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The Final Withdrawal: Leaving My Corporate Bank Behind

January 15th, 2012 No comments

I closed my Chase checking account today!  Okay, I admittedly implied that I’d already done so at press time for my last post, but that was a lie born of a technicality.  I’d already taken every step necessary to close an account but hadn’t yet biked the two miles to the nearest Chase branch to formally tell a bank manager that I didn’t care to be their customer any more.

Anyway, in celebration of my freedom from a multinational financial institution, and in recognition of the 4-month “birthday” of the Occupy movement, I thought I’d briefly discuss the steps I took to close my account.  I heard an NPR segment on how difficult it was to switch banks in the era of automated online transactions, and just got angry.  In my experience, the most frustrating part of closing the account was the fact that my only consistent day off is Sunday, the one day that Chase was closed.  (Related:  did you know that if a holiday falls on a weekend, it is often observed on the nearest weekday?  Because I DIDN’T!)

Move Your Money…But Where?

First, I needed to find a place to park the piles of cash that I was hoisting out of the Chase vaults.  (Okay, maybe that’s a mild overstatement.)  I researched this in the same way that I search for someone who can write my paper when I was a student…with exhaustive Google searching of a variety of different phrases:  “best credit union Portland,” “best local bank Portland,” “move your money Oregon,” “Portland credit union ratings,” etc.  Hundreds of Yelp reviews, bank websites, and blog entries later, I settled on Rivermark Credit Union, based as much on convenience (not many credit unions in our part of town…this one’s ONLY three miles away) as anything; since a majority of credit unions and local banks garner favorable reviews from their customer base, I would have felt good about choosing several different places around town.

In general, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find a small, friendly, and responsible financial institution with decent rates and features if you live in an urban or even suburban area.  While there may only be single or a handful of branches available for your face-to-face use, most thriving small banks and credit unions have online banking features that are every bit as useful as the ones I’ve seen offered by Chase, B of A, and USBank (may they collapse fantastically in a self-inflicted fiscal calamity).  The online features of my credit union, for instance, allow me to make automated payments, automated transfers, set up new savings accounts, and communicate directly with customer service representatives via e-mail.  These were the only features I ever used with Chase, in spite of the fact that their cluttered website offered fifteen times as many useless features.

Buy Into Your Community

When you open your first account with a credit union, a small part of your initial deposit goes to purchase your membership.  In my case, a refundable $5 member fee gives me the right to vote for the credit union board of directors (and even to run for such a position, should I so desire), open as many free accounts as I care to open, and have free access to the large team of financial advisors available to members.

After paying my $5 fee, I wrote a check (from my Chase account) for a couple hundred dollars to open a savings and checking account.  From there, I was able to move on to the next step:

Move [the Rest of] Your Money

  1. Having established a few accounts, I was able to give my brand new employer (yes, this happened a very long time ago) some direct deposit information without having to confess that my banking practices did not match up with my anti-corporate ideals.  This way, my checking account had a regular source of income and I was able to start making my day-to-day purchases with my credit union debit card.’
  2. After setting up my online banking account with my credit union, I was able to electronically transfer money from my soon-to-be-disused Chase and ING accounts to my shiny new guilt-free Rivermark accounts.  I didn’t go overboard with this, though…I cleaned out the ING accounts entirely since there were never any scheduled or automated withdrawals taken from them, but I left about a thousand dollars behind with Chase to cover a few weeks or months of automated payments and transfers while…
  3. …I went through months of financial records (remember, I track every single expense or transfer from every single account in my name) to figure out which companies and organizations had been linked to my Chase accounts.  This included online retail establishments, utility providers, PayPal, charities, magazine subscriptions, and on and on and on.  This was undeniably the trickiest part of the switchover, but thanks to my diligent record-keeping, it was relatively painless.
  4. Having changed every possible payment I could think of over to my credit union account, I was at last able to move the rest of my money out of the care of Chase.  (By this point, they had started charging me a monthly $6 service fee on my “Free Checking” account, as punishment for discontinuing direct deposit.  I assume they treat unemployed people this way, too?  Real nice, Chase.  Real nice.)  I decided to keep my Chase credit account open because I understood that closing credit accounts affects your credit score negatively.  And good thing I did, because an unexpected automatic withdrawal (the fee for hosting this very website, in fact) was charged several months after the Great Bank Change took place.  Such are the dangers of switching banks…but even if I hadn’t kept the account open, I can’t imagine anything would have happened other than an angry e-mail about how I needed to update my credit card information OR ELSE.
  5. At long last, I had a day off and biked out to a physical Chase branch (they’re not nearly so ubiquitous or convenient in Portland as they were in Chicago) and had a perfectly pleasant exchange with a woman who seemed to have seen a lot of people closing accounts for reasons similar to mine.  She asked why I was opting to close my account, and I said, “I just have issues with some of the company’s practices,” to which she replied, “So it’s sort of an Occupy Wall Street thing?”  While I went into the bank imagining I’d feel self-conscious about asking a judgmental or offended banker to assist me in ending my relationship with his or her organization, she instead had the air of someone who agreed with me in principle but was happy working for a company that wrote her regular paychecks.  And who could blame her?  Lord knows there are only so many credit union jobs available.

