Photo Credit: Kristen Christian
Debit card fees were a bad idea. A really bad idea. Bank of America was the last big bank to get the message (thanks in large part to 22-year-old Molly Katchpole’s online petition) but the movement toward credit unions is just beginning. What does this mean for you? The first-ever Bank Transfer Day is this Saturday and here’s your Facebook invite. The idea is simple: Move your account from a big bank to a local credit union because it’s better for your wallet and your community.
Kristen Christian, the 27-year-old owner of a Los Angeles art gallery, started Bank Transfer Day with nothing more than a computer and conviction. A little background from Christian: In 2010, JP Morgan Chase donated $4.6 million to the New York Police Department. When the NYPD cracked down on peaceful protestors at New York City’s Occupy Wall Street movement, something clicked for Christian. “While I don't condone the actions of Occupy Wall Street and have not participated in any occupations, I view all people as my brothers and sisters,” she told iVillage. “The actions of select supervisors within the NYPD combined with the knowledge that JP Morgan Chase had contributed nearly $5M to the NYPD beginning in 2010 bothered me deeply.”
Christian channeled her anger at the situation, along with frustration over bank fees, into action. She created a Facebook event declaring Nov. 5 Bank Transfer Day and invited 500 friends. The event encourages people to take their money out of corporate banks and put it into a local credit union. By Thursday, nearly 75,000 people were scheduled to “attend” the event and the Credit Union National Association (CUNA), a non-profit trade group, reported a 350% increase in web traffic to its Credit Union Locator. Posts on the Facebook page pop up every few minutes from those who have made the switch. And though it’s only written 87 tweets, @BankTransferDay has 1,900 Twitter followers and counting. “It's humbling to know that social media enabled my voice to be received by so many people and in effect create such a major change in our society,” Christian said.
It might seem like a pain to switch but the numbers suggest pulling your money from a huge bank is a smart personal finance move. According to CUNA, credit union members saved, on average, about $70 in fees and interest rates between June 2010 and June 2011 compared with those who kept their money in banks. Credit unions are also more likely to offer free checking accounts and reimburse members for ATM fees. With the number of free checking accounts dropping -- 45% are now free, down from 76% in 2009 -- and ATM fees at a 7-year high, more people are looking for institutions that won’t charge you to access your own money.
Though they don’t spend big money on advertising, credit unions exist in most communities. "Instead of being distributed amongst a select group of owners, credit unions distribute profits as loans to individuals and small business or amongst all members of a credit union," Christian explains. You can find a local credit union with CUNA’s tool, culookup.com. You can also check out hellowallet.com and asmarterchoice.org. These search services ask for a zip code and then present a map of credit unions in your neighborhood. Findabetterbank.com allows a user to name customer features that are most important and spits out a ranked list of banking options that are best for you. For more on Bank Transfer Day, go to http://www.facebook.com/Nov.Fifth.