When Is It Time to Get a New Bank?

I bank with Bank of America, and have another account with Washington Mutual. There have been occasions where both banks have nearly driven me to quit them and find some new way to manage my money. In the end, they’ve both offered features that convinced me to stay. Nevertheless, I keep my list of deciding factors around in case one of them finally pushes me over the edge.

Free Online Banking

Whichever bank I choose must have completely free online banking. That means no fees for online bill paying. Why would I pay my bank a monthly fee in order to make their job easier? If the service isn’t free, I’m not using it.

Paperless Statements and Bills
Bank of America allows for completely paperless account statements and credit card bills, while Washington Mutual insists on mailing me paper statements. Since I don’t use my WaMu accounts often, I live with it, but if I was switching all my banking over to one institution, then the paperless option would be a major deciding factor.

Free Savings Account
If a bank charges me a fee for a savings account, then it’s not getting my savings. It’s as simple as that. There are too many free banks to make it worth paying someone to hold my money. With interest rates as low as they are, some fees actually cost more than anything you’d make off the account anyway.

Convenient ATMs
Numerous convenient ATMs are the primary reason I stick with WaMu and BofA. They’ve pretty much cornered the market in LA. Although there are cheaper banks, I like always being within a quarter mile of an ATM. However, BofA recently instituted a change to their ATMs that would drive me away if I frequently deposited checks or cash. The new ATMs duplicate the inconvenience of visiting a human teller without the perk of actually speaking to a human. In case you haven’t heard, the deposit envelopes are gone. Instead you stick your wad of cash into the machine for counting, and feed checks in one at a time. Not only is that hugely inconvenient, but it isn’t very safe.

Free Checking Account
I use the WaMu account for my infrequent business checking because it’s 100% free (except for the checks, which I almost never write.) My BofA account is most definitely not free, but they waive the monthly fee with direct deposit. Since most employers now provide direct deposit, the fee isn’t an issue for me. If neither my husband nor I had direct deposit, then I would be looking for a free checking account.

Helpful Customer Service
Stop laughing! It is possible to find good customer service from a bank. I’ve actually had good service from both WaMu and BofA. My best story happened about a year ago when my auto insurance company failed to process our electronic payment on time. I called the insurance company to ask why our payment had been received, but not applied to my policy. They told me they didn’t know and to send another payment. When, I refused to pay them again, they suggested that I stop payment on the original payment – a payment they’d already received!

Finally, I got the woman’s name and then called the bank. While I waited on the phone, the bank rep called the insurance rep, faxed them proof of payment and proof that they had confirmed receipt, had them reinstate the insurance, and had the late fee removed. We also discovered the problem: the insurance co. can’t accept electronic payments, so the bank has to mail a check. We pay that bill by personal check now, but the experience has left me with a warm spot for my bank and a cold spot for my insurance company.

I know many people who have had bad experiences with both of my banks, but so far I’m not one of them. If your bank routinely angers you or doesn’t provide the services that matter most to you, it’s time to get a new bank. With all the options out there, there’s no reason to stick with a bad bank.

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