing something fun as opposed to researching new banking institutions I’ve done it for you. ?
First thing you should do is ignore banking promotions. Most people are drawn to their new bank with promises of gift cards, monetary rewards or teaser rates. While those are nice perks, they won’t last you very long and then you’ll be stuck with another bad bank. Instead check out findabetterbank.com. This website was built to help consumers find the best banking institutions based on their individual needs. It’s really easy to use too. When I went on the site I moved the arrow one way or the other to indicate what options were must haves and what ones I didn’t care about. You’re asked about online banking, ATM usage, direct deposit, interest rates, and a few other things to help them find the best financial institution for you and your life. When I did it, it took me about three minutes to answer all the questions. Then it spit out a list of potential banks in my area that match my criteria.
For me the best fit seems to be ING Direct (an online only bank). I’ve always had a bank that has physical locations before so this would be a change for me. For some people this is an important feature, but for those of us that do most of our banking online it can be a great option. Online banks are worth checking out because they usually offer the most competitive interest rates. Their low overhead expenses and fewer employees allow them to offer what are usually the best interest rates that are out there.
Remember those pesky fees we’ve been discussing? Online banks are also worth considering because they typically don’t charge fees that traditional brick-and-mortar banks do. You won’t find debit card usage fees or check writing fees from one of these financial institutions.
I can almost hear you saying, “Yea, but sometimes I have banking questions and issues that I need to talk to someone about. That’s why I need physical locations to go to so I can get help.” Most online banks have 24/7 customer service hotlines for assistance. Most traditional-brick and-mortar banks don’t even have that. Consider your past banking habits, do you absolutely need that face-to-face interaction to solve your banking issues, or can it be done with an internet connection and a phone call?
The only downside to online only banks are access to free ATM’s. Online only banks have a smaller ATM network than big banks do, so getting cash can be a challenge in more rural areas. You can still get cash from ATMs that aren’t for your bank but you’ll be charged a fee. You’ll need to check out the banks website to find out if there are convenient ATM’s in your area to see if this would work for you.
The most important thing to remember is that you don’t have to stick with a big bank, you have other options. Local credit unions, online only banks and informational websites are out there to help you make the best choice for you. What kind of bank do you currently use and do you think you’d ever consider switching? Leave me your answers in the comments section.
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Keeping Money in Your Pocket,