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Want to change banks? It might cost you

May 30, 2012|By David Colker
  • Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times
Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times (ltl95qpd20120530144728/600 )

Is your bank dinging you with a variety of fees? You might be tempted to switch your accounts to a different bank.

But watch out, says Consumers Union in a report released Wednesday -- some banks actually charge you fees to leave them. In addition, the switching process can be so complicated that it can inadvertently trigger late or penalty fees.

It can even trigger the creation of "zombie accounts" that can rack up fees.

"Consumers may be fed up with their bank, but they can encounter roadblocks that make moving their money a real headache," said Suzanne Martindale, staff attorney for Consumers Union.

Several banks surveyed by the group charged as much as $25 to close an account, but this was usually an issue only if the account was open less than six months. 

Instantly transferring money from one account, no matter how old, to another almost certainly will cost. None of the banks surveyed by Consumers Union would make a free, same-day transfer. Fees for this ranged from $7 to $30.

More troublesome was the problem of transferring services, such as direct deposit and automatic payments. "Banks make every effort to ensnare customers in a web of products," said a Consumers Union statement, "which can make it more difficult for customers to move to a new institution."

Rerouting automatic payments and deposits can take several weeks, which opens consumers to being hit with fees if not properly handled. If an automatic payment is made from the old account that doesn't have enough funds to cover it, for example, a penalty is charged.

And if a deposit is made to a closed account, some banks will reopen it and that could very well involve charges. Consumers Union calls these "zombie accounts."

Sometimes the only way to ensure a transfer is handled smoothly is to open the new account first and deposit enough funds into it to cover automatic payments. Then leave funds in the old account for six weeks or so before closing it entirely.  

For Consumers Union tips on switching banks, see this checklist.

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