Nearly a week ago, Arianna Huffington and Rob Johnson launched the Move Your Money campaign urging Americans to send a message to big, bailed-out national banks by joining smaller, more stable community banks. Huffington Post readers responded almost immediately.
With the help of the IRA (Institutional Risk Analytics) database, readers moved their money to local banks and shared their stories with the rest of the HuffPost community. Through thousands of comments, banking consumers from San Diego, California to Bar Harbor, Maine and everywhere in between recounted both stories of frustration about their dealings with national banks and histories of supportive relationships with their local banks.
At a national level, a large number of readers criticized big banks for unexplained hikes in interest rates and unruly fees charged, sometimes, for no apparent reason.
One reader described a rate hike on her credit card with Citibank after years of loyalty:
We have all our accounts with Citibank. They recently raised our credit card rate to 21% even though we've never been late on a payment and we have an outstanding balance of $1,300. So, on Monday 1/4/10 we'll close our credit card, checking, savings, and IRA accounts and we'll transfer them to a credit union.
Similarly, many readers complained about the fees charged by big banks. These fees range from hidden charges on supposedly free checking or savings accounts to hundreds of dollars in overdraft fees. Some remarked how these fees arose from loopholes in the timing of deposits and withdrawals. The stories were not unlike that of Matthew Miller, the Washington Mutual turned Chase customer who received 29 overdraft fees in 27 days for systematic errors.
Readers' stories from local banks -- and especially local credit unions -- contrasted greatly with the complaints of impersonal and unjust treatment at national banks. Many simply appreciated how small banks with employees that number in the dozens simply treated them better than banks with thousands of employees.
Simple touches like remembering a name or keeping dog treats on hand for familiar visitors seem to stand out for many readers. Personal banking, one reader from Western Massachusetts suggested, works best when banks treat the customers as people and members of a community:
Switching to Greylock [Credit Union] has so far been a delightful experience. They have been completely attentive to my needs and have brought creative thinking and support in working with me on the more challenging aspects of my economic situation in these extraordinarily challenging times. Each time I stop in, I leave with the rare and coveted feeling of having been "at home", and it really does seem like I have left the lair of the despicable (although not local) Potter and walked into the good 'ol Bailey Building & Trust.
According to several submissions local banks also take good care of their community, especially local businesses. One reader (pictured above with her two dogs) from Baywood-Los Osos, California submitted a remarkable story of her bank's community support:
I love my community bank because when my husband owned his own business and we went out of town, they would actually go to the post office, pick up his mail, and deposit any checks that came in while we were gone. I also belong to a credit union, which is better than a bank because it is member-owned, all of the profits are put back into the credit union which allows them to offer higher deposit yields and lower loan rates.
Though not yet included in the IRA database, local credit unions received plenty of praise from HuffPost readers for having the best rates and responsiveness. One commenter pointed to these facts for moving his money:
I transferred yesterday $5000 bucks from my Wells Fargo checking account to my Patelco Credit Union where I save [most] of my money.
Ditch your bank for a credit union.
* Credit unions are member-owned. If you have an account at a credit union, you're a part owner in the enterprise...
* Credit unions are not-for-profit. This status helps explain why interest rates tend to be significantly better, and fees fewer and smaller, at credit unions than at banks. Any profits credit unions do make are distributed as dividends to their members...
Some critical responses to the Move Your Money campaign have also proved constructive in understanding how consumers make their banking decisions. For instance, the convenience of location -- along with ATM fees and online banking -- factor into the choice a large bank over a small one for some low income communities, according to some commenters.
Simultaneously, many Americans support bailed out banks' interests not only through their personal banking but also their investments. Several readers pointed to broader efforts to invest locally by buying from local business and supporting local causes.
Some have even chosen to remove themselves from the banking system entirely by using only cash.
As the Move Your Money campaign surges into the new year, editors at the Huffington Post will follow closely impact of the movement. Discussions in the comment threads continue to unearth new ideas to promote consumer rights. The HuffPost Eyes&Ears database of stories from readers who have joined the campaign also provides a dynamic record of why and how people are moving their money.
Don't hesitate to share your story, too.