(Sorry to Go All Kanye There, but It's True)
By Anna Minard
Earlier this year, Chase converted my grandfathered WaMu free checking account into one with monthly charges. I didn't know this, and I used my last 10 bucks to buy food. The next day, my account was overdrawn. The easy thing about not having much money is that I can do the math in my head, and I knew I hadn't spent more than $10. But there on the screen was a $10 fee, followed by two tiny purchases, each with their own $34 overdraft fee.
On my lunch break, I went and met with a young-looking Chase banker, explaining to him that they'd taken my $10 without alerting me in any way, it had caused me to overdraw my account, and I would like the charges refunded. He asked me if I had direct deposit. I did. He asked me if I had at least one direct deposit of $500 or more every month. No, I told him. I worked part time, and my paychecks varied depending on how many hours I got. He said I now needed a $500-or-higher direct deposit each month to avoid fees, even if my monthly deposits exceeded that. I told him that wasn't possible for me. He looked concerned, then said: "Have you thought about trying to get more hours at work, or more work?"
I took a full speechless second to process that. I was working as many hours as I could get each week. I blushed with shame and rage. "Um, thank you, but don't tell me to make more money so you won't steal from me." He gave me a customer-service frown and said something boring I don't remember. "Look," I said. "It already sucks to be poor, okay? I'm not making this little money on purpose. You're charging me for not having enough money." No reaction. "I might as well keep my money under a mattress! A mattress wouldn't take $10 out of itself every month." That's true, he said. Did I have any accounts at other banks? They'd hate to lose me as a customer, but maybe I could use other bank accounts for now. I said I'd be closing my account when I got paid again, and left.
On the advice of a friend, I went to the branch where I'd originally set up my account to see if they'd be more understanding. The banker there said new laws were costing Chase, and unfortunately they just had to pass that along. "I can read a newspaper," I told him. "Y'all are doing just fine." He smiled tightly. I said I knew he was just doing his job and I walked out.
Now I bank with a credit union.
The Credit Union Set
a Record for New
Accounts Last Month
by Christopher Frizzelle
BECU, short for Boeing Employees Credit Union, started during the other Great Depression, in 1935. Back then, Boeing required its factory workers to buy their own tools, but banks were not lending money to the kind of people who were working at Boeing's factories. So 18 of those workers banded together, each pitched in 50 cents for a total of $9 in assets, and started a credit union. "Seventy-five years later, we're almost $9.6 billion in assets," says spokesman Todd Pietzsch.
You don't have to be a Boeing employee to be a member of BECU, just a Washington State resident. "Credit unions are not-for-profit member-owned co-ops, meaning that every member has one equal share. Revenue that comes in goes back to the consumer. There is no stockholder in the equation. The stockholders are the members," Pietzsch explains. "Because we don't have Wall Street to answer to, all our decisions are made by what's in the best interest of the membership." Pietzsch says that since Bank of America announced a new surcharge for using debit cards, the rate of new memberships has more than doubled. "In the month of September, we hit a record of 9,400 new members—just in that month." Again, that's just Washington State. "We're staying open late if we need to because we don't want to push anyone away."
Walking to Chase last week to close my checking and savings accounts was the best trip to Chase I've had in years. This is a bank that's probably made $2,000 in overdraft fees from me over the last 12 years, and all I have to show for it is remarkably shitty customer service. Once, when trying to explain to a manager that I had a bunch of overdraft fees because a car rental company was taking nearly a month to refund a deposit, he exclaimed that I was breaking the law by spending more money than I had, that I had committed "a felony," and that he should be mad at me. Another time, a Chase employee talked me into a Chase credit card, hilariously called the Freedom card, to cover any overdrafts I might accidentally have, and I said I would sign up if he could get me an interest rate in the low teens, and he said he could do that, but at the end of the transaction he said he "forgot" to look what the interest rate would be and that he couldn't "go back to the previous screen" so I had to wait and see what the rate was when I got the card in the mail. It was 24 percent.
The Chase employee who closed my accounts was the nicest man I've ever encountered at Chase. He'd just transferred from another branch, and when I muttered that maybe he could help the branch revamp its customer service, he muttered that that was part of the reason for his transfer. He very valiantly tried to get me to change my mind, but wasted no time in getting me a cashier's check and calling the credit card division to cancel my Freedom. Then, lighter than air, I walked down the street to BECU, where the employee who opened my account admitted, "It's been pretty crazy the last few days. We've been just slammed with new accounts."
Pointing at my Chase debit card and Chase Freedom card, I said, "I can't wait to cut these up," and the employee responded, "We're getting a lot of people saying that."
Because You're Rapacious, Uncaring, and Sloppy
By Bethany Jean Clement
When Bank of America ate my original bank, Seafirst, I went to Washington Mutual in protest. When Washington Mutual started circling the drain in 2008, I joined Bank of America. While I was closing my WaMu account, the assistant manager of the Broadway branch told me that the media was acting irresponsibly and reporting things that were "just untrue," and that word of mouth was causing people to make "emotional decisions," and that I was being "rash."
Not long ago, the assistant manager at the Bank of America on Madison told me I might be liable for several thousand dollars' worth of fraudulent charges on my debit card. Some of them were more than 30 days old, he said, so it might be too late. "Might?!" I said. My eye started to twitch. He kept calling me "ma'am." "You don't have to call me 'ma'am,'" I'd already told him. He explained that he'd gone to military school, which seemed somewhat irrelevant.
