I remember going with my father to open my first bank account when I was around seven years old. NationsBank (since acquired by Bank of America) had a branch inside our grocery store and we made a special trip to sign me up for a savings account. I squirmed as my father signed one form after another; starting a bank account sure was boring! I can’t remember if my dad let me sign on any of the dotted lines, but I do remember him explaining to me that any money I put into the bank wasn’t actually going to stay at the bank.
“It might end up all the way in China,” he said.
“But I don’t want my money to go to China,” I said with a pout. “It’s mine.”
“It’ll still be yours,” he explained. “The bank is just going to let other people borrow it for a while. You can have it back whenever you want.”
I must have been satisfied by his explanation, because I haven’t asked for any more explanations from my bank since then — until now.
The truth of the matter remains: When we bank with massive corporations like Bank of America, Citibank, JP Morgan, Wells Fargo, ETC, we have no clue where our money goes.
Recently, social media has seen a surge of energy around #BANKEXIT, a campaign promoted by celebrities like Matthew Cooke and Susan Sarandon. They are calling for a massive divestment from banks supporting the Dakota Access Pipeline as a direct action to support the water protectors at Standing Rock. If you can’t make it to the front lines to fight, this is one important way that you can make a difference. Money is power, and the way we invest our money can have real impact. In fact, in the 1980s and '90s, international companies’ decided to divest economically from South Africa, eventually pushing the government to end apartheid.
I first heard about the problem with big banks back in 2010, when one of my friends was involved in an organizing campaign against Bank of America during the foreclosure crisis. At the time, I was between jobs and traveling a lot. I didn’t know about other banking options, and I didn’t take the time to educate myself.
Today, I left Bank of America (where I was a “preferred customer” after doing business with them for over twenty years) and joined a credit union. As an environmentalist and humanist, I’m embarrassed to say that it’s taken me this long.
It’s taken me this long because I cherished the (supposed) convenience of banking at a nationwide bank. It’s taken me this long because I didn’t understand how credit unions worked. It’s taken me this long because I had all kinds of misconceptions about big banks and credit unions. Frankly, I was ignorant about my options, and that ignorance made me afraid to take the leap.
Once I started doing my homework, it didn’t take me long to learn that everything that had been holding me back from switching to a credit union all of these years was very wrong.
Here are just a few reasons why you should leave your big bank and sign up with a credit union.
Convenience: Just because big banks have more visibility, this doesn’t mean they’re more convenient or accessible. Thanks to their network of shared branches, my credit union has dozen of fee-free ATMs in my area, while Bank of America only has 10. Also, I can always use their handy app to keep up with my finances no matter where I am.
Better Rates: The facts are clear. When it comes to taking out loans, using a credit card, and saving money in long-term accounts, your money will go farther at a credit union.
Community: Banking with a credit union, each deposit you make is a true investment in something tangible—community. Rather than funding a damaging pipeline or foreign weapons, your money goes to neighborhood businesses and members of your community. Local banks and credit unions know that their well-being depends on the prosperity of their community.
Customer Satisfaction: No minimum balance. No surprise fees. More locations. Better service. You’re a person, not a number. Credit unions don’t have to answer to a distant corporate figurehead, so they can work with you to get the loan you need to start your new business or buy your first house.
Who knew that banking could be a revolutionary act?
Top photo: Flickr/Peg Hunter
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Carmella de los Angeles Guiol is a writer and educator living in South Florida. She has traveled to five continents and has worked as an artisan baker, organic farmer, and deck hand on a luxury sailboat. You can often find her kayaking the Hillsborough River, but you can always find her at www.therestlesswriter.com / @xRestlessWriter.