All in all, not a lot has changed in terms of my financial practices as far as my banking provider goes.  I can now confidently say that Chase’s massive size did not offer any advantage over banking with a smaller institution.  I can bank just as easily and conveniently, and with as much security, as I ever have…but now I can honestly feel like I’m using my money as direct leverage to make a statement.  It’s fun!  You should try it!

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8 Months In 800 Words

December 17th, 2011 No comments

Multnomah FallsA brief re-introduction to anyone who may happen to stumble across this blog 8 months after it ceased to update:

I live in Portland now! I’m a vegan now! I’ve re-saved all of the money I spent moving, but I’m confused as to how I should move forward with my financial goals…

Before I go off on that tangent, allow me to expand on each of these topics.

I live in Portland now!

Girlfriend and I moved at the end of June, each having landed jobs after pre-move interviews, and we’re finally starting to settle in.  (I’ve also begun writing in run-on sentences.)  To save money, we’re living with a friend (henceforth named Roommate) who moved out here from Chicago with us.  As a result of our tight-quartered living situation, Portland is cheaper than Chicago…but after our year lease is up, that will probably cease to be the case.

But – and stop me if you already knew this – Portland is beautiful and amazing.  There are trees everywhere, and there are mountains, and there are waterfalls, and there are city parks filled with nothing but undisturbed wildlife larger than the entire town I grew up in.  And people here are as absurdly friendly and kind and welcoming as every hyperbolic joke I’d ever heard about the laid-back vibe of Portland social circles.  Also, being a progressive city, Portland is very welcoming to the second thing I wanted to discuss:

I’m a vegan now!

I actually already was at the time of my previous post (I recently passed my vegan 9-month-iversary), but I probably wasn’t secure enough in my veganism to discuss it at that time.  The long discussion regarding my choice to go vegan involves a series of topics, including environmental concerns, health concerns, animal welfare concerns, globalization and industrialization concerns, and deep, introspective and autobiographical reflection regarding past experiences with conscientious meat-eating and the guilt associated with them.  But obviously, this is not really the place to discuss any of that.  The short explanation of my veganism is that I’ve become a bit of a radical leftist, and becoming vegan allows me to live up to several of these recently rediscovered and newly honed principles.  In addition to veganism, I’ve become an outspoken supporter of the opposition to major financial institutions that’s been cropping up internationally.  (OCCUPY NO-KILL FINANCE!)  And that leads me to my third point…

I’m conflicted as to how I should move forward with my financial goals.

As past readers will probably remember, I have always looked for banks in terms of weighing their interest rates against the level of convenience that they can offer me.  That is no longer the case.

I left ING Direct when they announced they were being purchased by Capital One.  Though ING was probably in and of itself a corporate monstrosity that had no noble goals as far as their uses for my money, I simply couldn’t stomach the thought of my money being even further diluted into an even larger and more inherently sinister pool of gambling funds for Wall Street executives.  So, I took my ING funds (emergency funds, car and vacation savings, etc.) and moved them to a local Portland credit union.  And, why the hell not, I took my checking account away from Chase, too.

But that’s only my cash.  What I’m concerned about is a far stickier subject because my newfound motivations lie in stark contrast to the advice of any and all financial advisors…I want to take my retirement savings out of the stock market entirely.

