Bank Transfer Day: A Malcontent's Guide

650,000 Americans ditched big banks in the past month. Should you?
Consumers take out their frustrations on Bank of America. (Photo: Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)
Nov 4, 2011· 2 MIN READ
Originally from Baltimore, Oliver lives and writes on a quiet, tree-lined street in Brooklyn.

Isn't there something satisfying about seeing Bank of America squirming in their plush leather seat?

After enduring weeks of criticism for their much-maligned $5 debit card fee, the nation's second largest bank decided Tuesday to roll back their money-siphoning operation and let customers keep their own cash. How very generous.

The damage, however, might be done. According to the Credit Union National Association, 650,000 Americans have opened new accounts at credit unions since September 29, the day Bank of America proposed the $5 fee.

To put that in perspective, credit unions only picked up 600,000 new customers all of last year.

On Saturday— official "Bank Transfer Day" for the 99%—things could still get worse. As of Friday, according to the group's Facebook page, nearly 80,000 people are planning to take part in the bank-ditching event, with over 500,000 more still undecided.

If you're looking to make the switch, consider these questions before taking the plunge (courtesy of the Credit Union National Association and ABC News):

1. Which credit union should you join? Where you work, live, and even worship can affect your credit union eligibility. Check out in the U.S., in Canada, and in the U.K.

2. How do the rates and fees compare to your bank? The Credit Union National Association estimates you can save more than $6 billion annually in rates and lower fees by switching.

3. Is there free checking and debit? About 80 percent of credit unions still offer free checking, and more than 70 percent have debit card programs, typically with no fees.

4. Do they have the products you're looking for? Many credit unions offer most of the same services and products you'd find at a bank—mortgages, credit cards, IRAs, home equity lines, even small business loans.

5. Is it convenient? Credit unions have fewer branches, but thousands of credit unions share their branch facilities so that members of one credit union can use the shared branch networks of other credit unions. And many credit unions are part of nationwide ATM networks, in which case most withdrawals are free.

6. Are they insured? This one is a must—nearly all of the 7,500 credit unions in the U.S. are federally insured, meaning their deposits are insured up to $250,000 by a federal deposit insurance fund administered by the National Credit Union Administration, just as the FDIC does for banks.

7. Do they offer electronic services? Credit unions pioneered the concept of direct payroll deposit, and many offer a range of electronic banking services. And be sure to cancel all automatic withdrawals and deposits from your previous bank.

8. Ask for a "switch kit": Many credit unions have switch kits, which is a packet with all the forms, rules and suggestions you may need to make your switch as seamless as possible. Just ask the credit union you want to join for its switch kit.

How is life after the switch? According to Liz Washer, a communications director from Amherst, MA, the pros outweigh the cons.

"It's smaller, it's more personable, and it's definitely easier to get questions answered," said Washer to MSN Money. "Plus, for me, it's like the whole 'buy local' thing. Credit unions are doing well in terms of getting local customer loyalty."

Getting out of those ubiquitous ATM fees is a perk as well.

"I was usually being charged around $4 in fees to withdraw cash," she said. "At the credit union, they reimburse any ATM fees."

And despite stories to the contrary, Karen Tyson, senior vice president of marketing for the National Association of Federal Credit Unions, says even the logistics of making the switch is a very easy process.

"It's not hard to change," she said to ABC News. "It's a quick process. You can do it online. Find one that works for you...It's a piece of cake."

Now, back to those bongo drums.