B of A – I Told You So! (And other ways to beat your bank)

In a column last month I talked about why I approved of Bank of America’s lame effort to ignore the “Occupy” tide across the country and charge five bucks for customers to use their debit cards each month. I liked B of A’s – and the test market versions of other big banks – policy because I was sure that it would drive many customers away from the sociopathic corporations that played such a big part in bringing our country to its financial knees when they dealt in questionable financial instruments. Generally speaking, local banks and credit unions offer lower rates for most services.
In an Associated Press article, reporter Ben Nuckols relates the story of how a young woman, Molly Katchpole,  who was upset by Bank of America’s new policy, initiated a petition on Change.org, a nonpartisan web site that facilitates launching of campaigns on any topic. 300,000 signatures later B of A canceled its plans to charge the five dollar fee. Did the petition cause the change of policy? Maybe. Was it the fact that other banks like Wells Fargo and Sun Trust scotched their debit fee plans? Could be.
Or was it this fact? In 2010, approximately 600,000 people joined credit unions. In just the month of October 2011, an astonishing 650,000 people enrolled as credit union members, according to the Credit Union National Association as referenced in yesterday’s San Jose Mercury News.
When the big boy banks let it be known that customers would have to pay extra to access their own money, the banks were daring their customers to take their business elsewhere. It seems like a lot more than just a coincidence that customers left in droves. Consumers double-dared ‘em right back.
Whether you bank at a community bank, credit union, or at one of the big boys, here are some ways to lower your costs. If you pay off your credit cards in full each month, get a card with a cash-back or travel rewards benefit. Shop around – there all kinds of good deals for those with good credit.
If you rarely make an overdraft but goof once in a very blue moon, ask the bank to refund your overdraft charge. Find a bank – or ask your current one – to give you free overdraft protection, giving you a day to cover the boo-boo upon notice.
Use checks that make carbon copies so you won’t have to ask the bank to sell you a copy if you mess up your register.
Choose an account that has a low or zero minimum balance so that you don’t get hit with a fee.
When it comes to ATMs, choose an institution that does not charge for using ATMs at other banks in their network. On a recent trip to New York City I was able to use an ATM, without paying a fee, in a McDonald’s that belonged to a credit union on the same network as my California credit union,. Some financial institutions will reimburse you if you have to use another bank’s ATM.
(Footnote – Anyone who refers to an ATM “machine” should be reported to the FBI of Investigation).
For lots of good banking information, check out www.bankrate.com.