A Better Bank?
March 4, 2011 1:51 PM   Subscribe

Wachovia is becoming Wells Fargo. Should I stay or should I go?

I've got a simple Wachovia checking account with debit card, linked with a fairly modest savings account. I'm not wild about Wells Fargo (not even sure why!) and have a week to decide whether to participate in the "conversion". I don't need anything fancy but I do like points for purchases, natch. Wells Fargo points are mediocre so that's one factor but ... what's the best place for my day to day money-minding? Is online banking right for me? I have direct deposit, if it matters. Again, pretty straight up!
posted by thinkpiece to Work & Money (28 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My first bank account (started when I was 9 with a sandwich baggie full of coins and birthday checks!) was with Wachovia. When I moved to Chicago several years ago the most convenient bank to me was Citibank, but I kept my Wachovia account in my hometown (where there were no Citibanks) so I could get an emergency money transfer from my parents if needed.

And then, as we all know, Wachovia got pwned.

Wells Fargo decided to welcome me into their fold by dinging me with fees left and right. I didn't have enough money in the account (not my primary account) and they were not flexible about changing that. They started charging me for having a checking account in addition to the savings account. The online banking system stopped working. It's probably fine now, but there were several grar-inducing months where I couldn't access anything online and had to call them every time something went wrong.

I finally went in (in person) last year and just closed it for good. They didn't even try to keep me. The woman I spoke with even said, "yeah, we're kind of crappy now, aren't we?"

So I'd find someplace else if I were you. For what it's worth, I really like Citibank. I'm not doing anything fancy, but I think their online banking system is really good and intuitive. And I've always had good experiences calling their customer service when needed (real people!). They have something called ThankYou Points as their rewards system; I seem to have accrued a lot of them, but I've never tried to redeem them.
posted by phunniemee at 2:00 PM on March 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Have you considered the benefits of a credit union? They're pretty awesome, if your banking needs are primarily local.
posted by Ys at 2:04 PM on March 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

Is there a credit union you qualify for? Bet there is. Most credit unions have strong online banking, and fairly humane policies.

I would search around.
posted by Danf at 2:05 PM on March 4, 2011

I switched to a local credit union (from Wells Fargo) several years ago. Just about everything is better: better interest rates, both on savings and personal loans, much better, personalized customer service, and no fees. Online banking and free bill pay are much more streamlined, too. I will never go back to another commercial bank.
posted by halogen at 2:19 PM on March 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Wells Fargo is straight-up evil. I hate to say it because it's local and old but they are a racist, poor-people gouging bank, even among its peers, which is really saying something.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:20 PM on March 4, 2011

If you aren't eligible for a credit union, shop around your local community banks. For about a year, mine paid a spectacular interest rate on my checking account, and even now, I'm thrilled with the close attention and customer service. And since they reimburse all ATM fees, I have access to more ATMs than I would with Bank of America or some such other Mega Bank.
posted by litnerd at 2:21 PM on March 4, 2011

USAA is an awesome online bank that used to be open only to the military and their family members but recently opened enrollment. They refund ATM transaction fees (up to $10 a month, I think), offer interest bearing checking accounts with no minimums, no monthly fees, postage-paid deposit envelopes, great interest rates on credit cards, really everything I've used them for has been fantastic. Just about everyone should be either using a local credit union or USAA, big banks are just terrible.
posted by skewed at 2:26 PM on March 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

I was once a banker with Wells. Here are some pros and cons. If all of that is too much to deal with I suggest M&I, a local bank or credit union. If points is really your goal US Bank has the best credit and debit card points program as determined by points per dollar spent, and redemption value per point. Hope this helps!

About Wells Fargo:
1) If you are the type of person who rarely walks into a branch and pretty much does all your banking at the ATM or online you'll be happy. Great online interface and customer support. They tend to have a lot of convenient ATM locations too.

2) If you like face to face contact with your teller, banker, mtg broker, etc... go elsewhere. The branches are simply a place to sell you stuff. Avoid them at all costs.

3) If you do any trading or would like to do trading, WF offers 100 free trades per year and a great online interface called Wells-Trade. You must have a combined 25k in assets and loans with WF to qualify.

3) The day to day: WF is very pushy about packing your accounts. It's like fast food value meals. The more accounts you have tied together the less likely it is you will move any portion of your business elsewhere. So,
a. If you already want to have checking, savings, credit card, debit card, and direct deposit your accounts will be free. They won't pay you much interest, but no bank will right now.
b. If you don't have savings, and don't want it... go elsewhere. It'll be hard to keep your banking free.
c. Pay attention to the options. I know I just told you to stay away from the branch, but you should go in once. Ask for the banker that has been there the longest. Let them explain your package options. There are a million different ways to get keep your checking free and wave minimum balance requirements. Things to look for:
i. Monthly Transfers: Setting up a monthly xfer from one account to another usually waves any potential fees. You can always go online schedule a regular xfer that simply returns the money to the original account.
ii. Direct Deposit: This usually waves the minimum balance requirementin checking accounts.
iii. Overdraft protection: They are all horrible if you use them, but setting them up is free (accept a line of credit) and generally waves all minimum requirements and fees. Just don't OD and you'll be ok.

