Monday, October 03, 2011

Show Me the Money

One of the benefits of being a grad student is that it's prompted me to take care of some things in my personal life that needed attention. I'm discovering that crossing things off of the To Do List helps me concentrate more on school!

With all the talk about banking fees, including the disappearance of free checking accounts and some banks starting to a monthly fee for using debit cards, I decided to work on getting my financial ducks in a row. Turns out I had FIVE "free" checking accounts floating out there! Yikes! I did a little homework to catch up on bank fees of the financial institutions I was dealing with (in varying degrees of infrequency!), and learned that two of those checking accounts had recently started having monthly fees taken out, and another would have fees starting in November. One of those checking accounts with new monthly fees was actually at a credit union, so be careful even with credit unions! So, I closed all three of those checking accounts out, which netted me about $50 total. Small potatoes, so I'm not worrying about fees or keeping track of those miscellaneous accounts anymore.

I was intrigued by the varied reactions of the different banks/credit unions, especially since I did all of this late on a Friday afternoon. The banker at SunTrust asked nicely why I was closing my account, shook my hand after completing the transaction, and invited me to consider bring my banking business back in the future. (He even gave me a brochure about their Student Banking accounts, since I'm a grad student.) The banker at the credit union pulled out the fee schedule and went over it with me to make sure I understood it. Part of that, I think, was because I still have a savings account at that credit union, which is affiliated with my workplace. That credit union seems to be geared more to financial education opportunities than regular banks around here; they even offer seminars/workshop on a regular basis for various financial decisions/activities, like purchasing a first home or planning for retirement. My last stop, Bank of America, where my account was $1.66 in the red, had me in and out as fast as possible. That was the bank I was most relieved to free of, so I didn't mind. Their reputation for nickle-and-diming their customers is pretty bad in these parts.

What have I learned?

1) There ain't no such thing as a free lunch, and free checking accounts are becoming a thing of the past (unless you have direct deposit or a minimum balance).

2) It pays to take care of the nagging little things. They take up vital brain space in the remembering or the tracking. And much like letting your car go too long without a simple oil change, little things can turn into big things.

3) Taking care of one little thing can give you momentum to take care of other little things, the snowball effect.

Clipart from