by Sarah Mirk
Until a couple weeks ago, the picture on my Bank of America debit card was me glaring at the camera at age 15. Now the card doesn't exist. I've been a customer at Bank of America since I was eight years old but this December I called it quits. I timed how long it took to cancel my account: from walking into the SE Hawthorne Bank of America branch one rainy evening to walking out, cash in hand, only nine minutes passed. Now that's what I call service.
The anger I've felt over the past year about the bank bailout was equally matched with a feeling of helplessness. The whole web of subprime loans, lending rates and bailout politics felt way over my head, especially what I'm actually supposed to do about it as a citizen. I don't own a house, I don't own any stocks, I don't have a direct line to the White House. My only grasp of the American financial system comes from occasional NPR podcasts and the unshakable feeling that people like me are being screwed. What the hell could I do about it?
But here's what I did know: I wanted Bank of America's paws off my money. They made risky investments, took $45 billion in bailout money and a year later, credit is still tight for the people whose tax pennies dug them out of trouble. I want to support financial institutions that make good, transparent loans to local businesses and would-be homeowners.
So the same evening I canceled my BofA account, I packed my entire savings into my bag and (cautiously) walked 20 blocks down Hawthorne to Rivermark Credit Union, a small Portland-based lender whose mission is making safe, stable loans to locals. I get free checking, they cover those irritating ATM fees I get from using other banks' ATMs and hey, they even offer dental insurance for their members who have shitty insurance or none at all. I didn't know banks could be like this. Yeah, their janky Hawthorne ATM works at a glacial pace and their lobby is homely, but I'd rather support them than the swanky big players.
Though I acted on my own frustration, it turns out I'm actually part of a movement. Last week Huffington Post ran piece called "Move Your Money", which details why Americans should switch their money from bailout banks to small, local lenders. "Our money has been used to make the system worse—what if we used it to make the system better?" asks the HuffPo piece. Agreed. My money is a drop in the bucket of the American financial system but, hey, it's my drop.