Help me choose a new bank.
June 18, 2005 12:40 AM   Subscribe

Do you like your bank?

I have been using Citibank for several years and have found there service to be excellent. Until I did some travelling recently and the company gave me countless troubles trying to gain access to my money (not to mention a few customer service representatives with a condescending attitude). Regardless, I'd like to kick them to the curb and would like some advice about which bank to select next. Which bank do you use and why? Thanks!
posted by ebeeb to Work & Money (33 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
My love for Compass Bank venges on the gay, and if there is a branch in your area I would recommend you give it a look. Details may vary, but the basic deal is free checking without a direct deposit, reimbursment for any ATM that charges you a fee,helpful and genial customer service, and free snacks and tea in the branch on most days.
posted by moift at 1:15 AM on June 18, 2005

I use a credit union and I love it. The difference from my bank was like night and day.

- No fees for almost everything. (mediocre interest rate on savings)
- Send them an email, and within a few hours, whatever I asked for is done - up to an including major changes to account or new accounts.
- Online banking so complete I've gone years without othering to go to a branch.
- coin/change machine in lobby that takes your jars or coins, converts them to useful currency, again without fee.
- No fees for using credit card internationally, yet exchange rate is excellant. A better rate than converting currency, and far less hassle.

This list is only part of it. Screw the banks, move to a credit union ASAP.
posted by -harlequin- at 1:52 AM on June 18, 2005

Credit Unions really do care about their customers. They have to.

I see you're in the States now, but for the benefit of other MeFites who wander to this thread, I've been with a number of Canadian banks and here's what I've thought:

CIBC: crap. bad service. I finally got tired of their shiat, despite having an account there since the age of 8.

Royal Bank: fantastic service. only left them to consolidate with my investment account.

Toronto Dominion: so-so. bloody awful in Vancouver. alright in Winnipeg, Toronto, and Ottawa. Good in-house investment accounts. moderately helpful.
posted by dreamsign at 2:03 AM on June 18, 2005

Credit unions are where it's at. I've found that for a specific set of international services, HSBC Bank USA has been helpful as well, and doesn't suck, but doesn't rock like my credit union either.
posted by grouse at 2:10 AM on June 18, 2005

My credit union kind of sucks. I'm a member there because it used to have a branch in my place of employment (it's now across the street) and I'm too lazy to change. With that said, my credit union:
    Doesn't count coins Has the worst mortgage/auto loan rates Pays truly tiny amounts of interest on CDs
I'm sort of idly thinking of switching to a real bank.
posted by fixedgear at 2:51 AM on June 18, 2005

Every bank that I liked eventually got eaten by a bigger bank, with lousy fees and such. I am happy with the credit union I now use. It pays roughly double what the megabank pays in interest.

Credit unions are much more likely to try and make you happy. If a bank has better CD rates or whatever, go to them for that, but I would not put my savings or checking in a bank again.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:17 AM on June 18, 2005

The reason why credit unions aren't really on the radar is because a lot of them went under in droves during the 80s and early 90s, and because most weren't underwritten by FDIC (which is one of the major reasons their costs, and hence their charges, were lower) they took their customers down with them. The situation hasn't really changed since then, but credit unions are enjoying a bit of a resurgence as the new generation is unaware of previous disasters. If you go with a credit union, pick one that's FDIC-insured (either directly or through a parent bank.)
posted by randomstriker at 4:19 AM on June 18, 2005

OK, so it sounds like nobody is really voting for an actual bank here. Can you be more specific about why a credit union is better? How exactly would I go about finding a credit union that is trustworthy/FDIC insured?
posted by ebeeb at 5:10 AM on June 18, 2005

had exactly the same problems with citibank. they are way too paranoid/inflexible. still have 5000 UKP of mine that i need to extract from them, but know it's going to be days of fighting on the phone, faxes, phone calls, delays, etc. etc.

in chile, bank of chile and bci (spanish) are ok; in the uk the coop bank and the yorkshire bank are excellent. but i guess you are in the states?
posted by andrew cooke at 5:13 AM on June 18, 2005

Yep, sorry about that. I am travelling now -- was living in Australia for a bit, now am in Japan, will be heading back to the States, probably for San Francisco or Chicago.
posted by ebeeb at 5:18 AM on June 18, 2005

I love my bank (Commerce Bank) so much that I'm sleeping with one of the tellers. :) Around here (central PA), they are at the forefront of bringing retail-style customer service and convenience to banking; they were among the first in this area to popularize things like fee-free debit cards, Sunday and evening branch hours, free checking, and free coin counting. All of the other banks seem to be following their lead.