Good luck.
posted by J-DeZoet at 2:27 PM on March 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Stay away from the big banks! Find a small bank in the SUM network and walk away from the crowd that destroyed the world's economy. Vote with your money.

Full disclosure- my job supports community banks and credit unions so I have stake in keeping small banks around. I spent too many years with the behemoths and I'll be doing penance for years.
posted by JohntheContrarian at 2:28 PM on March 4, 2011

I'm with Wells Fargo right now for checking. Mostly I picked them because most of my bank dealings are getting money out of the ATM or having my paycheck direct-deposited, and they have a lot of ATMs that I walk past regularly.

As J-DeZoet pointed out, they'll try to push you on having more accounts. Somehow I ended up with two accounts with them, a checking account and a savings account; if I remember correctly the reason I don't pay a fee is because I have some money transferred directly from my checking account into my savings account every month. (My paycheck actually gets direct deposited into a different account, at my old bank, because I had to set up direct deposit with my employer before I had this bank account.) This is a small inconvenience, but only a small one, because you can withdraw money from savings at an ATM. (I keep my actual savings with ING.)

They also begged me to apply for a credit card with them when I signed up with the checking, and then denied me; the letter denying me specifically said I hadn't had a relationship with them long enough. This was in August of 2010. In January of 2011 or so I got a pre-approved credit card offer from them in the mail.
posted by madcaptenor at 2:37 PM on March 4, 2011

Since I see you're in NYC: I started banking with the then-Commerce Bank over 20 years back when they had half a dozen branches in South Jersey and while they've been taken over by TD, so far Commerce's excellent customer service has remained intact. They've got evening and weekend hours, coin changing, compensation for ATM fees, etc.
posted by JaredSeth at 2:42 PM on March 4, 2011

I, and many I know, have had bad experience with Wells Fargo. I don't know what Wachovia did, but I know WF usually holds deposits for a couple days before funds become available. I belong to two credit unions and they're much more reasonable about fees and also make deposits available immediately.
posted by elpea at 2:45 PM on March 4, 2011

skewed may not be right about USAA being open to all, they have restrictions for banking accounts.

I've been with Wells Fargo for years, and have found them OK. Not as good as a credit union, but comparable with other big banks (I've found WF to be a lot better than Bank of America.) Where WF beat at least our local credit unions is in handling overseas transfers.
posted by anadem at 2:52 PM on March 4, 2011

I'm looking at local options to make the switch now that my area is undergoing the Wachovia/Wells Fargo conversion. I loved Wachovia (all the more so when I had friends who worked at the branch I frequent) but I've heard of people getting screwed over royal by Wells Fargo, and I'm not sticking around to experience it firsthand.
posted by Anima Mundi at 2:53 PM on March 4, 2011

I've banked for many years with Wachovia (starting with First Union, before it was acquired by Wach). The comments in this thread are depressing! Is it not possible that our terms with Wachovia will be grandfathered in to the new WF accounts?

I've found Wachovia's customer service, in branch and on the phone, to be exceptionally friendly and helpful. If WF if maintaining the same staff, I'd hate to abandon them (but I certainly will, if fees go up).
posted by torticat at 3:02 PM on March 4, 2011

Regardless of the benefits of other banking options vs. Wells Fargo -- don't stick around, or at least close your account and reopen it at the "new" institution. Banks seem to be really bad at transitioning customers from other banks they've acquired. If your experience is anything like mine (at Sovereign), you'll end us fighting with them for years about stupid things like your mailing address because you get caught in too many legacy systems that aren't properly integrated.
posted by cranberry_nut at 3:07 PM on March 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

WF was completely unable to deal with an international debit-card problem. Every day for a couple months I'd get hit with 10-20 under $5 international fraudulent transactions. Every time, I'd have to go in with my spreadsheet and dispute each one.

This was after the card was canceled! Every time I had to fill out an insulting report, transparently looking for a reason to give me back my money. "Did you give your number to someone and authorize them to use it?" Blah blah blah. The damn card was canceled, why should I have to do this? Answer, I shouldn't

Finally, I simply moved to a credit union. I had, and have no trust that WF give a crap about me or any other small customer.

I bet the card is still being dinged, daily, years later. Good, I hope it costs them, it was completely out of line what they put me through.
posted by Invoke at 3:21 PM on March 4, 2011

I've been with WF for 5 years with a savings and checking account, and never had an issue with extra accounts pushed on me and I go in about once every 2 months. I may have been asked about a credit card once, and I asked not be asked again and I haven't.
When I opened an account, a financial manager sat down with me and did try to get me to open an retirement fund with them but a) the consult was free and b) of course they're gonna push me to open an IRA with them when I'm talking about retirement.

