Customers plan exodus from banks to credit unions

SAN JOSE, Calif.

Bank of America stands to make billions of dollars with their new debit card fee of $5 a month. Instead, a consumer revolt is planned for Nov. 5 that could be a big opportunity for credit unions.

More than 29,000 people on Facebook have clicked "Like" on the upcoming Bank Transfer Day, when customers upset over new debit card fees say they're going to move their accounts to credit unions.

Credit unions say they're ready to win their business.

"All of our branches will be staffed kind of extra for that day," said Andrea Boutte with County Federal Credit Union. "We will have banners out at our branches, posters and on our website, the information will be available."

More than 92 million Americans belong to credit unions. Their trade group claims lower fees and higher rates save members $6.7 billion annually compared to banks.

County Federal Credit Union, based in San Jose, doesn't charge for debit card transactions. While it only has six branches, its 44,000 members can get free access to 28,000 ATMs across the country.

Members are quite enthusiastic about the kind of service they receive.

"They're usually smaller than the big banks," said credit union member Linda Condron. "They're a lot more personal, a lot more friendly. I can pick up the phone wherever I've got a problem, and I get an answer on the phone right away."

San Jose Credit Union is also planning a big promotion on Nov. 5, offering free food and prizes.

Some credit unions have charter restrictions that limit membership to people who work in the public sector or in specific industries; others, within a community charter, can sign up members at large.

Bank Transfer Day organizer Kristen Christian says she is shocked by the number of people who are joining her movement.

County Federal says it doesn't have a projection or a goal for the number of new customers this campaign will generate.

"We just know we want to be there for people who want to be credit union members," Boutte said. "Whether it's that Saturday or for months to come, we'll be there for you."

Now that Chase and Wells Fargo have backed down on charging the debit fee that gives Bank of America another week to decide whether to cave in or risk seeing the shift to credit unions.

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