I switched from my old bank several years ago when they wanted to charge higher monthly fees on most checking accounts, and in that time, my former bank has been sold at least three times with as many name changes.
posted by MegoSteve at 5:37 AM on June 18, 2005

Wachovia is waking up to how Commerce Bank does business. I am new to them. They are awesome as far as a big bank goes. I would use Commerce if there were branches here, but alas not.
posted by nj_subgenius at 5:48 AM on June 18, 2005

posted by nj_subgenius at 5:48 AM on June 18, 2005

randomstriker's post is just incorrect. There are no credit unions that are FDIC-insured. FDIC insurance is just for banks and thrifts. But federal credit unions are required to use the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund, which is backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government. It is indistinguishable from the FDIC from a consumer's point of view.

Federal credit unions also do not have a "parent bank"—they are independently chartered by the National Credit Union Administration. Similarly I think his stories of widespread credit union failure might result from confusion with the S&L scandal which did not involve credit unions, and in which ordinary consumers did not lose money.

Can you be more specific about why a credit union is better?

Credit unions are non-profit institutions controlled by their membership (i.e. the customers) on a one-member-per-vote basis. Their primary goals are the best interests of the membership. They don't need to make profits so they can offer lower fees and better service. You can expect a credit union board of directors to be as pissed about bad service as a bank board would be about poor profits, so the staff have a strong motivation to keep things running well.

How exactly would I go about finding a credit union that is trustworthy/FDIC insured?

If you see the words "federal credit union" and the letters "NCUA" then your credit union deposits are insured up to $100,000 by the U.S. government, just like deposits at a commercial bank.
posted by grouse at 6:12 AM on June 18, 2005

Local savings banks, like credit unions, have to work hard to keep customers and can be more flexible than the horrible mega-banks. I've used a few but currently use Flushing Savings Bank here in NYC and have found them responsive, cheap, they have good hours (for me) etc.

Commerce Bank have a good reputation - I keep hearing how happy people are with them.
posted by dublinemma at 6:18 AM on June 18, 2005

I was an account holder with a large bank (US Bank) for eighteen years, kind of by default. They had a big table at college registration, and I picked them out of several other banks.

I hated them.

For years they screwed me over with their policies. I once went in to ask to switch to a new checking account (mine had a $7/mo service fee), and they said I couldn't. This is but one example. Yet, I stuck with them out of inertia.

Yesterday, I closed my account with US Bank. "What if we switched you to a no-fee checking account," asked the fellow who closed the account for me. This just made me more steamed. Why was it possible to do this now, but not before?

I spent weeks researching the small local banks and credit unions. I phoned several and spoke with the bank managers, asking them questions. Most of the banks seemed to have the same policies, many of which were the same as US Bank. The credit unions also had similar policies (to each other), but a much different philosophy from the banks.

I think that credit unions have the advantage in customer service, fees, and institutional philosophy (they're in it for you). I think banks have the advantage in convenience and array of services. I'm going to have to go a few minutes out of my way every time I need to use my credit union. It used to be that this would bother me. It doesn't any more. I'd rather spend a few minutes each month to support a local co-op than to sell my sould to the convenience of a large corporation.

That said, if First Horizon (a bank based in Tennessee) had a branch in Oregon, or even a way to use its services without charge, I'd probably go with them. Thery picked up our mortgage last year, and then we opened a checking account with them (it's an account we've designated for home-related expenses like remodels, etc.). They're currently offering three percent interest on checking accounts. WTF? They've always had amazing customers service when I've called or e-mailed. But, alas, we have to mail all of our deposits, which makes us a little nervous, and which just would not work for a personal bank account.

Good luck in your search.
posted by jdroth at 6:50 AM on June 18, 2005

Wachovia is pretty decent for a "big bank." Having been slightly privy to the merger with First Union ("Good ole "F-U") I am less confident in them than I might have been pre-merger. We've recently, after a good bit of research, gone with Washington Mutual for our general checking and banking needs, and ING Direct for our savings needs.

