Switching banks? Make it seamless

  @Money November 11, 2013: 4:49 PM ET
new york banks

Tips on how to easily change banks and avoid paying account closing fees.

NEW YORK (Money Magazine)

You might be scared that if you try to change banks, you'll get slammed by penalties.

Not if you're strategic, says Greg McBride of Bankrate.com: "The process of switching can be relatively painless if you stay organized."

Find a bank that fits. Review MONEY's winning banks, keeping in mind your habits. For example, if you tend to use out-of-network ATMs a few times a month, an account that charges for that but has no monthly maintenance fee may end up costing you more than an account that offers free ATM usage but has a small monthly fee.

Threaten to break it off. Once you know the terms you want, call up your own bank's customer service line and tell the rep that you're thinking of taking your deposits elsewhere. The rep may offer you better terms, so consider whether that tips the scales back in its favor.

The decision doesn't have to be all or nothing; if you like your current checking account but want a better rate on savings (or vice versa), you can open a separate standalone account at a different bank.

Related: What does the bank of the future look like?

Should you decide to make a switch, ask your new bank if it offers a "switch kit," a packet that usually includes checklists and form letters to streamline the process of changing over. (Chase, Susquehanna, and Bank of the West are among the winners to offer these.)

If the new bank you'd like to use does not offer a similar kit, you can download and print a free generic one via consumerismcommentary.com.

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Open the new account first. Don't shut down your old account right away. Once you've chosen your new bank, get it set up, and transfer all direct deposits and automatic bill payments all at once. (The checklists in the switch kits can help you remember the range of bills you'll want to switch, like cellphones and car loans.)

Be sure to remember to change over quarterly payments, which are infrequent enough that they are easy to miss, says McBride. Leave enough money in the old account to cover any outstanding checks, plus one month of expenses as a cushion. Then put your old debit card on ice.

Related: Can you trust online-only banks?

Close your old account. Submit an account closure form -- the switch kits usually have sample letters -- and confirm in writing from your old bank that your account has been closed. You can either transfer your funds to your new account yourself or ask the bank to mail you a check.

Don't forget to destroy all old checks and empty safe deposit boxes, as well. As long as you have been with your old bank for at least six months, it's unlikely you'll have to pay an account closing fee. To top of page

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