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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Why I Still Do Business With Bank of America


Okay, I've admitted it: I bank with a big, money-center bank. Specifically, Bank of America.

It's not the sole institution with which I bank. But I do maintain a checking and other accounts there, and some readers are, apparently, appalled by that.

I learned this last week when I wrote about my attempts to deposit checks using Bank of America's new mobile check deposit app. I was glad that, finally, my bank was offering this cool convenience, which its other big-bank competitors (and many smaller ones) had been offering for months - or even years. Figuring that other customers felt the same way, I shared my experience.

Many readers responded with helpful comments, suggesting, for instance, ways to make the process go more smoothly. But a few others were clearly disappointed - incredulous, even - that I was still doing business with Bank of America, which they consider a disgracefully subpar institution.

To them, I say: I'm very busy. The bank's online banking system has worked well over all for me. And inertia is a powerful force in the absence of an imperative to act. Those may not be compelling reasons to switch to Bank of America if you're in the market for a bank, but the bank has done a good enough job to keep me from bailing.

I first landed at Bank of America not by choice, but by acquisition. Some 20 years ago, I became a customer of Bank South when I moved to Atlanta as a youngish journalist. (My discerning criteria at the time was that it had a branch near my apartment and an A.T.M. near my office.) I hung on when that bank was acquired by Nations Bank and when it in turn was swallowed by Bank of America. (I did use my employer-sponsored credit union to refinance the mortgage on our first home, but found it impractical to use it for everyday banking.)

When I moved to Arkansas four years ago, I was relieved that in addition to finding and buying a new house, renovating it and transitioning my children in a new school, that I didn't have to find a new bank right away. Online banking meant I didn't really have to worry about that, but Bank of America also had branches here. And I like knowing that while I rarely go to a branch, I have that option if I need it.

Juggling obligations to work and family  means that time is money to me, and I bank mostly online for the convenience. Bank of America's online banking system is functionally a breeze in comparison to another account at a regional bank that I share with a sibling. I did, however, start to diversify my banking business after Bank of America's disturbing online banking outage last fall. If problems like that were to become routine, that would be the shove I'd need to run for the exit.

The bank's plan to charge customers fees for using debit cards caused an uproar last fall, but the bank didn't implement it in the end. So the realit y for me is that Bank of America has yet to do something terrible enough to me, personally, to justify my taking the time I would have to spend to switch all of my accounts and bill payments to another bank. (Ron Lieber, the “Your Money” columnist here, says it takes 90 minutes, but I'm skeptical.)

As it stands, I don't pay fees because I use direct deposit and meet minimum balance requirements, and I don't bounce checks. I'm the sort of customer this kind of bank wants, so it pretty much works for me. Yes, the interest rate I earn on my checking and linked savings account are meager, but have you looked around lately? Rates are trifling at banks everywhere for accounts that I consider to be “running your life day-to-day” money, not investment or retirement money. I'm not looking to reap huge returns from this cash. Rather, I want it easily available to pay my bills and unexpected expenses.

If it doesn't work for you, though, and you're paying lots of fee s, by all means shop around.

Some of you might argue that Bank of America and its big-bank brethren should be shunned simply for their role in the housing-market debacle and the economic woes that followed. I tend to see that as a systemic, regulatory problem best addressed at the voting booth, rather than a bank-specific problem that I could affect by closing my account.

Having said all that, I have been intrigued by reader comments about banks like USAA, which appears to have a fanatical following, as well as praise heaped upon various credit unions. These customers claim to “love” their bank, while I find mine adequate for my needs. So, perhaps I need to raise my expectations about what a bank should provide and find some time in my packed schedule to explore other banking options. So stay tuned.

Have you left your big, money-center bank? Why or why not?