Saturday, December 12, 2009

Chase's incredibly sleazy WaMu bait-and-switch

Well, I need a new bank. Again.

As mentioned before, I have one hard-and-fast, possibly irrational demand for my bank accounts: No fee for using outside ATMs. I'll pay a fee to the ATM operator. I think the fees are obnoxiously high ($2 to spit out some cash? Really?), but I can at least recognize that the ATM owner is providing me with a service. For my own bank to charge me a fee for daring to venture outside its ATM network is punitive and controlling and it makes me wildly angry.

I realise that getting as wound up as I do about something that, at the outside, would cost me maybe $100 a year is unreasonable. I'll drop $100 for a dinner out without wincing. But. For whatever reason, this is my flash point. I do not want to do business with a bank that charges me for outside ATM withdrawls.

The last time I went bank shopping, WaMu won in large part because it didn't have outside ATM fees. That turned out to be not wholly true -- WaMu sneakily snuck in fees for checking your account balance at an outside ATM, even though withdrawing cash was free -- but I grouchily decided to let that stand.

When WaMu went down, this was my biggest and most immediate concern about getting rolled to Chase: ATM FEES, DO NOT WANT.

It took Chase nearly a year to actually force migrate me from the WaMu platform to their own, which finally happened in full in July. Chase sent out a giant, thick packet of diclosures about my new bank account. I, of course, skipped right to the ATM fees section, and found what seemed to be good news. For ex-WaMu customers, Chase was creating a new account, "Chase Free Extra Checking." Key difference between that and Chase's usual checking: No outside ATM fees.

I was pleasantly impressed. Chase seemed to be doing the right thing by its WamMu crowd. I carried on, relatively happy with my new bank.

Until this morning, when I went to balance my checkbook. And found, littered through my November transaction register, two $2 fees labeled "NON-CHASE ATM FEE-WITH"

What. the. hell!?

So, spitting bullets, I called Chase customer service. The rep explained that my account terms called for no fee for the first two non-Chase ATM withdrawls each month, and a $2 fee thereafter.

NO, I fired back. NOT TRUE. I have here this giant thick account disclosure paperwork stack which explicitly says no fees ever ...

While she put me on hold to go find an account specialist, I went Googling.

And found this blog post, with a warning in the comments about "IMPORTANT CHANGE TO NON-CHASE ATM FEES

Oh bugger.

Seems Chase snuck a pretty significant change in the account terms into the fine print of September statements. Here's the thing: Like almost everyone else on Earth these days, I have paperless statements. I don't read them. I scan my account register to reconcile things, but don't go reading fine print each month. And Chase never sent any kind of alert or special disclosure about "hey, we're changing the terms of your account, here's the explainer to read."

I pulled up the electronic version of my September statement, and sure enough, there's the ATM fee change notice. A whole TWO MONTHS after Chase helpfully assured me it wouldn't change fees. And the "two a month" bit is temporary -- starting 2/2/2010, all non-Chase ATM withdrawls are slapped with fees.

I'm pissed off and bank shopping.

It's not just the fee. It's the slimy way it was snuck through, and the lack of transparency, and the general sense I've always had from Chase that customer service is way, way down on their priority list, significantly below "pry every dollar we can from the marks we do business with." I always hated the way they treat credit-card customers. I shouldn't have expected them to treat banking customers any better.

So. Anyone have a bank they actually like? With no ATM fees. Because I am getting the hell out of Dodge, before Jamie Dimon's hordes figure out a way to slap a surcharge on customers for consuming oxygen or whatnot.