Leave your national bank in 5 easy steps

Digital money

Banks know moving your money is a chore you'd as soon avoid. Don't let them be right. Image: FamZoo via Flickr.

We’ve been covering the Bank Transfer Day and Move Your Money Project for the last week and, given that we finally moved our money to a credit union last Friday, I thought I’d share how we did it.

One of the articles I wrote explained that banks know there are several disincentives for moving your money. You need the time, the patience, and the will to do it. No wonder I haven’t done it for the last two years even though I was disgusted with national banks.

But when I heard about the planned $5 monthly fee I would be hit with, and realized that it would cost my family a minimum of $240 a year to access our own money in the way we were accustomed to, that changed things for me.

But it hasn’t roused everyone yet.

The hassle factor

The New York Times confirmed as much in an article this week (“Online Banking Keeps Customers on Hook for Fees“), saying that so many customers now use online banking to pay their bills that the prospect of moving their money looms as too big a hassle.

Banks don’t make decisions like implementing online banking just to be nice. They pay a lot of money in research to learn how people behave, and how to use that to their advantage. As the article notes,

The Internet banking services that have been sold to customers as conveniences, like online bill paying,  serve as powerful tethers that keep them from jumping to another institution.

Former bankers and market researchers say that it’s no accident.

What they haven’t mentioned are marketing studies like the one commissioned by Fiserv, which develops online bill paying systems, showing that using the Internet to pay bills, do automatic deductions and send electronic checks reduced customer turnover for banks by up to 95 percent in some cases.

So we get it.

There’s some real hassle, and then there’s the perception of hassle.

The five step divestment plan

But it’s not as painful as you think if you get organized and commit to doing it. You should mentally prepare to spend 2-5 hours on the project overall, depending on how many accounts you have and how much online banking you do. But, you can break the process up into bite sized chunks to make it easier. Here are five easy steps to get you started.

1. The set up.

Stop using your ATM and debit card for a few days to clear charges before closing your account. In the meantime, open the new account. Some credit unions require as little as $25 to open an account. Opening the account does three quick things for you.

  • It sets the process in motion, helping motivate you to complete the transfer.
  • It gets your new debit card in the pipeline, helping ease or eliminate the delay between accounts.
  • It allows you to immediately access your new online banking, streamlining your transfer process.

2. A little bit of organization.

Make a list of all regular sources coming into and out of your account. Note direct deposits and the dates they post, automated scheduled payments, and the date you manually pay other bills or obligations.

3. Supplies.

Get direct deposit authorization forms from all sources (payroll, Social Security, alimony, child support, trusts, dividends or other sources). Complete the forms and fax or e-mail them to the sources. In some cases you can call or visit in person. Confirm that the change was registered.

4. The nitty gritty.

Access your current (old) online banking and bill pay screen. Open another window or tab and access your new online banking screen. Go through your automated scheduled payments and your manual payment accounts and set them up in the new account. If any payees require that you visit their site to confirm the new accounts, do so. Check all against your manual list. Note the timing affecting any changes and plan accordingly.

5. The polite goodbye.

Go to your bank and close your old account. Do this politely, remembering that the folks working in or running the local branch are good people from your community who have pleasantly helped you in the past. They are not decision makers for the bank’s policies or broader practices. The top dogs at their corporate head are making 20-100 times what these branch workers are making. Don’t take out your frustrations on them. Don’t protest inside. But do share, politely and peacefully, your reasons for leaving the bank, adding that you’d like them to pass that on to the higher ups. Then write a letter to the CEO, letting him or her know your grievance.

What’s next?

Now that you’re untethered from the national banking system, take an active role in voting at your credit union. Or consider running for one of the board positions to help advocate for the kinds of choices that most reflect your values for a more prosperous local economy.

Let friends and associates on Facebook and through other social media know that you left your national bank for a local credit union, and why. Tell your story and advocate for change.

Then, start thinking of other national businesses —chain restaurants, convenience products, big box stores, processed frozen foods, Internet behemouths — that you can drop or boycott as you begin to vote with your dollars even more assertively.

–Lindsay Curren, Transition Voice

You might also enjoy


  1. Steve says

    We started consciously on this back around the turn of the century, But we’ve been with our credit union since 1973. We grocery shop with our local food co-op, buy our drugs etc. at an employee owned regional drugstore, buy lawn, garden, animal food etc. from our local grange co-op. We try keep our heads up for other opportunities to increase our local shopping.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *