Friday, May 12, 2006

Account Maintenance

Earlier this week I had to close my credit union checking and savings accounts. I had opened both back when I bought my first car after graduating from college. They had good auto loan rates, and so I had opened the accounts in order to be able to use their loans. Later, when I bought the Pathfinder a few years later, I got another loan through the credit union. Both loans have long since been paid off, and since then the accounts just sat with a pittance of money that was leftover.

The savings account had a whopping $5.80 in it, which was completely free money. In order to entice me to open a savings in the first pace (you only needed a checking account for the loan), they offered a free $5 to deposit in the account. The other 80 cents was the interest I had earned over the past 7 years. My checking account had a bit more money in it, but only in the $30 range.

I left the accounts open after paying off the loans in the theory that some day I might need another loan of some sort, and it would be easier to just have everything already setup. So for the past few years I've dutifully checked each monthly statement to make sure nothing was changing, and filed the statements with the rest of the stuff I save.

Then earlier this week I got my latest statement, and something immediately jumped out at me, a balance of a mere 80 cents in the savings account. Looking closer, there was an itemized withdrawl of $5 for a 'Monthly Account Maintenance Fee'.


When I called them up the next day to find out what the heck was going on, the lady informed me that starting in March they had instituted a monthly fee on accounts where the total account value was less then $300. Unfortunately the lady wasn't swayed by any of my arguments about how it didn't make any sense for them to push me out. She also didn't care for any of my arguments about why they should at least credit the $5 back to my account this one time. Finally, she didn't buy into my explanation of how databases work, when I disputed her claim that 'their database is very expensive and costs a lot of money when there are small accounts stored in it'.

So eventually I admitted defeat and told her to close my accounts and send me a check for the massive $29.99 that was left after the $5 service fee.

Up to that point, I couldn't really seriously argue with her, since I had no proof that they hadn't notified me of the fee and I certainly wasn't going to deposit $300 in an account that is nearly inaccessible (they have only one branch office in downtown St. Paul) just so that some day I might get a loan from them. But then she said that she couldn't close the account unless I wrote a letter to them. I don't think I did a good job of hiding my disbelief of that stupid requirement.

Especially since it meant that they would assess even more fees while waiting for my letter to arrive, and then processing the request. Eventually I started pressuring her on why I couldn't request the account to be closed through their website (since she had previously been claiming I should have seen the notice of their new fee schedule on the website). She said I couldn't do it on the website, but could send an e-mail.

What the hell kind of backwards logic is that? I can't close the account on the phone, when they verify my account number, social security information, blood type, and everything else, but I can send an e-mail from some address they have no record of and say close my account and mail a check to some address?

When I questioned why in the world they would do something so insecure, she said that in fact they would verify the e-mail request before processing it. And guess how they verify those requests? You got it, by phone.

By that time I was tired of arguing with her, so I sent the e-mail (while on the phone) and the next day had my $30 to deposit into my slightly-less-hated regular bank.

It completely mystifies me why the credit union would effectively force me out. It's not like they were paying me any interest on my accounts, so it wasn't costing them much more then the cost of sending me a statement each month. And if they had said "We'll only send your a quarterly statement because your balance is so low", I probably would have just agreed. And for the price of quarterly statements, I probably would have continued to give them my loan business (which, though not as much as some people's, is certainly worth more then the price of sending a few statements).

Oh well.


Shawn said...

Wow... how funny - I also have a credit union acct for virtually the exact same reasons. Perhaps it's time to check it out again and close it down. Thanks for the heads up!

Steve Eck said...

I'm not sure what inspired my Credit Union to start kicking out accounts with small totals, but it sure came as a surprise to me. Maybe yours won't be as bitter about 'what have you done for me lately?'