Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Bank Mergers

What should you do if your institution merges, or, should we say, in case your already-merged institution merges again?

  • Always keep crystal-clear records of your account numbers and balances in case computers foul up.
  • If you have a mortgage, get an amortization schedule and use it to track monthly payments so you always know exactly how much you owe. If your bank won't give you one or if it charges a steep fee, you can print out amortization schedules free nowadays from many Web sites such as www.hsh.com. Visit the site.
  • Watch that you don't exceed the $100,000 per person per bank FDIC insurance limit if your bank merges. This could easily happen if you have a deposit account with your bank's new partner.
  • Monitor fee increases or pricing changes. Some may be designed to encourage you to bank online, by telephone or by ATM.
  • Check online for deposit rates and loan rates nationally. You can do this at bankrate.com, hsh.com and cardweb.com. Make certain your new bank stays competitive. If not, switch.
  • Always determine whether your branch manager has authority to waive fees or arrange special deals for you. The amount of discretion a manager has could change. Try to negotiate.
  • Contact the institution's proper regulatory agency if you can't track down an account or security that disappeared during a merger or series of mergers. Start with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency for national banks, www.occ.gov; Office of Thrift Supervision, www.ots.treas.gov, for federally chartered savings institutions; or your state's financial services division for state-chartered institutions, www.csbs.org. Also complain to those agencies if you're treated unfairly.
  • Find out whether there are new programs for which you or might qualify. Sometimes, for example, a bank merger actually could mean better deals on senior citizen accounts or on business accounts.
  • If you encounter a problem during a merger and all else fails, don't rule out the prospect of getting a good lawyer. If you have a case, look for a lawyer in your area who is knowledgeable about consumer law. Don't be intimidated by fees. It's possible that a strong case could cost you nothing.
  • Unhappy? Consider joining a credit union, which, because it is not-for-profit, often charges less for services. Credit unions, though, typically have membership restrictions and require you to have a "share" or savings account. To locate a credit union you might be eligible to join, call 1-800-358-5710. You also might get better rates and lower fees by banking online. But be certain you first carefully examine the effectiveness of the bank's security.

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