So ya, I've never had any problem with WF.
posted by jmd82 at 3:27 PM on March 4, 2011

I know someone who worked there and loved it. But that was the proper Banking side of the name brand, not the mortgage broker, credit card, shaft the poor side.

Why not stick around and see what happens?
posted by gjc at 3:41 PM on March 4, 2011

I'm the power of attorney for my elderly uncle who has an account at Wachovia. Now, there is an element of tortuous bureaucracy involved in using a power of attorney with most institutions -- banks, brokerage houses, nursing homes, Medicare, etc. and so on. I can report, however, that, of all the financial institutions I have dealt with as a POA for either my uncle or his sister, my mother, (and, yes, I've got two old people "customers"), Wachovia was so EASY and EFFICIENT they almost left me speechless, and I can assure you, I am never speechless.

So what I'm planning to do is see what happens and see what, if anything, changes after Wells Fargo asserts itself more than it has already. Maybe they won't screw things up too much.

...and the last thing I want to have to do is do the POA dance with a new bank, so I'm hoping.
posted by cool breeze at 3:43 PM on March 4, 2011

My smaller bank (Norwest) was bought by Wells Fargo in the 90s. I didn't like it, but at the time I was too lazy to move my accounts elsewhere. Since then, I've gotten to the point where I do all of my banking and bill paying online, and I have to say, WF kicks ass in that department compared to other banks where I've had accounts.

For a few years in the mid-00s, I thought about switching to a credit union -- something that appealed more to my lefty leanings. But I realized that would be pretty hard since I had so many automatic payments (mortgage, utilities, student loans, etc.) set up through WF and untangling from them seemed impossible. Just what they wanted, I suppose, but I honestly have no complaints other than a general sense that WF is "evil."
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 3:50 PM on March 4, 2011

Some of their evil is predatory lending, racist loan policies and overdraft and other fees even more extortionist than their competitors'.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:11 PM on March 4, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks, gang, this is exactly what I need. I'll be researching and deciding this weekend. Right now I'm leaning to opting out of WF -- I'm voting with my wallet more and more on everything and this seems big and critical.
posted by thinkpiece at 4:49 PM on March 4, 2011

Best answer: I just had my last day at WF this last Monday! =) I was a Branch Manager with Wachovia and went through the merger to WF last March.

J-DeZoet has it right - WF is all about selling and Wachovia was all about service. WF is trying really hard to adopt the service that Wachovia mastered, but sales is a terrible beast and they're just not doing a great job at balancing the two.

However! I have an account at WF that I intend to keep simply because of the convenience factor - ATMs everywhere, robust online banking and billpay systems, etc.

Depending on which type of account you have at Wachovia, you're probably being grandfathered in without any issues ... a "free checking" with Wachovia was just renamed to "essential checking" but it basically free. If you keep it, you'll keep all the free bits of it without the requirements that WF has (i.e., the "packages" that J-DeZoet referred to).

Most of the big banks are changing their accounts to compensate for the lack of income based on regulation changes (overdraft protection, etc.) so if you don't go to a small bank or credit union, you're likely to have requirements for your new account that you never had. For instance, a checking/savings package with minimum monthly $ transfers or minimum direct deposit requirements, etc.

My recommendation is that you retain your accounts and see how things go post-merger. That doesn't preclude you from researching new places or even opening accounts at other banks to test them out, but once you get rid of your WF account, you will lose whatever grandfather features you have.

Feel free to memail me separately and I can provide you exact insight on your situation if you tell me the specific types of accounts you have.

posted by cyniczny at 7:04 PM on March 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Banks exist to make money for their shareholders at the expense of their customers.

In a credit union, the customers are the shareholders.

Which organizational form do you think is going to work better for its customers?
posted by flabdablet at 8:18 PM on March 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

skewed may not be right about USAA being open to all, they have restrictions for banking accounts.

Yeah, I should have been more specific about that. Actually, USAA banking is open to everyone, but not all USAA services are, the criteria you linked to are for full membership. The big ticket item not available is car insurance, unfortunately. However, the banking is open, I just helped a friend sign up for it, she had no connections and started up an account.
posted by skewed at 8:26 PM on March 4, 2011

I've been a WF customer for 15 years. I also have an account at Chase. I rarely go into a bank and do everything online. I like WF's website more than Chase's. However their iPhone app doesn't allow you to deposit but Chase's does. YMMV
posted by radioamy at 3:55 PM on March 5, 2011

My mum has had accounts with WF for a minimum of 30 years. There have been ups and downs, but all financial institutions will have those. I recall one instance in the last couple years where they royally fucked up, but they scrambled to fix it and, of course, waived/paid all fees incurred. The last few years she's shifted to online banking and loves it.

In short, I'm with cyniczny - hold tight for a while and see how it goes. You can always move later.

PS: I'm in Canada and use a Credit Union; I like them and have had no issues with them.
posted by deborah at 4:40 PM on March 5, 2011

« Older channeling tracy jordan   |   more amelie and antonia's line, please? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.