People say they're furious at behemoth banks, and for myriad reasons: lending practices that helped sink the economy, government bailouts, foreclosures, huge bonuses for CEOs -- and now, higher fees and tougher account requirements.
Get ready to vent some more. Here's what industry experts and Consumer Reports' recent analysis suggest you'll find now and in the coming months:
*Fee hikes and tougher account requirements will probably continue, especially while the economy remains weak. For example, some banks, like Chase and PNC, are now charging a $25 fee even to close certain accounts.
*Customers with a lot of accounts at one bank might avoid some fees, but they're not immune. Banks may try a spectrum of charges even for good customers, including fees for paper statements and higher safe-deposit costs.
*Consumers are more likely to find lower fees and better rates at community banks, larger credit unions and online institutions.
Experts predict that banks will continue to experiment with fee increases, tougher account requirements, cost-cutting and new sources of revenue, such as sharing customers' marketing data. They are trying to make up billions in lost revenue due to the bad economy, new regulations and, in some cases, their own inefficiencies. But you don't have to be the one to pay the price.
Does it make sense for you to switch banks? If your bank plans to stick you with new fees or tougher account requirements, your first thought might be to find a new one. That might be your best option, but switching banks can be a hassle.
So it's important to weigh your options before making a decision to move. CR offers this advice:
*Check the terms. If you're facing a single new fee, see what it would take to avoid it. Increasing your account balance by a few hundred dollars or signing up for direct deposit might work.
*Change your habits. For example, plan a weekly visit to an ATM in your bank's network to withdraw cash instead of going out of network. And check your statements more carefully so you don't rack up overdraft fees.
*Try to negotiate. You might be able to get a fee waived if you tell your bank you're thinking about moving your accounts.
*Consider convenience. Banking is about much more than rates and fees. It's also about the day-to-day banking experience. Does the bank have adequate ATM locations and local branches with convenient hours, or give you privileges to use out-of-network ATMs?
*Do your homework. Check with competing banks and credit unions, starting with their websites. That's where you'll find complete information about rates, fees, terms and conditions.
*Plan your getaway. If you've decided that moving your money is the best solution, make the process as smooth as possible. Check to see whether your new bank offers a "switch kit" to help you streamline the process, or check out CR's step-by-step guide at www.ConsumerReports.org/bankaccount.
*Make your move. Open up the account in your new bank or credit union with a small deposit. Then you can transfer funds from your old bank to the new institution electronically. Arrange to switch over your automatic payments and deposits to the new account.
*The grand finale. CR suggests leaving at least a small amount of cash in your old account and closing it only after you're sure all checks and transfers have cleared.
By the editors of Consumer Reports at www.consumerreports.org.