Friday, September 14, 2007

The banking bake-off winner: WaMu

Sorry for the hibernation. I wrapped up my mad travel jag ... and promptly got consumed by freelance projects. Bad blogger! I promise to talk more here again.

I did finally solve my new-bank selection dilemma (detailed in part 1 and part 2 of my "eek Netbank got sold!" drama). The winner was WaMu (are they still technically Washington Mutual?), which met all my "I refuse to pay fees of pretty much any kind" criteria.

On paper, at least. WaMu's documentation is frustratingly contradictory on whether or not it charges fees for using non-WaMu ATMs; I suspect it's a holdover from their old account structure. I'm anecdotally assured that the WaMu Free Checking account is indeed fee-free.

Converting bank accounts is a sloooow process. Unsurprisingly. I signed up at WaMu's website around Aug 19. It took 15 minutes. But confirming my initial-deposit transfer from NetBank took about a week. Then it was another week for my ATM card to arrive. My PIN, sent under separate cover, was a few days more. Finally, this week, my starter checks arrived. All up, about three weeks to gather the bits and pieces needed to start my migration.

Today I went to a WaMu branch and changed my PIN from the randomly generated one to my preferred PIN, and made my first check deposit. I also used a voided starter check to fill out new direct-deposit forms. My company says it'll take 21 days to get that moved. So, it looks like another month before I can really move my financial life out of NetBank and over to WaMu.

Going with WaMu was as much an emotional decision as a straight financial one. Other banks like the Schwab Investor Checking account offer more financially advantageous things, like higher interest rates and reimbursement for outside ATM fees. But ... I've never had a local bank. Ever since college, I've used Net banks. (At the time, I couldn't find a single local bank without monthly service fees for low balances, which I am adamantly, categorically opposed to.) The idea of going to a local branch to deal with any customer-service issues, as I did this morning to change my PIN, is kind of novel. And while Internet banks have always worked out well for me financially, the one problem I keep running into is them getting sold out from beneath me. I'm not sure how much I trust banks with too-good-to-last terms like Schwab's.

So, I'm giving the WaMu thing a try. Will report back on how it works out!

Tangentially: I meant to move faster on this, since NetBank's initial Everbank announcement said it would do the conversion by "late summer," and for convenience's sake, it seems best for me to get out before that happens. But it's now September, beyond what anyone can reasonably call "late summer" ... and my NetBank account seems to be chugging on. So I checked today to see if they had an update, and found a terse little message linked in tiny print from the front page: " When we announced our agreement with EverBank in May, we expected to first complete the sale of other bank investments to have the means necessary to meet the terms of the EverBank agreement. The sale of these investments is taking longer than originally anticipated."

Uh oh. And I see NetBank is getting Nasdaq nastygrams, too. Whatever is happening under the hood over there does not seem good.