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The Final Withdrawal: Leaving My Corporate Bank Behind

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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