There may be nothing you can do to empower yourself in today's economy and political structure (for lack of a better term) than to choose where your hard-earned dollars go. No, you don't have much of a choice in taxation, but you have a marketplace full of financial institutions. Some of those are better than others. Some of them have demonstrated time and again an absolute contempt for conventional middle-class consumers. Here are some reasons why you should choose wisely, and maybe opt for a credit union instead of a bank.
Fees. Many traditional banks nickel and dime your accounts to death. You need a minimum balance or you get a "maintenance fee." You bounce a check, you get a fee. Ok, you might deserve a fee if you are fiscally irresponsible, but too often you do not have to do anything to incur a fee.
Maximums and minimums. We already mentioned minimum balance requirements for traditional banks. They usually have a maximum withdrawal amount, and/or number of withdrawals, too, which means you are being punished for emergency situations in which you may need more than the usual amount. The most you should suffer is an interest penalty for a low balance.
Socially and environmentally irresponsible investments. This may be the overriding reason you should leave a commercial bank. Are you opposed to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL)? It may interest you to know that Citibank, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, and Morgan Stanley have all extended credit to Energy Transfer Partners, the company constructing the DAPL. Don't believe me? Check out the Snopes.com article. We can collectively make a statement by taking our own personal business elsewhere.
Lack of interest. Literally! Can you remember the last time your bank account earned interest? Neither can I. Savings accounts are essentially worthless. Certificates of deposit (CDs) lock your money away for at least several months or more at a time and still pay next to no interest. Banks have no interest in paying you to save, or creating products that reflect the need of the average person to keep assets liquid for emergencies yet still earn a little interest in the meantime. Sure, the Federal Reserve chairman is responsible for setting interest rates, but banks still have more flexibility they choose not to exercise.
Lack of interest in you. Unless you are wealthy enough for private banking services, you are probably of little interest as a customer to the average bank. Priorities at least appear to be: Shareholders, CEO, customer and/or employee. Banks are profit-driven institutions that profit off of customers, not for them. They push loan and credit servicers like....I'll resist comparisons to nefarious enterprises. We are encouraged to live beyond our means, and to think first of ourselves instead of our communities. It's what banks do.
I have been with a credit union for the communicating arts for decades, and finally divorced myself from conventional banks....at least five years ago. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Customer service is outstanding, no matter how much is in my account, or how many products I have. This excellence has persisted even after a merger with another credit union. When was the last time an event like turned out for the better?
Because credit unions are not publicly traded, the customer is the priority. Because credit unions are usually local, or at least regional, and/or tied to a particular profession or military service, responsiveness to members vastly exceeds that of a traditional bank. Further, they are often sponsors of local charities and charitable events, from which we all prosper as a more healthy community.
I no longer live in the same city (not even the same state) as my credit union, but no worries. Many credit unions do what is called "shared branch" transactions. I can go to a totally different credit union to do my banking. How cool is that?
I urge my readers to give serious consideration to switching from a big bank to a credit union, for all of the reasons mentioned above. At least take stock of your current bank and make sure it is doing right by you, and right for our world at large. This is how you become empowered. You deserve it, and so do the rest of us.