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Finding An Alternative To The Big Banks

Updated on March 6, 2013
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The State of the Banks

Banks are, more and more, adding fees and charges. On top of that, large banks often (although not always) leave their customers feeling like a number.

For those who are fed up with these things, are there any alternatives, or are people stuck using the big banks if they want to keep their money safe?

Here are some suggestions and alternatives for those fed up with a large bank that treats them like a number.

Small Banks

Sometimes, the answer is just to find a smaller regional or even local bank. Although many of these have been swallowed up by the behemoths, they do still exist.

A smaller bank is less likely to charge you more and, because they have fewer customers, more likely to have some idea of who you are. Especially if you run a business, having a bank that recognizes you when you come in the door can be a valuable asset.

Sadly, these small banks are much harder to find than they used to be. Also, they lack a national network of ATMs - a problem for those who travel regularly. Most are on an ATM network, allowing you to still get your money, but then you have to pay fees to both your own bank and the one that owns the ATM.

Credit Unions

The 'mainstream' alternative to the big bank is the credit union. Credit unions are not for profit organizations that exist for their customers. Membership is often limited in some way - geography, occupation, etc.

The downside is that credit unions generally have fewer branches and ATMs. Like regional and local banks, they may not have any ATMs outside their own area, hitting you with the bank's ATM charge. Some of them, however, belong to cooperative networks.

Online Banks

Online only institutions often offer very cheap or free banking. They also almost invariably offer better interest rates on savings accounts.

However, with no physical branches or ATMs, it is much harder to get your money out of one of these accounts. If you use one as your primary account, then you will need a linked debit card. Getting cash will always involve ATM fees, so depending on how much you withdraw, it may be a bad deal. Also, if the web site goes down, you have a real problem.

Some online banks are notorious for very poor customer service and if you are looking for a personal touch, this is not the way to go.

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