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How To Leave Your Megabank In Fourteen Easy Steps October 21, 2011

Posted by Erin Ptah in Personal.

Or, a record of something I should have done a long time ago, for the purposes of encouraging anyone who’s been putting off doing the same.

1. Read a high school friend’s tumblr post in which, after reblogging various Occupy Wall Street material, she wonders, among other things, how cool that is in light of her standing account with Bank of America.

2. Think, “Well, that hits a little close to home. I’ve been passively approving the protests for a while now; I’d join my local Occupy [City] protest in person, if not for [excuses, excuses]. But kicking Bank of America? That’s something I could do.”

3. …in theory. Realize that, in practice, I have no idea how to do this.

I got my current BoA account when I was a minor, in a kind of training-wheels form attached to my parents’ accounts. It converted to a student account when I turned eighteen, and then a generic account (with, I noted, a new minimum balance, and new fees) after I graduated. And somewhere in there, they took a $45 billion bailout from my family’s taxes. (Not mine personally. I am one of those horrible freeloaders who does not pay taxes by virtue of not making any money.)

So there was never any comparison-shopping or critical analysis involved in getting into the bank. My parents did the legwork when they signed on however many years ago, and I’ve been coasting on the results ever since. Not only do I have to fight that inertia, I have to figure this out from scratch.

4. Ask for advice.

The gentlefailers come through. Not only do I get plenty of details on what to consider, I also get a couple dozen recommendations to throw off banks entirely in favor of credit unions.

Including a link to an article with a point-by-point comparison, if you’re interested in someone more authoritative than an anonmeme.

4a. Wait, a “reasonable minimum balance” is $50-$100? Oh, wow, Bank of America, you are screwing me over in ways I didn’t even realize.

5. Start searching.

A search for “[state] credit union” finds a couple of official hub sites. Browsing them leads me to the options whose hubs are in walking distance. I’m only eligible for one, by virtue of living in [county]. (The others require me to be working with local companies, which I would gladly do if only they would hire me.)

5a. But could it be worth paying the subway fare to get somewhere else?

6. Consider specifics.

A basic, free checking account has no minimum balance or monthly fee, and no interest. The next level has a minimum balance, which is still way lower than BoA’s, and interest. You’re also required to have a savings account, minimum balance of $5, better interest yet. So far, so good.

Free checks. Overdraft protection. Online banking. Free online statements. You can deposit checks online? Awesome.

Credit and debit cards available through Visa, which is what I was using through BoA anyway. Free debit card transactions at local ATMs, and a few free ones per month at other ATMs. Not that my current debit card gets much action in the first place.

Location: The two official branches are within walking distance of my apartment. It’s also involved with CU Service Centers, making the accounts accessible all over the place. A quick check of a few zip codes finds service centers all around [city], plus my parents’ home and grandparents’ home, which are the places I’m most likely to vacation.

Insurance: not FDIC, that’s for banks, but this group is backed up by the equivalent, the NCUA.

Anons confirm that my account should play nice with PayPal.

…They’re hiring. Not that that was one of my requirements, but it catches my eye and gets filed away to be considered when I next tackle The Employment Problem.

7. Ask for second opinion from Facebook, which is my main hub of contact for (a) responsible, financially experienced adults who (b) know me in person, as opposed to having things strained through Internet identity filters.

One uncle checks its rating on Bauer Financial and Bankrate. Five and four stars, respectively. All looks well. Plan to visit offices in person the next day.

7a. Insomnia. End up sleeping through the bulk of office hours.

8. A new day dawns! Fill with errands: checking finances, checking directions, exchanging books at library, attending blood drive. Blood iron is dismally low at that last, bad on the first test and worse on the hopeful re-test. I hang out at the snacks table for a while anyway, making conversation and getting something lunchlike in return for my bandaged hands.

In the midst of all this, I make it to the credit union office. It’s even closer than I realized until I take a proper look at the map: with allowances for the eccentric roads of [town], it’s on the same block. I’ve walked past it a hundred times, not even on my way somewhere, just on one of the loops I make when I need to stretch my legs. The first time in, I brought my license but no proof of address, and no proof of social security number (not required to set up an account, but required for a debit card). Walk home, search the apartment, back in fifteen minutes with a scrap of mail from one of my latest go-rounds with bureaucracy. Bingo: I’m qualified for membership.

Checking the account types online has paid off. I ask for the interest-bearing checking account, and a money market savings account, and get both, along with the required default savings account. All come with minimums. Have not yet dealt with Bank of America at all, so I’m not ready to make large deposits; the guy I’m talking to says no worries, the accounts are created but not active, and until I activate them by making those initial deposits, no fees will apply.

