Bank of America and I go way, way back. When I arrived in Chicago in the mid-90s with a freshly minted graduate degree and nearly three whole digits’ worth of hard cash, I did what anybody with my level of financial acumen would do: I drove South on Western Avenue until I saw a bank, and I opened an account. Little did I know that our relationship would outlast two marriages, five employers, four home addresses, three cell phone numbers, and span more than 2,000 miles.
Over the years, I allowed BofA to tighten its grip, seducing me with promises (which, it must be said, were kept)—easy online banking. No-hassle bill paying. Fee-free checking with direct deposit. Integration with all my other worldly savings (i.e., the IRAs I finally managed to start funding three years ago once the student loans were paid off) so I could always see, in real time, just exactly how profoundly I am screwed in re: the possibility of retirement before the age of 85.
I have a longstanding hate-hate relationship with personal finance. Early in life, I learned to pretend the bottom $500 in my checking account wasn’t really there; this was the only way I managed never to bounce checks. I believe I last attempted to balance my checkbook sometime in 1988. The resulting headache put me off such pursuits in the same way college graduation put me off tequila. Fom that day forward, I dumped the monthly envelopes full of cancelled checks (remember those?) into the recycling bin.
Once I got married, I let DX1 handle the joint checking account and promptly forgot all about banking for 10 years, outside of the occasional use of my debit card. By the time I had to reclaim some modicum of responsibility for managing my own pennies (after a painful lesson in not withdrawing one's own assets during what seems to be a relatively friendly divorce and a Christmas spent with a whopping $85 to my name), online banking had come along, and everything seemed, if not right with the world, then a whole lot better than it had been before.
All things, however, must come to an end.
Last month, in what can only be described as a Double-Netflix with a Half-Twist, BofA announced it would start charging me (and millions of other its least-rich customers) $5 a month to use that debit card. (Today, in fact, they announced they would not assess those fees after all…kind of a “Oh, did we say Qwikster? Never mind…”)
For the past six weeks, I’ve watched thousands of my fellow citizens Occupying Wall Street (and any other damned street with a bank on it, it seems). I've watched a video showing two women attempting to close their BofA accounts who were not only refused that basic request, but also detained by security and held in a locked bank until police arrived, being told they could not be protestors and customers at the same time.
Then, last month, BofA quietly transferred $73 Trillion (that’s with a “t,” Kittens) in sketchy European derivative investments from its party-like-you’re-a-drunken-frat-boy Merrill Lynch investment arm into its stodgy, teetotalling FDIC-insured deposit arm. Which, simply put, means when those $73T worth of shaky financial vaporware “investments” turn out to be worth as much as a turd wrapped in a copy of Kim Kardashian's wedding vows? You and I, through the taxes we pay, will reimburse BofA for its losses. Because, you know, we'd hate to see BofA shareholders actually lose money on transparently stupid investments, now, wouldn't we?
And that, as they say, was the straw that drained the last margarita.
Oh, HELL no.
This Friday, which has been declared Bank Transfer Day, I will do something I have feared more than an unarmed person fears being locked in a cage with 50 zombies. I am closing my BofA account.
This means I will spend several hours Thursday night painfully untangling my formerly blissful web of automatic payments to Dog-Knows-How-Many-Companies, hunting down long-forgotten account numbers and payment addresses for everything from rent to cable to credit cards and insurance and loans and cellular service and oh, hell, who the hell even knows?
I haven’t written a physical check in at least four years. Everything—every last transaction—has been electronic and largely invisible to me for nearly a decade. I was perfectly happy with that. Until Bank of America decided that I, like millions of other Americans with less than $20,000 in combined accounts, should pay them for the privilege of accessing my own damned money using the debit cards we all use to manage our financial transactions. At this point, it doesn’t matter that they reversed themselves on this fee. I know they’ll come up with other ways to charge their middle- and working-class customers for the estimated $3.2 billion that fee would have netted them (because billionaires bank for free), and I will not pay one bloody cent of it.
Instead, I’m becoming a co-owner of the financial institution that holds (and profits from) my paltry little piece of the international financial system. I am joining 219,000 of my fellow San Diegans and becoming a member of the San Diego County Credit Union.
On Monday, I crept shyly into my local branch and funded two new accounts with a freelance check that had arrived just in time for the occasion. I had opened them, quickly and painlessly, online, the day before. The manager got up, smiled, and warmly welcomed me to the branch. The teller was downright perky and unfailingly sweet. Others I’ve spoken to who belong to the Credit Union gush about the place.
So what took me so long?
Fear and loathing, plain and simple. I fear and loathe all things related to money (probably because for most of my life, I haven’t had much), and I had been lulled into complacency by BofA. I allowed them to hold onto my itsy bitsy excuse for a “portfolio” out of laziness, ineptitude, and inertia, and in the process, allowed them (along with the other huge, for-profit banks) to use it to nearly destroy the global economy.
I’ve admitted it.
I’ve been a totally willing victim—and kind of an ignorant tool, really—about my money until now. But no more.
If you still bank at one of the places that profits off your money, will you consider joining me this Friday? Pretty Please?
Find a Credit Union near you using the links here.
This piece was originally published at www.doesthismakesense.com, an open blogging and writing site dedicated to critical thinking and civil online discourse.