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Challenges of changing banks; it's just a myth

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(ARA) - "Get a fair shake, not a shake down," appropriately reads the headline of Money magazine's recent article about Americans' discontent with their bank. The story, in Money's September 2011 issue, reports that 37 percent of Americans are satisfied with their banking institution and just 27 percent of customers who bank with the nation's three largest banks are happy. Simply put, most Americans feel they are not getting the bang that's been promised to them for their buck.

Despite consumers' dissatisfaction with their banks, a large percentage of us continue to do business with financial institutions that don't treat us well. A logical explanation could be that 58 percent of consumers believe switching banks is too much of a hassle, according to Money. John Rosenfeld, executive vice president at TD Bank, says that's not the case.

"The process of switching banks is not complicated," says Rosenfeld. "We even package it for new potential customers through a service called 'concierge.' One of our employees will sit down with a new customer and go through the process of opening a new checking account. Once opened, the employee will also switch all account activity for the customer from their old bank to us. In all, the process takes about 20 minutes."

Researching the products and customer service offered by banks in your area can take a little digging, but knowing what to look for before you start your search will get you that much closer to a new, happier banking relationship.

Should you jump ship?
It should be noted that consumers' discontent may have risen this year when most banks made changes to their checking accounts and services in response to new federal regulations. One of the changes administered by many banks is requiring a minimum balance in checking accounts in order to avoid maintenance fees - one bank has a new $15,000 balance requirement across linked accounts starting later this year. Money suggests that if the balance needed to waive checking fees exceeds $1,000, it's time to jump ship and look for another banking partner.

The magazine recommends considering one of the three regional banks it highlighted in the article, all of which received accolades for their checking products. TD - named the best regional bank on the East Coast - got kudos for having "a low bar to free checking," meaning their $100 minimum requirement to avoid checking fees is one of the lowest in the banking industry. To market their new checking products, TD Bank is asking consumers to get a "checking check-up" at which point a bank's representatives will help you determine if your current banking relationship is meeting your needs.

There are a few other factors you also need to consider. Some banks with large branch networks have added fees for making in-person transactions through tellers, forcing their customers to conduct all their banking business online or through ATMs. In order to cut costs, some banks have also closed branches and reduced their branch-banking hours. Avoid these, and instead consider a bank that's opening branches and has extended branch-banking hours, such as evening hours and Sunday banking. This kind of information is easily found on a bank's website.

Break it off
According to Money, some banks offer kits that help you move an account's activities. While helpful, some folks don't have the time to do it themselves. To assist new customers as much as possible, a few banks offer a service that moves customers' bank activities to their new checking account. TD Bank's "Concierge" service is one example. The service, which can take a few minutes depending on the bank, includes:

* Opening a new checking account

* Issuing you a debit card on the spot - some banks don't make you wait for your debit card to arrive by mail

* Transferring your funds from your previous bank to the new account, leaving just enough money in your old account to cover checks or bills that haven't cleared

* Scheduling bill pay services and recurring payments for bills you will pay from your new checking account

* Working with the Social Security Administration or another government agency to deposit monies into your new account should you receive funds from them

* Giving you a completed form to share with your payroll or HR office to establish direct deposit into your new account.

In as little as one hour you can establish a new relationship with a banking partner that will give you that bang you've been looking for. Banking relationships are much like any relationship: If you're not happy with the way you are being treated, you can do something about it. Assuming it will get better on its own is a losing proposition. And you deserve a relationship you truly value.