Now, I realize that Wall Street offers options for a bleeding-heart investor, but I take issue with all of them.  One social fund will cut out stocks of weapons manufacturers so as not to profit from the deaths of destitute Afghanis, but they’ll leave in stocks for food producers that promote diabetes in poor Americans.  Another fund will refuse to support oil manufacturers so as not to profit from pollution, but they’ll leave in agricultural megacorporations that use more fossil fuels than any other industry.  “Green” funds tout Wal-Mart as a heroic corporation for their decisions to use CFL bulbs and solar panels, but neglect the socioeconomic impact that Wal-Mart’s insidious business practices have had on rural America.

And, even if I were to find the perfect fund that matched all of my extremely specific and far-reaching requirements, the act of its being traded in the stock market would still benefit firms on Wall Street that are responsible for the unabashed buying out of the American political system on every level, which is really my pet concern.

But what is a boy to do?  Invest my retirement in a credit union account for 0.4% interest?  Keep it as cash under my mattress?  Give it all to charity and vow to die by 65?  No.  There aren’t really any options for a guy like me.  So for the time being I’ll keep everything where it is (Vanguard FTSE index fund) and keep looking around for different potential homes for my (still-meager) IRA.  Does anyone have any suggestions?  Is anyone even reading this?

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ING Sub-Accounts

April 4th, 2011 No comments

Have I ever told you about my savings accounts?

(God, isn’t that just the worst way to start a blog entry?  How many people do you think immediately clicked away after the first sentence?)

There are a lot of people who are extremely diligent about trying to find the best possible interest rate for their savings.  Websites like MoneyRates and BankRate will execute searches to find the highest offered savings interest on any given day (well, except maybe Sundays, since God allegedly doesn’t approve of interest payments).  The best rates are, without exception as far as I can tell, always from online banking institutions rather than brick-and-mortar banks, because without having to pay maintenance fees on, you know, bricks and mortar, online banks are able to pass their reduced overhead on to their customers.  So, that’s one route for housing some savings.

Another (less wise) method would be finding a convenient bank with which to keep your savings.  This, in my case, is the basis for my decision to keep my checking account with the much-detested Chase, which has a branch only three blocks from my house, not to mention the fact that they have, I believe, over 14 trillion ATMs in the city of Chicago alone.  But, even with my checking account conveniently housed in the vast vaults of J.P. Morgan’s ghost (who is still the acting CEO in spite of his somewhat ethereal behavior), I’m not dumb enough to overlook the fact that Chase only pays 0.01% annual interest on a savings account.

I found a happy medium, opting not for the best interest, nor for the most convenient bank I could find.  Instead, I went for the one with the coolest online features.  (This is typical of me; I like innovation, creativity, bells, and sometimes whistles.)  The winner:  ING Direct, home of the ingenious sub-account.

Now, to summarize:  I only have one savings account with ING, but it’s partitioned into six different, separately titled sub-accounts, each of which can be directed using their “automated savings program” to conduct transactions among themselves or with non-ING accounts.  So, when my paycheck arrives in my checking account every other week, I’m technically just transferring a chunk of it to my ING account…but what I’m really doing is transferring a mini-chunk to my emergency savings, a mini-chunk to my vacation savings, a mini-chunk to my “big ticket” fund (which will be spent in its entirety on our upcoming move…so long, big screen TV dreams), and so on.

ING also has a vast array of features intended to create a sort of culture (cult?) of savers…a blog about saving, a section for personal testimonials, tips for frugality.  It’s sort of a cool little corner of the banking world.  What’s more, ING as a company discourages people from keeping too much money with them.  That is, if someone is housing hundreds of thousands of dollars with them, they are apparently polite enough to suggest that that person pursue one of the plethora of possible ways to make more than [today’s current rate of] 1.00% interest for everything besides their rainy-day funds and other smaller accounts.

Now, I have no beef with people who want to seek out higher interest rates.  But, with rates changing every day and banks constantly competing with one another, it seems more important to me to find a trustworthy, comfortable, and well-designed place for your money.  ING’s sub-accounts are all I need to make me a loyal and long-term customer.  And also sort of a fanboy.  And also, apparently a shill.  Oh well.

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Lease Renewal Blues

March 30th, 2011 No comments

This week, we received under our front door a lease renewal offer from our landlord.  While Girlfriend and I haven’t discussed it at any length, I think we’re both equally depressed about the fact that we’re not able to just simply sign the agreement and slip it back under his door.

