Bank Customers Angry About Fees Join Credit Unions Instead

Customers Close Bank Accounts

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - With bank fees on the rise, some South Floridians are withdrawing their money from traditional banks and turning to credit unions instead.

"I was through the roof, appalled, angry, everything. All my emotions came out," Shari Reimann said.

Reimann had just been informed new fees were on the way from Bank of America, and the working mom had finally had it.

"Why should I be charged $5 extra every month in addition to the maintenance fees I'm already paying for two checking accounts?" Reimann said.

So at the advice of her co-workers at Llumina Publishing in Fort Lauderdale, Reimann joined Tropical Financial Credit Union, and she soon realized she wasn't the only one who was angry with the banks.

"There was at least 20 people that had closed their accounts that one day," she said.

"We're not going to charge $5 to use your debit card. (It) never even crossed our mind," said Richard Helber, the CEO of Tropical Financial Credit Union.

Helber said most customers are surprised to learn that anyone can join the credit union. It's not like years ago, when customers could only participate through work.

"So it's a volunteer organization. It is a not-for-profit cooperative. We don't pay taxes. We don't have stockholders. We're here to serve our customers, not stockholders," Helber said.

"I didn't know much about credit unions. I didn't know anyone could join into a credit union bank. I thought it was the old days. You had to work for the union," said Reimann.

Helber said a significantly smaller marketing fund is one reason not everyone knows about credit unions but pointed out everything customers do at a normal bank -- such as getting loans or checking their accounts online -- can be done through the credit union without any fees.

"When people know, they can save on average $400 a year by using a credit union instead of a bank. That gets a lot of attention," said Helber.

"Close my account at Bank of America, save money -- yeah, sounds good," said Reimann.

Copyright 2011 by Post-Newsweek Stations. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed