Let’s get one thing straight from the start: I think Bank of America is terrible. You will hear that repeatedly through this post. Kyle thinks Bank of America is okay. They haven’t done anything major to annoy him – or perhaps I should say he has not let the things about their service that drive me crazy get to him.
This post details the stages of our use of BoA and concludes with why the heck we still have an account with them.
The College Years
Kyle and I both got Bank of America student checking accounts in August 2003 when we started college, along with a huge percentage of our other classmates (just like that faulty Dell laptop that was on sale that month!). I had come from VA to CA for college so my parents and I thought it would be best to choose a bank that had branches all over the US, which BoA did (ostensibly – more on that later). There was a branch in the cute little shopping area walking distance from our school. And honestly, everything was fine back then. We made little transactions with our debit cards, used the BoA ATM – fairly tame stuff. There were no minimums to get free student accounts and we had full service options, not that we really needed them.
Undgergrad to Grad
Fast forward to college graduation. Kyle was entering grad school so he could continue his student account fairly seamlessly. I asked BoA if my account would convert to a normal checking account with fees (because I didn’t have enough money to meet their minimums) and was assured that “student” accounts actually last for five years. Knowing that I would be in grad school by the time that clock timed out, I put it out of my mind. When I started grad school I brought my new student ID to my local branch to have my student account clock reset (or whatever) they told me they updated the account, but a few months later my account rolled from a student to a normal account and I was hit with a monthly fee. I got it reversed, but that was just one of many mistakes BoA would make with my account.
East Coast/West Coast
The year after college we both moved to the east coast, me to the DC area and Kyle to Durham. We both discovered that despite the fact that BoA seems to be a nationwide bank (I mean, AMERICA, right?), the BoAs in CA are actually “on a different system” than the BoAs in the other lower 47. What that meant is that our local branches could take deposits and such – basically anything an ATM could do – but to do anything that you needed a human for, like getting a mistake corrected, they had no power. They had to call the CA branches up and get those people to do whatever it was that you wanted. Kyle, upon finding this out, did the smart thing and closed his CA account and opened an account in NC. I didn’t close my account right away because there was the possibility that I would move back to CA for grad school, and then made the very stupid choice not to close and re-open it when I committed to grad school in NC.
For the first year or so, every time BoA made a mistake with my account (which happened a couple times per year) I would call or go down to our local branch to try to get them to remedy it, and they would call over to CA, and the whole ordeal would take forever. After that I wised up and started saving myself the trips to the local branch and just called the CA hotline myself to get the mistakes corrected. Skipping the trip to the local branch meant missing out on their ability to cut to the front of the customer service line, so the trade-off for not going to the branch was that I would wait on hold for tens of minutes before talking to a human. BoA’s phone customer service is notoriously terrible, but at least I could wait in the comfort of my home.
The Rise of the Internet Banks
I signed up with ING after I graduated from college and started getting a handle on my finances. I thought internet banks could have the potential to be better than brick-and-mortar but I wasn’t sure about the logistics of it all. At the time, ING did not offer free paper checks, their ATM network was a bit less convenient than the BoA network for my location, and check deposit was only through the mail. I used both checking accounts for a few years – I had my paychecks and bill pay linked to my ING account and transferred my discretionary spending to my BoA account every month.
Over time I became more comfortable with ING and used my BoA account less and less. Despite not having any physical branches, I experienced superior customer service when I called ING than when I tried to use BoA’s (since the local branches were useless to me). BoA continued to screw up my account on a regular basis by violating their own terms of service and I had to constantly keep on top of my transfers to make sure nothing went amiss. In contrast, I had no problems with ING.
Marriage and Cord-Cutting
By the time Kyle and I got engaged, I was totally fed up with BoA and wanted both of us to close our accounts. Kyle’s experience with them had been fine – just one mistake on BoA’s part that he had to correct. Kyle was leery of using ING exclusively, though. It took us a few months of arguing between internet and brick-and-mortar banks even after we were married before Kyle came up with a solution acceptable to both of us: Ally. It turned out that Kyle’s objection to ING wasn’t the fact that it was internet-only but rather that they didn’t offer free checking – and Ally did. Ally also allowed us to use any ATM without fees.
Kyle still wanted to keep his BoA account for cash and check deposit because he didn’t like mailing checks in. So we closed my CA BoA account and kept Kyle’s NC BoA account and made it joint. But after a transition period we no longer did any real banking through BoA as we almost never receive checks, and eventually Ally added scanned check deposit and then a smartphone app with deposit. The only time having the account has come in handy was once when we needed to get something notarized, which BoA offered to us free of charge.
Not a Student, Not Yet a PhD
We recently received notice from BoA that Kyle’s account is set to roll from a student account to a regular account. Kyle is still a student, so he contacted BoA about getting the student account extended and they told him once that student accounts are only good for 5 years (it’s been 5.5 years with this particular one) and then that they are only good for 10 years (it’s only been 9.5 years total). In any case, his (reasonable, we thought) request was refused.
The regular accounts are now subject to tiered service, and if we want to keep from paying a monthly fee and keep our low balance we have to give up teller service, so basically BoA is only going to let us use them like they are an internet bank. The only remaining advantage, then, is the option to deposit cash in an ATM, which we can’t do with Ally.
I’m still advocating for us to close the BoA account and go exclusively with Ally but Kyle wants to be ready in case someone ever gives us a bunch of cash (???). Maybe when we move to San Diego we can get a credit union or something and we can finally give up BoA, but for now it looks like BoA (or a similar megabank) is going to be in our account mix. But we are keeping our account balance tiny!
If you put up with crap from your megabank, why do you continue to use them? With which banks have you had particularly good or bad customer service? Have you had issues transitioning from a student checking account?
photo from Free Digital Photos