Success Story: Dumping a big bank to avoid higher fees

Lisa Junkin picture

Eleven years is a long time to stay in an unsatisfying relationship.

Just ask Lisa Junkin, who opened a checking account with Bank of America as a teenager because her parents banked there.

“I was never completely happy with their services, but I hadn’t bothered to switch because I figured there weren’t better options out there,” she says.

Over the years, Junkin, now 29, found interacting with customer service frustrating, mostly because of the maze of menus she had to maneuver through and all of the buttons she had to push in order to talk with a live person.

Honestly, she avoided the situation at all costs.

And then there were the fees.

When Bank of America announced it would begin charging customers $5 a month for making purchases with its debit cards, Junkin could no longer ignore her dissatisfaction.

“I decided it was the last straw,” she says.

Of course, Bank of America has now withdrawn its debit card fee plan, but that hasn't stopped some from ditching big banks.

The Bank Transfer Day Facebook page is filled with comments along these lines: Too little, too late.

Junkin began researching big bank alternatives and became increasingly drawn to credit unions.

“Credit unions exist for their members, not for the profit,” she says. “They seemed to better match my values.”

She was surprised to find a credit union at the Chicago university where she works, right next door to the museum where she serves as education coordinator.

After reviewing Credit Union 1’s website, she wandered over at lunch one day, asked a bank teller a bunch of questions, and ended up opening checking, savings and credit card accounts on the spot.

“It was easy, and it was immediately clear to me that the rates were better than at Bank of America,” Junkin says. “The rates for the credit card were most impressive.”

The credit union's introductory credit card rate is 6.9% for the first six months, and then 8.80% after that, while she's been paying upwards of 18% APR for her Bank of America credit card.

Back at her computer, Junkin consulted the “switch kit” on the credit union’s website and found resources like an account conversion checklist, an account closing letter, automatic payment transfer and cancellation letters, and a direct-deposit change request.

Because Junkin wants to be careful and calculated about the switching process, she’s giving herself an entire month to complete the switch.

She estimates that that’s plenty of time for her new credit card to appear, for all outstanding checks to clear in her old Bank of America account, and for her to transfer all of her direct deposits and automatic withdrawals.

“The most annoying part is remembering who has automatic payment information,” Junkin says.

To that end, she’s keeping a running list on her computer of retailers she’s allowed to save her credit card information for future purchases as she shops online, such as Amazon and Zappos, as well as random, easy-to-forget places such as PayPal and the Chicago Transit Authority.

Once her new credit card arrives, Junkin plans to go down the list, inputting her new information in one fell swoop.

The only downside she sees in switching to the credit union from a big bank is the limited number of ATMs available that she can withdraw cash from for free.

She admits asking a Credit Union 1 teller a “strange, 21st-century question,” which was whether or not she could take money out at the credit union, in person from a person, instead of at an ATM.

(The answer: Yes.)

Junkin realizes that she’ll have to plan ahead, or she’ll end up paying unnecessary fees at ATMs outside of the credit union’s network, such as those owned by the big banks.

“Not having an ATM every 2 feet -- that’s the trade-off for a bank that’s not trying to take all my money,” she says.

Junkin’s tips for making the switch:

Want more info on switching banks? Check out our advice on how to land a great, and still free, checking account.

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