Goodbye, Wells Fargo; hello, credit union

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.”

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2 thoughts on “Goodbye, Wells Fargo; hello, credit union

  1. Norman

    The greed of the banksters knows no bounds. I suppose that the “O” will campaign that he will work to break up the T.B.T.F. after he’s reelected, so vote for him! There is not going to be any changes until the revolution takes place in this country. Changing ones account from the big banks to smaller ones is a start, but unless the defectors swell into the millions, it won’t change a thing, except that they will charge more for what they don’t do.

  2. Christopher Hoare

    I’m absolutely amazed how few people know enough to switch to credit unions to avoid being ripped off by the banks. Talk about asleep at the switch. I have to wonder if they like being cheated. While the US has a record of poorly run loan shops, here in Canada their customers are protected up to $100,000, and problems are almost non-existent.

    About 40 years ago I switched from a chartered bank (Bank of Montreal) to a rather unique institution called the Alberta Treasury Branch, that had been started in the 30s (I think) by what was then an eccentric populist political party called Social Credit that had formed the government for about 40 years. (They were gradually corrupted into a centre-right boondoggle.) The ATB was very like a credit union in it’s manner of operating —at that time. When I worked for Shell Canada I joined their employees credit union which was A1, so when the rightwing Alberta government made noises about privatizing the ATB I switched to the local credit union (I had been out of Shell for years then).

    ATB is still a fair dealer with our loans (the Tories gave up on the privatize idea when all their farmer supporters rebelled) (my wife kept the ATB account as her own) and the credit union, that I use for savings, debit card, and bill paying mostly, provides all the free services mentioned in the Mother Jones article. I would certainly advise everyone to check their all local credit unions before doing any business with a bank. Try it—you’ll like it.

    Now…if only I could get rid of the bank-owned credit card (no matter whose name is on it) and ditch PayPal for joining the attack on Wikileaks, the world would be a much better place.

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