Friday, April 2, 2010

Day 92- Breaking up with JP Morgan Chase

Dear Mr. President,

I joined a Credit Union today. As soon as my account is set up, I'm closing my old account with Chase. This decision was based on a number of factors, but the business practices of the Credit Union, which by nature is not for profit, has no shareholders, and does not wreak havoc on the financial system through unscrupulous lending and manipulative financial practices. I say this as a complete layman; economic issues are not my strong point, at all. I'm terrible with money, terrified of investing or even saying the word "stocks" and I generally only check my bank account balance after an immense inner struggle about how much I really want to know about my finances. I was finally able to extricate myself from credit card debt, and now that I have some degree of confidence in my financial stability, I want to put my money where my mouth (not to mention personal belief) is. I don't make anywhere close to $30,000 a year, and the money I do make can go to much better things than the profit margins of Chase Bank.

Perhaps it is my ignorance about most financial matters, but I find the kind of gimmicks Chase (and other banks like it) use to attract customers truly off-putting. Keep using your debit card, because you never know when we're going to give you a free purchase! The misleading way that their "overdraft protection service" has been advertised in the last few months is a perfect example of this. With this "service", customers are allowed to spend more than they have- at $31/transaction. A card without this "protection" will merely be declined if more money than is present in the account is charged. This makes sense. This alerts people to when their account balance isn't what they think it should be- always an indication that something, either their calculations or their charges, is wrong. Chase decided to wage an ad campaign to encourage people to keep being charged not to know their account was overdrawn- likely because overdraft fees made up a significant portion of the company's profits. It seems as though Chase is directly targeting vulnerable consumers who don't realize they're being taken advantage of by advertising this fee as some kind of protection.

Anyway, I feel that the Credit Union I joined today is much more honest in its practices and works to serve its members and its community, not its bottom line. That's important to me as a consumer, but not nearly as important as the work that went into making this decision. I've made a conscious effort to learn more about the financial system, the way banks and credit unions work, and the way I budget, spend, and save my own money. The absolute best way to avoid being taken advantage of by the powerful is through education and awareness, and I feel that today was a step in that direction. I will not be hoodwinked by slogans and PR; I will not be sucked in by gimmicks and games; my financial health is too important for me to trust it to others. It is my future, my freedom, and my security, as an independent individual, and I will not allow it to be threatened by my own ignorance.

I feel that this kind of financial information would be a valuable addition to basic high school education. We should prepare students for the realities of the financial decisions they'll be making; decisions about student loan debt and credit cards and responsible use of bank accounts. Preparing students, giving them all the information they need to make informed decisions and to protect themselves against manipulation is an important aspect of education, and this latest financial crisis clearly demonstrates how urgently this awareness is needed.

Respectfully yours,


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