Politeness and competitiveness is important to me. Notice I said "polite" first. WaMu offered online banking with free checking, and the people in the branches seemed happy and were definetly nice. ING is certainly competitive with rates and I have never, never, ever spoken to a rude person on the phone there. I am happy with both banks' internet interfaces.

What is best for you will depend on your habits (was your recent travel something that will be routine from here on out?) and your banking needs. I wanted savings that would earn something but still be accessible and free checking with internet banking and online billpay for free, because I'm addicted to it and I refuse to write ninety gabillion checks. I found it was very useful to make a list of what I wanted and then shop banks, basically making a grid where I could check off what I wanted under each bank.
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:12 AM on June 18, 2005

See my credit union's About page for an example of what grouse is talking about. Note also the monthly financial statement (theirs, not mine) available online. Such transparent business dealing has always made me feel good about credit unions.

But the no-fee ATM withdrawals are the most important part. There's no penalty for using an ATM not belonging to the credit union, and if when you're traveling you can find another credit union ATM, the withdrawals are completely free.
posted by climalene at 7:33 AM on June 18, 2005

I HATE my bank (Ocean National).
  • They charge for checks, but conveniently don't have any Withdraw from Checkings slips in their offices. Why? Because you can just make a check payable to yourself and take it to the teller. Bastards.
  • The charge for debit payments. So when I buy something from the supermarket and choose ATM/DEBIT instead of CC, I have to pay a small surcharge.
  • When I use a non-Ocean National ATM, I pay a fee not only to the bank whose ATM I'm using, but an additional fee to my bank.
  • And of course, I have to pay a monthly "service fee" on my account.
This doesn't even begin to scratch the surface, but suffice to say, I've had an account with them for all of two weeks (closest to work) and I'm switching to a credit union next week.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:13 AM on June 18, 2005

randomstriker appears to be confusing credit unions with savings and loan institutions. They are different entities entirely. It was savings and loans that went under in droves after being deregulated by Reagan in 1982, not credit unions. The credit union link I just gave you has some links at the bottom of the page which will help you locate a credit union near you. I love my credit union.
posted by jessamyn at 8:42 AM on June 18, 2005

fwiw, I had good luck with when I went with my current bank ages ago. (I now have a seperate account with First Tennessee - who owns First Horizon which was mentioned earlier - and for completeness's sake I hate them, mostly cuz their online banking app sucks horribly.) Things I like about FirstIB include free checking with interest if you keep a balance (and it's like $500 monthly average, so it's not too hard to do if you make somewhat decent money), free debit cards, better interest rates than any bank in the mid-south (though on the west coast that may not be so), and that my credit card through them is wonderfully easy to pay off via online banking (it's almost drag and drop) and has a fixed interest rate. What I don't like is the lack of bank ATMs, even though I get a surcharge rebate, and having to mail in checks that I need deposited. They're both really minor for me - ATM surcharge to me just means I never carry cash and I only deposit things maybe three times a year - but may be dealbreakers for you. No clue on the niceness of their phone workers as I hardly ever call them, and they don't have branches outside of the one in the main bank (in Indiana). They were rated pretty highly on Gomez when I signed up several years ago.
posted by mrg at 9:21 AM on June 18, 2005

I'm happy with Bank of America, one of the biggest, baddest banks of them all. Free checking with direct deposit and $300 in a "savings" account, really good online banking with free bill pay, and ATMs everywhere. (They do smack you like a jealous lover if you use another bank's ATM.)
posted by kirkaracha at 10:31 AM on June 18, 2005

I use a local credit union for no great reason.

If you have a connection to the military, you might also try USAA. They're generally good eggs. But you need that connection to the military either yourself or through (IIRC) a parent or grandparent who's a USAA member.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:41 AM on June 18, 2005

I *love* my bank: USAA (

USAA is, as far as I can tell, the primary bank the military uses(used?). It was opened to civilians a few years ago and it's fantastic. Great customer service, refunds *all* of your ATM fees every month (Up to $30 or something of atm fees). Checking and savings accounts without minimum balances or fees, low fees in general for things that have fees...

