What bank and wireless provider should I use in and around Boston?
May 16, 2008 7:01 PM   Subscribe

Moving from the 519 to the 617. Please help a Canadian moving to Boston plan his banking and wireless services.

I am a Canadian, born in and raised near Toronto, Ontario. I will be moving from Waterloo, Ontario to Cambridge, Massachusetts in August. I will be in Cambridge studying at MIT for at least two years. I already have accommodations, travel plans and mandatory health insurance in place.

I have two questions about banking and wireless logistics. I'm hoping to find approximate equivalents of my current bank and wireless provider in Massachusetts.

Question 1: What wireless provider will be the least hassle for a $20-30/month plan in Boston/Cambridge? I'm thinking about AT&T. What do you think of T-Mobile, Sprint and Nextel?

Background: Right now I'm with Rogers Wireless for pay-as-you-go service in Southern Ontario. I'm happier with Rogers than I was with Telus. My current phone is unlocked but I'm willing to sign a contract if I need to and aside from that I am leaning towards a BlackBerry.

Question 2: I got a bank account during my 4-month internship in France without any problems aside from the mountain of paperwork. Will I be able to get a bank account as a non-citizen? (Likely on a J-1 or F-1 visa). I want hassle-free service. Just plain free is better. Convenience is a necessity.I need a reasonable network of ATMs and online banking. What bank should I choose?

Background: I do my banking with President's Choice Financial. I am a huge fan of no-fee no-hassle banking. No branches, but lots of ATMs, free checks, free banking, decent interest rate. Does this kind of thing exist in the US?

Bonus points for anything in the vein of "things I wish I knew before I moved to Cambridge"/miscellaneous tips from MIT students or other people living around Boston, or Boston-area transplants from Canada.

I have already looked at just about everything tagged with Boston, Moving, Relocation and College but feel free to point out anything I missed.

posted by KevCed to Work & Money (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I cannot speak to their online banking, but if you want truly great customer service and a bank employees who actually know who you are, you should get an account at Cambridge Trust. Their MIT branch is right in Kendall Square. Not as many branches as larger banks, but overall I think you'll be happier with them than with a huge bank.
posted by alms at 7:24 PM on May 16, 2008

My roommate hated Nextel, and almost always got crappy service. T-Mobile I've heard some bad bad things about, but never from Bostonians, for whom it seems to work well. Sprint also seems to have good reception around Boston. (My experience is mostly on/near MIT's campus, FWIW.)

Check about the Blackberry, though - some providers (damn you, Verizon!) won't let you use one without paying for an expensive data plan, while I believe others will.

Also: since you'll be an MIT student, go with MIT's credit union: www.mitfcu.org. Or Bank of America, though I'm less fond of them. They both have a branch in the student center.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 7:30 PM on May 16, 2008

We've been with T-Mobile for years and have been very pleased with them (although signal strength used to be poor at our house, they've since improved it significantly. I wouldn't think that would be much of an issue around MIT in any event).

I certainly agree with the credit union suggestion. I use Harvard's and love it. I will say though that in Harvard's case at least, there are very few ATMs. I go right past one every weekday, so it's rarely a problem, but you did mention it in your question.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 7:54 PM on May 16, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions so far.

I just thought I'd add that I visited Boston for 3-4 days last August to look around the city and the school so location-specific suggestions like the ones so far are great.
posted by KevCed at 8:42 PM on May 16, 2008

I can put in a recommendation for Wainwright Bank — they're like the anti-BoA, I suppose (they really stress the social responsibility angle), and they've been fine for me since I opened account. I have to say, though, if you don't mind having no branches around, try a high-yield money market account with Capital One, which you can open online. They eat your ATM fees, so it's like having free ATMs *everywhere* (even abroad, I believe — I know they eat your foreign currency fee on credit card transactions...). Interest rate is 3.00%

For phone providers, I'm happy with Verizon's price and reception, but it sounds like you're looking for GSM.
posted by electric_counterpoint at 9:37 PM on May 16, 2008

I would steer away from TD Banknorth. Although they have enough money to own the naming rights they have maybe 2 or 3 branches in the whole city and no ATMs. However there always seems to be Bank Of America ATMs everywhere, they may not be the best bank but they are everywhere.

