With the financial sector making the big bucks off of the Bush administration's policies, the very same people who are getting hurt by the results of the bankruptcy bill (passed in the Senate, being voted on by the house very soon) are also some of the least able to organize themselves politically and lobby effectively. As witnessed on Get Sick, Go Broke, many of those who will be hurt by this bill are victims of illness and other unplanned, unpreventable disasters. When the Democrats tried to introduce amendments to help consumers into the bill, the Republicans shot them down left, right, and center (along with our two Democratic friends from Delaware).
It's not too hard to find out what your financial institutions have been up to. I recommend Responsible Shopper, Buy Blue, and Choose The Blue.
I, for one, took some action about this over the past few weeks. I found a credit union that I could join and moved my money out of Bank of America. And I am making 8 times more in interest over what I was getting at Bank of America.
Why credit unions over banks? They are cooperative organizations - instead of giving profits to shareholders, profits are recycled back to the members in the form of reduced or eliminated fees and better interest rates. Also, the credit union industry does not have the means to lobby Washington like banks, credit card companies, and other public financial companies do.
In order to protect their status from the lobbying wrath of banks (who do not like to lose their business to CUs), credit unions stipulate that all of their members must have something in common (a "common bond"). However, not all members must have the same common bond. So, for example, my last credit union, NIH Federal Credit Union, said that all members should either work at my old company, work at NIH, or attend or work at George Washington University. People with those criteria were said to be their "field of membership." Recently, credit unions have trended towards "community charters," which basically says that what their members have in common is they all live, work, study, or worship in a particular city, county, or state.
The largest credit union, Navy Federal Credit Union, reported about $22 billion in assets in December, 2004 and only .1% of credit unions have more than $1 billion in assets. To put this in context, an enormous credit union is the size of a small bank, and the ten largest banks in America hold about half of all bank assets. As of mid 2003, the largest bank branch network was operated by Bank of America with 4,596 branches. Contrast this with State Employees (NC), the credit union with the most branches at that time, which had 160. Lucky for us, credit unions offer online banking and many participate in shared ATM networks, so you will not be stranded without cash by making the switch.
Credit unions each file a report called a 5300 with all of their financial information each quarter. This is public information, and you can access it online at the NCUA website.
Credit unions simply do not have the lobbying power of banks, nor do they have the desire to screw their customers, since the customers are also the owners (which would mean that if credit union owners donated heavily to Bush, they would be fucking themselves, which is masturbating, which is discouraged if not illegal in red states like Alabama). In summary, you can improve your interest rates and give Bush's big sponsors a kick in the balls all in one easy move.