With the unwelcome news that many of the nation’s biggest banks will soon be charging fees for debit cards usage — on top of lots of other fees — you may be thinking of switching banks. Ugh. What a chore. But you can save a nice chunk of change on an ongoing basis by sucking it up and moving to a better bank.
Here’s an eight step plan for making it happen…
Step zero: make up your mind
For starters, you need to decide whether or not you really want to make the change. If, for example, you place a high value on having access to a nationally-available ATM network, then switching to a local bank or credit union might not be such a great idea.
Another potential concern here is that the new bank that you’re targeting may be planning on adding fees, but hasn’t announced the changes yet. Thus, it might pay to wait a few months to see how things shake out.
Step one: find a new bank
Once you’ve decided to make the change, it’s time to find a new bank and open an account. Using the thought exercise you went through above, decide what you do and don’t like about your current banking relationship and then find a replacement that offers what you love while fixing the things that you hate.
Of course, you may not be able to find the 100% perfect solution here, so you may need to rank your criteria and settle for the lesser of several evils. Once you know the lay of the land, you might also want to re-visit step zero and be sure that you really want to make the switch.
Step two: change your direct deposits
Next, you’ll want to contact your employer and update your direct deposit information. It could take a couple of pay cycles to sort this out, so do this right away.
Step three: re-establish links to outside account
After you’ve talked to your employer about direct deposit, you’ll need to work your way through your other financial institutions and re-establish any linkages that will be broken when you finally close your old account. This could include links between your bank and an investment company, an online savings account, PayPal, etc.
Step four: move your billpay transactions
Now that you won’t have any money flowing into your old account, you better make sure you’re not still paying bills from there. Go through your billpay interface and move everything over to the new account. You should also be sure to check for auto-debits. For example, the company that picks up our trash auto-debits our checking account every three months.
Another big area, and one that’s easy to miss since they may only take out money once per year, is things like life insurance premiums. In some cases, you’ll need to make these changes through the payee instead of through your bank, so devote some time to getting these things sorted out.
Step five: get new checks
In most cases, you’ll a free set of starter checks from our new bank. But if you don’t, or if you don’t get enough, you’ll need to buy some yourself. In general, it pays to shop around. While I’ve recently been able to get free checks from our bank, it wasn’t always this way. In fact, it’s often far cheaper to buy checks online than through your bank.
Step six: sit and wait
Ahhh. Everything is now done. Right? Well, hopefully. But maybe you missed something, so it’s best to sit and wait to be sure that all of your transactions are hitting your new account, and that you didn’t forget anything.
It’s also important to double-check that all of your checks have cleared. Right now, for example, I’m still waiting on a measly $7 check from last April to clear. I could follow up with the payee, but it went to a school group, and I’m honestly not sure who was in charge. So, for now, I wait.
You’ll obviously want to leave a cash cushion during this process in case anything pops up.
Step seven: close your old account
This is the most unnerving step because there’s always a chance, no matter how small, that you forgot something. After you’ve waited a few months and are satisfied that your old account is now totally dormant, go ahead and take the plunge. Draw your balance down to zero and close your account.
Ahhhh… There, doesn’t that feel better?