Josh Harkinson writes: Looking back on my 10 years with Wells Fargo, I’ll always remember the time that a banker gave my 18-month-old son a stuffed horse. After my son gleefully embraced it—”Horsie!”—I was told that taking it home would require signing up for a second checking account that I didn’t need. Not to worry, the friendly banker explained: He’d cancel the new account a few weeks later. I thanked him and went home feeling glad to know the guy.
The following month, my wife and I suddenly ran out of money, which seemed impossible given that I’d recently deposited a check. Wells Fargo’s hefty overdraft fees kicked in. I was freaking out, thinking somebody had gone on a shopping spree with our debit card number—until I realized that the check had somehow ended up in the still-active horsie account.
Enter Bank Transfer Day, the Occupy-associated campaign to get people to move their money from large banks into small community credit unions. According to their main trade association, credit unions have signed up 650,000 new customers since the concept was announced on September 29—double their normal rate. But if credit unions really are so much better than big banks, why haven’t even more people switched over? Did the activists know something I didn’t—or were credit unions just peddling their own version of the free horsie?
“This is probably the worst bank on the planet,” a Yelp reviewer writes about the credit union near my apartment, which averages a mediocre three stars. But after reading more, I got a sense that not all credit unions are the same. The San Francisco Fire Credit Union, which supports firefighters but is open to all San Franciscans, averages a perfect five Yelp stars. One Yelper gushes, “I am in love.”