We’re moving to Oregon in July, after all, and the agreement on the renewal is for the next year:  far longer than we plan to stay.  We’re going to have to call him and break the bad news, as much as we’ve enjoyed being his tenants.  Plus – as though our shared temptation to stay in Chicago weren’t already palpable with the prospect of leaving behind good friends, steady jobs, and a city that’s been home to each of us for most of our adult lives –  the landlord is willing to keep us as tenants with no increase in rent.  (I know, given the real estate crisis and the lapsed economy, it would be unreasonable for our rent to go up, but I’ve still never lived in an apartment that didn’t get significantly more expensive with each new lease.  It’s making the stress of moving much more difficult to cope with.)

This place has been better to me than any I’ve had before.  While Girlfriend’s decorating is probably largely to credit for this fact, I’ve never felt as at home in an apartment as I do here.  The size, the layout, the copious natural light in the spring and fall, shaded in the summer by the beautiful trees outside our living room…it’s so ideal for our needs at such a reasonable [north-side Chicago] price that I’m afraid our standards might be unrealistically high when we go apartment hunting in Portland.

The concept of “home” is an interesting one.  A common topic of conversation among me and my fellow transplant friends is whether or not Chicago has become “home” to us.  I don’t know if I truly felt at home in this city until I’d lived alone for a couple of years in the same building…even then, though, I’m not sure the apartment itself felt like much more than a place to store my stuff and lay my head.

“Home” is something more than that, though I can’t pinpoint what, exactly.  In practice, it’s the difference between the sort of sleep I get in the bed Girlfriend and I currently share and the sort of sleep I’ve gotten in the several other beds I’ve had over my last nine years as a Chicagoan; it’s the difference between the way I used to be oblivious to the mess in previous apartments and how I now apologize to guests for even tiny amounts of clutter in this one; it’s the way I used to pile newly acquired junk wherever I had empty floor space, and now try to plan where something will fit best in the overall “look and feel” of the apartment before I even buy it.

I used to get stir-crazy (and I mean stir-crazy) when I stayed cooped up in my apartment all day.  I’d get paranoid and angry, and I’d be awkward around the first people I saw after my isolation, like I’d been out in the wild for months and turned feral.  Now, staying home for a day has more of a restorative effect.  It’s just recently become something I look forward to.  Maybe this has something to do with my newfound motivation to better myself (rather than to spend a day off playing video games and eating Doritos), or maybe it’s just part of continuing to grow up, but I can’t help but think that the apartment has had something to do with it.

So, I guess this entry has nothing to do with finances apart from the fact that paying the same rent for another year is almost sufficient motivation to make me want to put off our move…though not quite enough.  But getting the lease renewal has certainly triggered some preemptive mourning for the loss of an apartment that has so far been the backdrop to 15 of the best months of my life.  While I hope to remember it fondly after we go, I hope even more that we’re able to find something comparably great when we get there.  Maybe (final sappy thought) Girlfriend and I can be this happy wherever we end up because the reason this home feels so “home”y is the fact that Girlfriend and I are here together?

Ugh.  Sorry.  I’ll stop writing until I have this sentimentality under control.  (Expect, as compensation, dry phrases like “brokerage firm” and “reinvestment of dividends” to appear in tomorrow’s entry.  Oh, and numbers.  Lots of numbers.)

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Coping With Loss…of Worthless Stuff

March 29th, 2011 No comments

Remember my quest to get rid of 1 item per day?  Well, I’m massively ahead of schedule for that.  In fact, I have so much stuff to get rid of that I don’t really even know where to begin.  The problem, though, is that I therefore keep not beginning.

Did I pick out 50 or so books to get rid of?  Why yes, I did.  Do I have twenty movies to sell?  I sure do!  And what about that fabled music collection?  Cut in half and ready to go!  But these piles of things, all stacked and just waiting to make me some money, don’t seem to be moving themselves.  And perhaps, just perhaps, that’s my fault.

I have a massive pile of CDs that I’m planning on getting rid of.  (Right after I burn them all to my hard drive.)  I have a tower of DVDs that I don’t care to move cross-country.  (But shouldn’t I at least watch each of them one last time before they go?)  And there are certainly a plethora books that I’d love to get rid of to top off that pile of 50-or-so.  (But maybe I should give them a quick read first…after all, I spent money on each of them.)

