Taking a stand with your savings

  • Article by: KARA MCGUIRE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 14, 2010 - 9:27 PM

First we had 'eat local.' Then 'buy local.' Is it time to bank local as well?

Unhappy with the culture on Wall Street? Angered by the behavior of the banking giants? Then move your money to a community bank or credit union. That's the message of Move Your Money, a campaign that's gone viral since it launched late last year.

It all started when Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post had dinner with some friends who were disturbed by "the huge, growing chasm between the fortunes of Wall Street banks and Main Street banks," Huffington wrote in an essay about the project. The result is www.moveyourmoney.info, a website that suggests individuals voice their displeasure with their deposits.

Jeanne Griffin is sold on the concept. It's not that she's had problems with her big bank. But the bank bailout "did bother me," said the 34-year-old technical analyst. "All of us are paying for all of this and it's hurting the economy," she said. She opened an account with Bremer Bank, because "they aren't about making money off of people." (Bremer is owned by the Otto Bremer Foundation and donates about 40 percent of its profits to the community.) Griffin, who lives in Minneapolis, said she also feels safer keeping her money with a smaller bank.

It's no surprise that Marshall MacKay likes the idea. "It's a pushback to what we've seen play out in the economy," said the president of the Independent Community Bankers of Minnesota. He says community banks are well-suited to the times. "The more dollars that you put in your local community bank, the more funds that they have available to lend to the consumer to buy a house, or a small businessman to produce products or services, or thankfully, employ people."

In this era of tighter credit, community banks are more likely to consider more than just a credit score when lending out money. Plus it's easier to find someone with the power to make decisions if you have mortgage trouble.

Even the Legislature is considering bills proposing that the state's general revenue account and some reserves of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system be deposited with community banks or credit unions.

Morningstar banking analyst Jaime Peters thinks the movement is feeding off of negative perceptions about bailouts of the big banks. Yet in the crisis atmosphere of late 2008, many big banks felt forced to take funds from the government whether they needed to or not. And many, she points out, repaid the government as soon as they could. Among them were Wells Fargo, U.S. Bancorp and TCF Financial.

And while the financial crisis might prompt some individuals to reconsider their banking relationship, it's not showing up in the numbers. Big banks actually captured more market share in the aftermath of the crisis, Peters said.

When asked about the movement, the Financial Services Roundtable, a lobbying group whose members are large financial institutions, responded: "A customer should place their money with the financial institution that best serves their individual needs. If a consumer is not happy with their current institution's level of service or product offerings, they should contact them or find another institution that fits their needs better."

As for your money's safety, "unless you're somebody who is going to be exceeding the FDIC limits [of at least $250,000] as far as deposits go, your money is safe whether or not you chose a large bank or small bank," Peters said.

Smaller isn't always better. Community banks have had their share of troubles too; several have failed in Minnesota over the past year.

To assist you in your search, Move Your Money has partnered with a risk analyst who grades the health and safety of community banks. You can search for one near you by ZIP code. Find credit unions near you at www.creditunion.coop.

Life is ever-changing and our financial needs with it. Take the time to reevaluate your banking relationship now and then. Is it working? Then maybe switching is too much of a hassle. But if you've been meaning to shop around, be sure to explore all of your options -- credit union or bank, mega, medium or small.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

•What do you want from the institution that holds your money?

•Does it have free ATMs in convenient locations?

•Does it have branches close to you?

•Does it offer free checking and other products? Consider not only your current needs, but your needs five years from now, Peters suggests.

•If you bank online, is the website up to snuff?

•If you use a personal financial management tool such as www.mint.com, is the bank or credit union compatible?

•Does it offer financial education for you and your kids?

•Is the coffee any good?

Kara McGuire • 612-673-7293 or kmcguire@startribune.com

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