As for cell phone I use Verizon and have never had a problem with it. I get service pretty much everywhere and even get some in the underground T stations which is nice.
posted by lilkeith07 at 9:41 PM on May 16, 2008

Best answer: banking
If you'll be studying at MIT, hook yourself up with the MITFCU, that is, the MIT fuck-you or the MIT Federal Credit Union. Despite the acromyn, they have been the best banking experience I have ever (ever) had. All the online stuff is well organized and easy to use, the staff are friendly, and the non-MITFCU ATMs are free to some lots-of-use (though there aren't many MITFCU ATMs, they're part of the larger PLUS or SUM or whatever network). Also, the MITFCU Visa is a good deal wrt rates, and no additional screwings on international charges (so it's just Visa's 1%, as opposed to Visa's charge and then some, which is the norm for US credit cards). I have no, zero, ninguna, negative things to say about the MITFCU.

Cambridge Trust is ok in that they're not gigantic, but we've had some run-ins with them on customer service issues. BoA is gigantic and evil, but it is nationwide.

I assume you're not hauling all of your furniture and stuff with you to the US? If you need to get household stuff, there's some MIT stuff you should know about.
1) the MIT Furniture Exchange sells stuff pretty cheap to the general public.
2) there's a mailing list called reuse to which people post stuff they don't want anymore, including lots of furniture. The etiquette is mostly "take and post" meaning haul-ass to be the first one there, then let everyone else know you took it, or "email to claim" especially for big things like furniture. If you want to be added before you get to MIT, feel free to poke me. Also, there is reuse-ask, so you can say "hey, I'm moving in, I need this stuff!" and people may offer, but it's less trafficked.

mit perks
  • don't get a car in Boston if you don't already have one; it's a lot of money and hassle. Zipcars rent by the hour, and MIT will pay your deposit or membership fee. In other transportation matters, MIT subsidizes monthly passes for public transit (you pay around 60% of normal price, iirc).
  • there's free or discounted admission to a lot of things with your MIT card.
  • the student athletic facilities are so. nice. you do not realize it until it is too late, so i am telling you now.
  • cool lotteries and stuff: every half-semester, there is a lotter for various free athletics classes, including otherwise-expensive things like sailing and sculling. A few weeks into each semester, there is a lottery for glass-blowing and blacksmithing classes. The sign-up/lottery are manual, and advertised in the basemen of building 8, near the foundry. Also, don't miss out on IAP, even if you're supposed to be studying. This is a month of random activities and random seminars. Posts start coming up around October, including for the coveted lotteried classes like wine tasting.
  • really, there is SO MUCH at MIT that is either expensive or unavailable at other schools and to the public at large. Get out there and TAKE ADVANTAGE of everything the school offers while you can. Graduate students, especially, DO NOT USUALLY REALIZE THIS. And if there's something you can possibly imagine, that doesn't exist already, it is one of the few schools I have been involved with ever where if you can convince someone you can make something happen, you can get support and funding for your ideas.

  • posted by whatzit at 1:48 AM on May 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

    Actually, since you mention housing's taken care of, I wonder if you're living on-campus? If you're at the stage of ranking the buildings you're interested in, I have opinions on the grad dorms (I've lived in or been in all of them), and could follow up off-line.
    posted by whatzit at 1:54 AM on May 17, 2008

    I like AT&T for cell service, and I know you can have a Palm without the data plan. I had really awful customer service experience with Verizon.
    I have Citizen's Bank, and have good free checking and online banking, and they have lots of locations throughout MA and the northeast.
    On an unrelated note, I highly recommend Miracle of Science on Mass Ave near MIT for excellent burgers and good beer. Also, if you can avoid moving in on one of the busy moving days (August or September 1), it will make your life much easier. Boston/Cambridge are so full of students moving these days that traffic, etc is ridiculous.
    posted by supramarginal at 6:16 AM on May 17, 2008