What I’m facing is a serious case of separation anxiety.  I’m grounded enough to know that, once these things are gone, I’ll quickly forget I ever even had them.  But getting to that point seems to be increasingly impossible for me.

Take the CDs:  It’s getting to the point where, if I don’t average 10 rippings a day, I might not even be able to put them all on my computer before we’re packing boxes.  And in addition to that, do I really want to eat up the entirety of my hard drive with music just so I can avoid packing an extra 15-pound box to move?  And all the time and energy of converting them to digital form just so I can hope to make, what, 20 cents per CD? at a record store…it seems less and less worth it with every disc I put into the computer.

Maybe what I need is a cut-and-run approach.  Treat my material possessions with the respect they deserve:  get drunk, pack up everything that drunk-Justin thinks is worth getting rid of (drunk-Justin is a fan of simplifying sober-Justin’s life as much as possible), and have someone take it away for me before I have a chance to wake up the next morning and reopen the boxes to second-guess myself.  My books, movies, and CDs, after all, have not treated me with any more respect than that…luring me in with their promise of entertainment, education, and cultural exposure, only to cost me thousands of dollars and square foot upon square foot of shelf space.  They should be ashamed of themselves.

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Letter of Complaint to Chase

March 14th, 2011 No comments

Being a man of strong principles, it surprises me that I’ve not yet composed a letter of complaint to the people of JP Morgan Chase.  Not only have I been repulsed by their seemingly indifferent attitude toward me as a customer, their greedy manipulation of people who don’t have the financial understanding to realize they’re being taken advantage of, and their general disregard for every person in the nation and world who is not an executive at JP Morgan Chase…but I’ve also been annoyed with myself for not speaking and acting out on these principles or any others that I happen to carry with me (e.g. animal rights, civil rights, labor rights).

So, of all the issues to get me writing, the scales have finally been tipped by Chase’s junk-mail practices.  What follows is a rough draft of my thoughts.  Feel free to offer any edits you’d like.

To Whom It May Concern,

I’m writing in broad response to your semi-monthly mailings of information about business card printing, your monthly mailings of credit balance transfer checks, your bimonthly mailings of offers for business and premium credit cards, and all other similar items I’ve found in each of my mailboxes in the six years since I became your customer.

First, understand that I don’t need any business cards printed, much as I didn’t when you first started offering that service several years ago (hence my failure to respond to your first advertisement, second advertisement, third…); also, note that I have not utilized any of the over 100 balance transfer checks you have mailed me–not three years ago when my credit card was maxed out, and not now when I carry virtually no balance; also, note that I do not own a business, and therefore could not open a business credit account even if I wanted to; also, note that, while your premium credit cards are quite impressive in appearance and reputation, I recently tried to extend my line of credit with you and was rejected on account of my low annual income, so it seems difficult to believe that I’m even eligible for such a card.

Now, you deserve to know something before I explicitly state my complaint and request:  I don’t like being your customer.  I’ve been on the verge of leaving Chase in favor of a locally-run credit union for a long time now on account of not only your business practices but also on account of the structure of the corporate banking system as a whole.  While I find your plethora of ATM locations convenient, I find the number of Chase branches in my city to be an excessive waste of real-estate and energy at the least; while I enjoy taking advantage of your online banking system, I think every time I use it about how I might instead be interacting with a friendly teller at a local establishment (and contributing somewhat directly to their paychecks rather than to your bosses’ already bloated bankrolls).  So, with any small motivation at any time, I might decide to take my money somewhere a bit friendlier to my community.

My complaint and request are one and the same:  please stop sending me paper mail.  I love the planet and I hate debt; I’m not going to use any of your unsolicited credit card applications or balance transfer checks.  Nor am I going to ask you to print my business cards for me, nor am I going to do anything besides send your mailings straight through my shredder, usually without anything more than a cursory glance.  When you told me I could opt to receive statements and notifications by e-mail, I had visions of a paper-free banking experience.  Now, several trees’ worth of wasted junk mail later, an ultimatum:

I’m planning on relocating soon, to a city which, conveniently, also has a multitude of Chase banks and ATMs.  The quantity of junk mail I receive between now and the month of my relocation will likely be the deciding factor as to whether or not I relocate my finances as well.  I hope my six years as your customer will give me enough sway to justify this small request.

Thank You,

Justin

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