Banks have been bouncing around all year: merging, collapsing, and cutting services and hours while implementing new and higher fees. For the average consumer, it’s really frustrating. And confusing.
Example? Just last month Capital One bought out ING Direct USA in a $9 billion deal, making it the fifth largest bank in the country, according to The Washington Post. At the FDIC’s last count (July 15), 55 banks have failed this year. And despite the Federal Reserve cutting banks a multi-billion dollar break on swipe fees, we probably can’t expect them to share the wealth and lower all the new fees they’ve slapped on our checking accounts this year to offset their expected loss.
It’s such a mess that SunTrust even launched a marketing campaign on the simple premise that it’s still SunTrust. Really? Since when is existing a virtue?
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You’re switching to avoid added hassle and expense, but the process can create more of both if you aren’t careful. Here’s what to do:
1. Stay calm and read up. If your bank is in transition, don’t jump ship until it’s clear how you will be affected. Things are never going to go as smoothly as the bank claims, but the changes at the consumer level may be mostly cosmetic for existing customers. If your rates, fees, and services don’t switch with the signage, perhaps you’re better off staying. If they do change, make sure they aren’t worse than the competition’s offering.
2. Comparison shop. Make a list of the fees and rates at your current bank and take a look around to see what others have. Start with our rates page, where you can compare interest rates on checking accounts, money market funds, savings accounts, mortgages, and other loans. But don’t forget to factor in other conveniences, like hours and the proximity of branches. Don’t overlook credit unions either: They often offer higher savings rates and lower loan rates than the megabanks. Search for them at the Credit Union Association.
3. Negotiate with your current bank. If you have a mostly happy history with your current bank, take the best offer from your comparison shopping and throw it back at them to see if they’ll cut you a break on fees or hike your savings rates. As a longtime customer, you have leverage.
4. Get a switch kit. If you do decide to leave, ask your new bank or credit union for a “switch kit.” These often come with step-by-step instructions, contact info, and forms to transfer services like direct deposits and automatic payments.
5. Don’t close the old account yet. You may be in a rush to conclude business with your old bank, but it’s important to make sure your transition is seamless – missing payments, misplaced deposits, or delays can end up costing you. Leave a cash cushion to cover payments you may have forgotten: Wait 3 months to close the account completely, or at least until you’re absolutely sure all’s well.
6. Watch the new account. Keep a keen eye on your new account, checking it daily for the first few weeks. Be sure all your regular deposits are coming in and all your bills are being paid from the proper account. You also want to get familiar with your new bank’s quirks, like how long deposits take to clear and how it lists your balances and transactions, to avoid trouble.
7. Read up again. Make sure you go over all the paperwork relevant to your new account, so you don’t get tripped up by processes that differ from your old bank, hidden fees, or upcoming changes. And keep a list of these, since you may want to reevaluate your new bank sooner rather than later.
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