Just Switch Out of the Big Banks Already!

move-your-moneyFrustrating fact: none of the big banks offer completely free checking anymore. Most of them offer free checking, with a catch. This could be something like requiring direct deposit and/or keeping a daily minimum balance through the month. If you don’t follow the rules, you get slapped with a monthly fee. I overheard my roommate on the phone yesterday complaining to a BoA rep. about a $12 fee she was charged on her last statement because she doesn’t have direct deposit anymore. She didn’t get the memo and found out about the fees the hard way. I learned from my parents, who also have BoA, that apparently they keep free checking but aren’t allowed to use bank teller service. Um, what?

Why Are You Punishing Yourself?

Even if there are ways to get “free” checking from the big banks, why does everyone want to work around these rules for fees? I find it annoying to have to monitor certain activity and make sure I hit thresholds every month. Then, when you don’t make it one month for whatever reason, you’re hit with the fee.

Instead, let’s just consider the alternatives. There are some great banks out there that offer free checking and have lots of great options. Here’s my top 3 choices:

1) USAA –  This is what I use for my main checking account. I never get charged any fees. Even ordering more checks is free! My favorite feature is that I can use ANY ATM and can get my fees paid for! USAA is basically an online bank, so checks have to be mailed in for regular users (no military connection). USAA used to only be open only to those affiliated in some way with the armed services, but it’s actually open to anyone now! J. Money at Budgets Are Sexy loves USAA, just like me.

2) ING Direct – ING is my second favorite to USAA, mainly because this is where I create all of my savings accounts. The main difference is that ING doesn’t have free ATMs on all ATMs like USAA does. ING makes it really simple to have multiple accounts for different savings goals. I find the ING interface easy to use, too. ING Direct almost always has promotions for free money, too, when you sign up for new accounts.

3) A local credit union. This is the best option if you need a brick-and-mortar location to do your banking. The credit unions I’m familiar with all have great options for free checking and savings accounts without fees. Since credit unions are often small shops, you might not have as many online banking options, but that’s the tradeoff.

I’ll gives Charles Schwab an honorable mention. I haven’t used them, but they’re Ramit’s favorite option.

Is it tough to switch?

Not really, but it can take a bit of effort depending on what accounts you have linked and if you have direct deposit.

I made the switch from BoA to USAA bank last year (after BoA hit me with a fee), and found it to be a pretty simple process. I just opened my new USAA account, switched everything over to that, and then close my BoA account.

Another reason to switch

Aside from the fees themselves, there are other reasons to “move your money.” Check out the Move Your Money Project to see some of the reasons, or watch the video below:

I think there’s definitely the potential for these big banks to get worse with fees. That’s how they’re making a lot of their money these days. Personally, I don’t want to hold an account at a bank that treats customers like this.

Do you have an account at one of the “big banks”? Have you switched or considered switching”

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photo by: Tumbleweed:-)


  1. Hunter @ Financially Consumed. says

    I despise banking fees. Our military connection gives us access to Navy Fed CU. They are firmly in the AWESOME category for having no fees. I agree, switching is difficult with many linked accounts to swap over. You know that you’re probably going to foget at least one.

    • That’s true that you may forget, which is why it’s best to wait a month or two before closing your old account. That way you won’t get hit with even more fees 🙂

  2. I’m not a fan of our local credit union.  We have our savings with them but it just seems like they are so unorganized.  One time they put my deposit into someone else’s account and when I called them to correct the issue they said they had to get that person’s permission to give me my money back!!  I’m sorry… what?  So if they don’t say OK then they just get to keep my money?  That was the begining of the end for me and them.

    I have my main accounts with a big bank and they have been ok.  I think BOA is the worst of the big banks. 

    • That’s unfortunate, Ashley. Sounds like they’re not so great. I don’t have first-hand experience with all the big banks other than BoA, but I know I’m not a fan of their fee structures.

  3. I use a local bank because they offer better interests rates and no checking account fees

  4. Jenna from Adaptu says

    Wow! Thanks for sharing this video.  Definitely considering switching a time or two.  Maybe this just sealed the deal.

  5. I use PNC’s Virtual Wallet. The account is totally free – there are some perks if you have a certain direct deposit amount or maintain a certain balance, but no penalties if you don’t. Virtual Wallet is actually three linked accounts with budgeting tools built right in to the site. I absolutely love PNC and have not paid a single fee since I opened the account in December. Worth looking into!

  6. I just tried to get on the move your money project site and it seems to be blocked, is there another way of contacting and finding a bank institution in a city near me?

    • It seems like the site might just be down temporarily. If you can’t get on there, I would still recommend doing a Google search to see if there are any credit unions in your area and check those out first.

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