    I'm a BoA customer and have been for years, largely b/c I have moved around the country a lot and I'm lazy and don't want to change banks if I can help it. There are *tons* of BoA locations around the greater Boston area. I almost never go in the bank to talk to actual people, but on those rare occasions when I have had to use customer service it's generally been fine. I do about 98% of my banking and finance online, and the BoA interface for that is quite good.

    I have a Blackberry Pearl on T-Mobile, and as Horace Rumpole said, the coverage is much improved of late. My unlimited data plan is $19.99/month on top of our regular service. I rarely use text messaging, so it's not really an issue for me, but I will say that on the occasions when I have sent/received texts, there seems to sometimes be a delay of as much as 10-30 minutes. I don't know if that's common with other providers or not, and since I'm not a frequent user I don't know how usual this problem is, but I thought I'd just add that as a data point.
    posted by DiscourseMarker at 9:11 AM on May 17, 2008

    Response by poster: Thank you everyone for the great answers so far. I am curious whether the convenience of BoA justifies the "evil-empire" reputation it has.

    I should have mentioned that I do 99% of my banking online but fees for foreign transactions and foreign ATM usage will be important. I can see myself using whatever free time I have to travel around the American Northeast and it sounds like BoA would have ATMs/branches there.

    Spaceman Spiff, Whatzit: What are the MITCFU fees for using non-MIT ATMs on the Cirrus network?

    I was hoping for more of a consensus regarding wireless but on the other hand it sounds like as long as I find a handset I like I won't really go wrong with coverage.
    posted by KevCed at 9:30 AM on May 17, 2008

    It's free on SUM ATMs and a few other networks, though I don't think that includes Cirrus. And you get 8 out-of-network withdrawals a month.
    posted by spaceman_spiff at 9:45 AM on May 17, 2008

    What spiff said. And if you need more than MITFCU's machines + 8 withdrawals a month, you should take the fees as a sign there's something weird about your ATM usage! If you're around campus in general, you'll never need an out-of-network ATM. I have never ever paid MITFCU a fee for anything.
    posted by whatzit at 4:20 PM on May 17, 2008

    I guess for weekend travel you would be out of network, but still, 8 is a lot of withdrawals, and of course the debit card works like a credit card everywhere (except rental car companies and airlines, they're more fussy). As for international travel, I do not get hit with extra charges when I use my MITFCU card overseas at the ATM or as a credit card, and have tested this for you in a lot of places.
    posted by whatzit at 4:23 PM on May 17, 2008

    Consider Salem Five Direct, the online division of Salem Five, a small area bank. You're meant to do all your banking online with their eOne account, but they reimburse all your ATM fees, and they pay you interest on your checking balance. I live in Seattle and I switched to them and have been very happy. Plus they give you a $25 bonus if you set up direct deposit.
    posted by kindall at 8:08 PM on May 18, 2008

    Response by poster: Looks like I have lots of choices for good-service low-fee banking.

    I am going to wait and see whether the BlackBerry Bold is an AT&T exclusive before I sign a contract. I'll keep my eye on Verizon. Coverage is important, but so is European compatibility and that's why, all other things being equal, GSM beats CDMA in my opinion.

    Thanks for your recommendations everyone, especially whatzit.
    posted by KevCed at 6:00 PM on May 20, 2008

    As a recent transplant to Boston, I'd mention that reception on my regular (non-data) Verizon phone is pretty damn spotty. I hope to switch to AT&T for the 3G iPhone in the coming weeks--it can't be worse than the experience I have had with service blackouts and dropped calls in Boston propert with Verizon.
    posted by Admiral Haddock at 2:08 PM on June 2, 2008

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