Timeline: He’ll call me in a week or so if I haven’t come back with proof of social, but as for the deposits? No rush.

I hand him a $10. He comes back in a few minutes with a crisp new $5, a booklet of benefits information, and a membership card.

When the guy asked what brought me to the credit union, I say, “Trying to get my money out of Bank of America.” He’s a professional, he doesn’t gloat, but a knowing smirk flickers on his face. “Yeah, we get that a lot these days.”

9. So: I have the new accounts! Time to work on closing the old ones. First, the fun part: spending those reward points.

In all the years since getting this account I’ve amassed enough points to buy six iPad cases, which is just over a sixth of what I would need to get an actual iPad. Looking through the catalog reminds me of the Colbert Report’s jokes about SkyMall. Where else could you get a Jelly Beans of the World glass jar, which comes to you full of individally wrapped jelly beans?

In a fit of responsibility I look for things I’ll need when my roommate next moves: passing over the rock garden (of which I have always wanted one) for an electric kettle, a flatware set, a set of mixing bowls and measuring cups, and (because I don’t have enough points left over to get anything else useful) an I Love Lucy DVD.

So far, so good.

10. Hit the bank in person.

You can’t close accounts online; the FAQ only advises to mail a written request to the appropriate hub in Florida. In person, though, the attendants at my local branch are pleasant and efficient. Automatic payments on my credit card are canceled; the current balance is paid off in full, and the account left open just in case something goes wrong with the reward points trail. (Also, to make sure the history stays on my credit score. I’ve gotten conflicting reports on whether that’s a concern, but better safe than sorry.)

My checking account goes first, the funds transferred to savings. We go from the attendant’s desk up to the tellers and back. The savings account goes next. I amass a small pile of receipts and Post-It notes, culminating in a check for the amount in full.

The whole business is smooth but time-consuming. It finishes shortly after they’ve closed up for the evening; I go to leave and find the doors locked from the inside as well as out. In hindsight, it’s a great metaphor: they’ll give me the check, but won’t let me leave the premises? In the moment, I don’t have time to think about it, because someone notices almost immediately and brings a key, ushering me out.

When asked why I’m closing my accounts, I say I found a local place that I’d like to use instead. The person who works me through the whole process presses a bit more, asks if I’d had a bad customer experience; I mention “political concerns.” She doesn’t ask more. (I’m not going to harangue her for it. She’s not the one in charge.)

11. Freak out. (Just a little.) Especially since it’s raining.

11a. Arrive home, damp but intact. Relax.

I chill for a bit, listening to Cat #1 snore. Fill out the credit union’s ID card (which takes the slot in my wallet vacated by the now-shredded debit card, the same one I’d had since high school, my hair still waist-length in its ID photo). Pack credit card away with other obsolete financial data.

On Fridays, the credit union’s office closes two hours later than the bank’s. Plenty of time to regroup and head back out.

12. Visit the credit union once more. The downpour is kind enough to hold off until after I get inside.

This time, the guy who set everything up earlier spots me in the lobby and ushers me right back. The money gets deposited, split between accounts as I request. Turns out he marked the checking account as the free version, in order to avoid me getting a fee should I not make it back that day; he upgrades it to the interest-bearing version now. The online login, it turns out, takes at least a business day from account creation to kick in; it’ll be up soon.

13. Get that social security card.

The local SSA office is also an incredibly short walk away. I print the appropriate form off their website, stroll over with the form and my passport, and take a number. It’s a short wait.

The card arrives in the mail a week later. My RewardPoints prizes have been trickling in in the meantime. I peel Lucy out of her shrink-wrap and take a look.

14. Confirm!

I just got back from the credit union. My debit card and a new set of checks are in the mail.



1. mack - October 21, 2011

Check to make sure you won’t be charged an “inactivity fee” on that credit card you left open with BofA. Some companiea started charging them when all the new consumer laws related to credit cards kicked in.

Erin Ptah - October 21, 2011

Ahh, good call. I’ll check it out, thanks ^_^

ETA: the “know your fees” website doesn’t mention them, so it looks like I’m good.

2. Food stamps are awesomely effective, banks are evil, and health care is a scam | Humanist+Humorist - August 13, 2013

[…] “Perhaps showing its firm belief in the afterlife, Bank of America has continued to charge fees to the bank account of a man it knows died nearly half a year ago.” (One more reason I’m glad I left them.) […]

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