This guest post from Aja is part of the “reader stories” feature here at Get Rich Slowly. Some reader stories contain general “how I did X” advice, and others are examples of how a GRS reader achieved financial success — or failure.

By now we’ve all heard about how the giant national banks (Bank of America, Chase, Citibank) are “too big to fail” and have to be rescued from their mistakes with our taxpayer money. Like most Americans, I watched the bailouts of 2008 and 2009 unfold in helpless disbelief…these big banks were taking money out of my tax dollars to spend on CEO bonuses and stock market gambles, and it felt like there was nothing I could do about it.

But I decided there was something I could do. I’d been a customer with Chase (previously Washington Mutual). After reading J.D.’s article on rewards checking accounts and realizing I was missing out, I closed my account with Chase and moved my checking and savings to a local credit union down the street. I have to say, it felt great.

My new credit union insures my money just as well as the big bank, but it also offers a ridiculously high interest rate on my checking account, refunds on ATM fees so I can use any ATM I want (even those $3 fees at the back of the convenience stores), really great customer service, and — best of all — free cookies on Fridays.

They can afford to do all of this because, as a credit union, their top priority is me, the member. Not CEO and shareholder profits, not bloated advertising budgets. And best of all, by moving my money to a local community bank, I’ve taken money away from the poorly-managed, impersonal big bank and given it to a bank that will actually use it to help me and people in my community.

I made a real difference, and while my tiny accounts are nothing to a company like Chase, they matter a lot to my local bank and my community. (And did I mention the free cookies?)

Here’s an interesting (if over-earnest) video about the difference between big banks and small banks:

If you, too, have been thinking about moving your money, here’s what you can do:

  • Ask your friends, neighbors, and coworkers if any of them are using a local community bank or credit union. What do they think? Do they have any recommendations? You can also try the “Find a Bank” locator at the Move Your Money project.
  • Once you’ve decided on a local bank that meets your needs, set aside half an hour to stop by a nearby branch and open an account. I’ve always found this a very pleasant experience.
  • Start to contact any companies that have your debit/credit card or bank information on file, and give them the new bank’s info. It’s best to get this all done about a week before the next step, so that everything’s nice and tidy.
  • Set aside about an hour to head to your old “too big to fail” bank and close your account. If you haven’t already done so, get the rest of your funds in a check to bring to your new bank. If you’ve already transferred all auto-billing to the new bank, this should be a quick and relatively painless process (easier than trying to cancel your cable service, anyhow).

If you’re like me, you’ll find that you don’t lose a thing by moving your money. In fact, you may gain better service and better interest rates! And free cookies on Fridays…

Reminder: This is a story from one of your fellow readers. Please be nice. After nearly a decade of blogging, I have a thick skin, but it can be scary to put your story out in public for the first time. Remember that this guest author isn’t a professional writer, and is just learning about money like you are.

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