6 Steps to Ditch Your Bank Without Fees and Hassle

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So far this year, 39 banks have failed.

While the community bank I’ve used all of my adult life hasn’t failed, it’s in buyout talks and just got federal approval of the deal. As the details get worked out and revealed, I’ll have to decide whether to switch banks – something 1 in 5 banking customers have considered in the past year, a new Consumers Union survey reveals.

Not everyone switches because of mergers or failures, of course. When asked their top reasons why they’d consider switching, the most common responses from the 1,157 people surveyed were…

  • unexpected fee increases (43 percent)
  • better terms elsewhere (38 percent)
  • poor service (26 percent)

But despite their disappointments, fewer than half of those considering a switch followed through. Here’s why…

  • the hassle of transferring automatic payments and deposits (63 percent)
  • too much time and effort (37 percent)
  • fees to transfer the money (28 percent)

Based on this survey, Consumers Union is demanding Congress and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau make some policy changes. These include forcing banks to allow free, same-day electronic fund transfers and automatically transferring the customer’s automated payments and deposits within two weeks.

Will any of that happen? Rather that holding your breath, here’s how you can switch banks today, with minimal fees and hassle…

1. Comparison shop

Make a list of the fees and rates at your current bank, then look at what others have. Start with our rates page, where you can compare interest rates on checking accounts, money market funds, savings accounts, mortgages, and other loans. But don’t forget to factor in other conveniences, like hours and the proximity of branches. Don’t overlook credit unions, either. They often offer higher savings rates and lower loan rates than the megabanks. Search for them at the Credit Union Association site.

2. Negotiate with your current bank

If you have a mostly happy history with your current bank, take the best offer from your comparison shopping and throw it back at them to see if they’ll cut you a break on fees or hike your savings rates. As a longtime customer, you have a little leverage.

3. Get a “switch kit”

If you do decide to leave, ask your new bank or credit union for a “switch kit.” These often come with step-by-step instructions, contact info, and forms to transfer services like direct deposits and automatic payments. But even so, Consumers Union says, “Re-routing automatic payments and deposits into a new account can take four to six weeks.”

4. Don’t close the old account yet

You may be in a rush to conclude business with your old bank, but it’s important to make sure your transition is seamless – missing payments, misplaced deposits, or delays can end up costing you.

Leave a cash cushion to cover payments you may have forgotten. Wait three months to close the account completely, or at least until you’re absolutely sure all’s well. If there are fees associated with transferring your balance – Consumers Union says to expect “$7 to $10 for certified checks and from $24 to $30 for a wire transfer” – you might skirt them by moving money gradually, withdrawing up to allowed limits and depositing the cash to the new account. Using cash more frequently than plastic can also help.

5. Watch the new account

Keep a keen eye on your new account, checking it daily for the first few weeks. Be sure all your regular deposits are coming in and all your bills are being paid from the proper account. You also want to get familiar with your new bank’s quirks, like how long deposits take to clear and how it lists your balances and transactions, to avoid trouble.

6. Read up on the fine print

Make sure you go over all the paperwork relevant to your new account, so you don’t get tripped up by processes that differ from your old bank, hidden fees, or upcoming changes. And keep a list of these, since you may want to re-evaluate your new bank sooner rather than later – especially if the government actually does make it easier to switch. Beware of switching again too soon: Consumer Reports says several banks charge $25 fees for closing within the first six months.

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