Wednesday 16 December 2009

Join The Credit Union Revolution

Want To Stick It To The Banks?
Join A Credit Union
By Dave Lindorff

A few months ago, like many struggling Americans, I had my credit line frozen at my local bank. I hadn't done anything wrong, and have always paid my monthly installment payment on time, but I learned from a bank employee at the institution, which had once been a small family-owned operation but had earlier this year been acquired by a regional bank, that most of the bank's home-equity lines of credit were being similarly frozen and "reviewed" because the bank had lent a lot of money to a housing development that was underwater and facing bankruptcy. I was told I could simply apply for a new credit line, and pay off the old one, but there was a hitch: I'd be paying almost 3% more per month in interest than with the old loan.

More recently, I went in to the bank with a check I had just received, a bit late, from a magazine for which I write regularly. Because the payment was late, so were some of my bills, so I asked a bank officer, as I had occasionally done over the years, to okay the check for immediate credit as a courtesy, which would allow me to pay those bills. I was turned down. "We don't offer that service anymore," he said. "Your check has to clear, which could take two days."

When I pointed out that what I wanted to pay was my mortgage, which was owed to the same bank, and that the money, in any case, would be in the bank's hands either way, he said, "Sorry, that's our policy." The final blow came when I learned that some company in China had accessed my account, pulling out first a few pennies in two trial electronic transactions, and then hundreds of dollars. The bank put a stop to the problem when I notified them, but it took a month for them to refund me my money, even though the fraud should have been spotted by them right away, and it was the bank's fault, not mine.

Fed up with all these rip-offs, I went looking for an alternative, and happily found one: a local credit union, in this case one called Freedom Credit Union.

Walk into Freedom Credit Union's office and you immediately sense that something's different. The staff members are relaxed. There's a friendly play area full of toys for little kids. There are also lavatories right off the lobby (when is the last time you saw a bank that had rest rooms for its customers?)...

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