The assistant manager made me sit for more than an hour with a knot in my stomach about the several thousand dollars, then put me on the phone with the fraud department, who immediately said they had a zero-liability policy for fraudulent charges, no matter how old they were. When I suggested to the assistant manager that he familiarize himself with his own bank's policies in order to not cause people like me undue stress, he gazed at me in a bovine way and was as smoothly evasive as someone wrong can be.
This was the second time my Bank of America debit card got fraudulated in the space of a few months. Now B of A plans to introduce a $5 monthly debit-card fee. I don't even use my debit card; will I get to pay the fee when someone else does?
B of A played what's been called a starring role in the foreclosure crisis; B of A got tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer-financed bailout money. Last year, B of A almost took a little old lady's house away because of a mistake, which led the New York Times to call it part of "a system that is... rapacious, uncaring—and sloppy." B of A, I am coming to get my money—once you get it all back to me. I am taking it to a credit union. If your assistant manager calls me "ma'am" one more time, fine. If he calls me "rash," I am not quite sure what I might do.
Considering What You
Did to My Country
Unlike a lot of my whiny coworkers, I've thoroughly enjoyed doing business with Chase, our nation's second-largest bank. I've found the service more than adequate, the fees and rates perfectly reasonable, and the convenience—well, that's where big banks like Chase really kick ass: neighborhood branches throughout the city, no-fee ATMs around nearly every corner (more than 16,000 nationwide!), and online transfers and bill-pay that have completely transformed the way I bank. Hell, I can even deposit a check by snapping a photo of it with my iPhone. How cool is that?
In fact, I'd say that I have absolutely no complaints at all about banking with Chase, other than, you know, the way it has fucked my country.
Few banks were more complicit in, or profited more from, the financial collapse than JPMorgan Chase, a leading player in the real-estate-bubble-inflating subprime mortgage market and the main banker to imprisoned Ponzi-schemer Bernie Madoff. Earlier this year, Chase agreed to pay $153.6 million to settle US Securities and Exchange Commission fraud charges, just days before the trustee representing Madoff's victims filed claims seeking $19 billion in damages. "JPMorgan Chase chose to enable Madoff's fraud," the trustee charged in a 155-page complaint, "not just through the various ways it participated in its activity, but by helping to cover Madoff's naked theft with the imprimatur of a globally recognized financial institution."
More recently, Chase was fined $88 million by the US Treasury in September for illegal wire transfers to Cuba and another $47 million by UK regulators in June. But of course those numbers are chump change compared to the $25 billion taxpayer-funded bailout Chase received in 2008—the largest bailout amount awarded—money that CEO Jamie Dimon admitted at the time he intended to use to be "a little bit more active on the acquisition side or opportunistic side," rather than for making the kinds of new loans necessary to help jump-start our economy. And that was after Chase had already scooped up troubled financial giants Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual at bargain-basement postcrash prices.
It was "WaMu," of course, that brought my accounts to Chase when the once high-flying, Seattle-based banking juggernaut collapsed in the largest bank failure in US history, allowing Chase to snatch its retail banking business for pennies on the dollar. According to a 2010 US Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations report, WaMu executives knowingly created a "mortgage time bomb" by making subprime loans they knew would likely go bad and then fraudulently packaging them into risky securities. "Washington Mutual built a conveyor belt that dumped toxic mortgage assets into the financial system like a polluter dumping poison into a river," said Senator Carl Levin, the subcommittee chair.
And it wasn't just investors who WaMu brought low. WaMu exploited the Federal Reserve's post-9/11 cheap-money policy to transform itself into a predatory lending pioneer, aggressively marketing teaser rates and fanciful "option ARM" loans to low- and middle-income borrowers who could barely afford the less-than-interest- only minimum payments, let alone the balloon payments that inevitably followed. As a result, tens of thousands of families ultimately lost their homes to short sales and foreclosure, even as WaMu executives raked in record bonuses.
Thus, in a very real sense, the banking convenience I've long enjoyed has been subsidized by the suffering and exploitation of others, which I suppose makes me just as complicit in WaMu/Chase's abuses as those who casually do business with Mexican drug cartels are in that particular reign of terror. And yet every time I intended to close my accounts and put my money where my liberal mouth is, inertia (i.e., laziness) somehow always got in the way.
Until last weekend, when inspired and shamed by the Occupy movements on Wall Street and in Seattle, I spent a mere five fucking minutes filling out an online application form and finally opened an account at member-owned, not-for-profit, guilt-free BECU. It even transferred my opening balance directly out of my old Chase account. It was like magic. And, it turns out, nearly as convenient as the faceless giant I'm leaving, offering the same online banking services to which I've grown accustomed, plus a network of 28,000 surcharge-free ATMs nationwide, including deposit-taking ATMs at the many 7-Elevens scattered throughout Seattle.
I pass two 7-Elevens twice a day commuting to and from work. Oh thank heaven. What could be more convenient than that?
So fuck you, Chase, and good riddance. I'm keeping what little money I have here in my community, where it can be put to work on behalf of my neighbors, instead of ripping them off.