They have one branch in texas, and everything else is done through the internet and mail. For deposits, they send you an endless stream of prepaid mailers. Typically takes 3 business days to cash a check that way, which doesn't bother me but will certainly be a problem for some people.
posted by sdis at 10:47 AM on June 18, 2005

I love my bank, which, as I understand bank size, is a small-to- medium-sized bank located in Northern California. No stupid fees for mundane stuff, good overdraft protection and unfailingly nice people at the branches. The phone services and support are stellar, also. (Of course, you may not like their front page, written in Flash...)
posted by Lynsey at 1:55 PM on June 18, 2005

ING Direct has some of the highest interest rates on savings accounts and CDs in the country. I use this as a supplemental account because the rates at Bank of America, which I use for checking, are very low. The wire transactions to and from ING are fast and free. The minor amount of added work involved is more than made up for by the 3.0% APY on their free savings account.
posted by istewart at 2:27 PM on June 18, 2005

If we're talking about savings, then here's a list of the highest-interest savings accounts. Note: some of these might not be insured. Buyer beware.
posted by grouse at 3:35 PM on June 18, 2005

I have accounts with several banks. One that I would like to mention is Wells Fargo. Wells Fargo can suck my ass and lick my balls. They have fees on everything. Did you run out of checks? No problem! We'll give you three (3) temporary ones for the very reasonable fee of THREE DOLLARS. The sole reason I have an account with them is to facilitate the flow of money from my parents in Colorado to me in Texas. I promptly move all funds to my Bank of America account. As kirkaracha says, BoA is very nice -- especially their online banking and their ATMS that accept deposits -- with the exception of when you use another bank's ATMs.
posted by fourstar at 5:55 PM on June 18, 2005

I have checking with B of A and loans with Wells Fargo. Both have been great for the situations we've used them for. I'll probably be setting up a funds-transfer account with Wells Fargo so we can move money to my son when he goes to school in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in the fall. I'll watch out for those fees, though, fourstar. Thanks for the heads up.
posted by Doohickie at 8:17 PM on June 18, 2005

I've been with Seafirst since the early 90's and then Bank of America when they bought Seafirst. The online banking/bill pay is free, the ATM-only checking account is free, and there are ATMs all over the place. I suppose there must be something evil about them because they are a huge corporation, but I am choosing to not know about it, because I'm happy with them.
posted by matildaben at 11:09 PM on June 18, 2005

I'm happy with Bank of America, one of the biggest, baddest banks of them all.

Yep, B of A has been good for me as well, rather amazingly so in fact. When I needed a new car, they gave me a good loan rate despite my less-than-perfect credit, beating both the dealer and eLoan. Then when I paid that off, they gave me a real credit card (actually, Fleet did, but it was around the time of the merger so I'm sure B of A had something to do with it). I pay no fees. Free bill pay -- I'm down to writing one physical check per month and that's just so I can float my rent until after payday. They have 100% protection against fraud and excellent security features on their debit and credit cards (e.g. photo and signature embedded on the front of the card). When I did detect some fraud on my debit card they handled it quite well. Lots of branches and ATMs. For a giant evil corporation I like them a lot.

Some of the Internet-only banks may also be worth looking into. For example, State Farm Bank has a free checking account with a $100 minimum balance, if you make at least one direct deposit per month. Free bill pay. They rebate up to 5 ATM charges a month, so you can use basically any bank's ATM for withdrawals (or get cash back when making a purchase). Use direct deposit for your paycheck and they give you postage-paid envelopes for other deposits. If I wasn't happy with Bank of America and/or if I traveled a lot and needed convenient access to my money anywhere, I'd certainly give 'em a try. I've had insurance with State Farm for years; they have earned my trust. Actually, they earned my trust when I did $2000 worth of damage to my car -- they paid my claim and then lowered my rates. Then a couple years after that they gave me a rebate because their investments had done better than they expected!

For savings I have an account at Emigrant Direct. 3.25% baby! Their Web site is rather plain, but it works.
posted by kindall at 11:22 PM on June 18, 2005

i've been very happy with everbank since i joined a couple of years ago. great interest rates, no atm fees, and they reimburse the fees that the atm operator charges. there's also (free) online bill payment.
posted by jimw at 7:36 AM on June 19, 2005

Thanks guys! I appreciate all the help. Glad to hear there are people out there who actually like the companies they give their money to!!
posted by ebeeb at 4:17 AM on June 20, 2005

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