Wall Street banks watched their customers jump ship by the millions in 2010. Community banks and credit unions have watched their clientele grow as consumers disgusted with bailouts, big bonuses and deceptive fees move their money. A driving force behind the movement is the “Move Your Money” project, a campaign that assists consumers who want to divest from Wall Street and invest in local financial institutions.
Big bank defections a growing trend
Wall Street banks, in a game of cat and mouse with regulators, are devising creative new ways to gouge consumers as traditionally abusive practices are outlawed by financial reform. Big banks bet that their customers are too lazy, busy or negligent to notice they are getting nickeled and dimed into giving up dollars. For example, many banks that can no longer charge usurious overdraft fees have discontinued free checking. Carly Fried at MoneyWatch reports that in a recent presentation to shareholders, a Chase executive boasted of making about $1 billion simply by converting 8 million free checking accounts into a revenue stream generating $10 to $12 in monthly fees. But that windfall could be short-lived. The largest banks lost more than 4 million accounts last year. According to the research firm Moebs Services, 7 million to 9 million more accounts could move to community banks and credit unions in 2011.
The Move Your Money campaign
Consumers who question the new checking account fees are often told by their banks that the government forced it to take such action. What they should know is that 65 percent of banks in the U.S. still offer free checking despite the Dodd-Frank bill. The easiest way to find those financial institutions is at moveyourmoneyproject.org. Move Your Money is a campaign organized by Arianna Huffington. The Move Your Money website search tool locates the closest local community banks and credit unions simply by typing in a zip code. After Huffington appeared on CNN to promote the website in January last year, 80,000 people used it to find a local financial institution. In the past year moveyourmoneyproject.org has been getting up to 45,000 page views a day.
Closing a bank account
For consumers thinking about moving their money, closing a bank account should be done carefully. Open an account at your new financial institution first, then make sure all your checks have cleared. Physically go to your bank to close your accounts, but call before you leave to learn about its policies about closing accounts. Some banks will try to ding you one last time with a hefty fee. Be sure to go before 3 p.m. on a weekday so the staff has plenty of time to complete your request. Bring two forms of identification, including a photo I.D. Don’t leave without the balance of your accounts. If the bank can transfer the funds electronically, have it do so. If not, take the money with a cashier’s check or cash.