Higher savings rates, lower fees, and better customer service: For every reason that motivates you to switch banks for checking or savings accounts, there’s an opposite reason to avoid the hassle.
Changing banks, however, doesn’t happen often. Only 4% of customers switched banks in a year, according to J.D. Power’s 2019 U.S. Retail Banking Satisfaction Study.
“Change is hard, especially change around money,” says Dale Shafer II, certified financial planner and founder at Life Moves Wealth Management in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Here are five obstacles to switching banks and how to address them.
1. You’ve only known one bank
Banking at the same institution as your parents had can be cozy and familiar, whether you’re young or decades into adulthood. Or maybe you started a banking relationship later in life. Either way, when you’re ready to move on, leaving as a longtime customer can be a big deal.
When “you grow up with that establishment, it can be difficult” to leave, says Shafer. His oldest son “was almost afraid to do it” because he wrongly believed that he might damage his parents’ relationship with their bank.
Tip: Remember that you have power as a customer. Research fees and services at other banks to see how they compare to yours and whether they would be more beneficial to you. Choosing a new bank involves knowing your must-haves.
2. You’ve set up a lot of automatic payments
If you have recurring transfers and automatic bill payments through your checking account, you’ll need to change them to a new bank manually. And don’t forget about any direct deposits.
Ask yourself, “How many different services are connected to this bank account or that credit or debit card? It’s your Spotify, your gym, anything you’ve subscribed to,” Shafer says. “It’s a time commitment.”
Tip: Make a list of all subscriptions, memberships and other recurring payments tied to your checking account as part of the steps to switch banks. Check bank statements for at least the past 12 months to catch monthly and annual charges.
3. Your bank requires a phone call or paperwork to close
Banks make it easier to open an account than close one. Nearly all 20 largest U.S. banks with personal checking or savings let you apply online. Still, few of their websites mention the ability to close accounts online, according to a NerdWallet analysis. You typically must end a bank relationship by calling, visiting a branch or mailing a request.
“If you have to submit any paperwork, that tends to slow things down,” says Marianne Nolte, certified financial planner and founder at Imagine Financial Services in Fallbrook, California.
Tip: When visiting “brick-and-mortar banks, because of COVID, it’d be wise to make an appointment,” says Nolte. At least one of the biggest U.S. banks temporarily closed some branches, which can mean longer wait times elsewhere.
4. You don’t have enough savings
Switching banks usually involves keeping old accounts as you open new ones. You want to give yourself time to transfer money and adjust payments. So you need to keep funds at two banks to satisfy any bills and minimum balance requirements.
“If the bank has a minimum to open and a minimum to avoid fees, someone [who’s] tight on money … can get hit by fees within a month,” says Saundra Davis, founder and executive director at Sage Financial Solutions, a San Francisco Bay Area-based nonprofit that provides financial coach training.
Tip: Only leap if you’re ready and able. Otherwise, focus on creating a savings buffer, such as an emergency fund. Davis recommends ensuring you can weather a transition period of a month, if not more.
5. Your reason for switching doesn’t seem good enough
You need time and money to change institutions — and a healthy mindset. Settling with your bank may stop you from finding a better one.
For example, online banks and credit unions offer high-yield savings accounts with rates above 1% annual percentage yield, which is at least 12 times the national average interest rate for savings accounts. And they generally don’t have monthly fees or ongoing minimum balance requirements. In a time of high inflation, finding a way to save more money can be enticing.
Your bank might fall short for other reasons, such as long delays in reaching customer phone support or not providing certain accounts or services.
“For the longest time, my credit union wouldn’t let me have a business account,” says Davis, who decided to open one elsewhere.
Tip: Focus on your new bank’s benefits, such as more savings or peace of mind.
If your new account has a better savings rate, “there’s a light at the end of the tunnel there — the prize,” Nolte says. If you’re consolidating accounts, remember that “next month things will be a lot easier to manage,” she says. “You just have to knuckle down and do it.”