Some Californians switching from banks to local credit unions

FRESNO, Calif — Fed up with rising fees, frustrated customers of national banks are closing their accounts.

They're turning instead to community banks and credit unions, which are taking advantage of the rising tide of consumer unrest.

A growing grass-roots campaign culminates Saturday with "Bank Transfer Day," when people nationwide are encouraged to switch to credit unions.

Valley credit unions and community banks are already seeing a boost in customers.

Educational Employees Credit Union said it had a 60% increase in new accounts throughout the Central Valley in October compared to the same month last year.

The statewide Golden 1 Credit Union had a 40% bump in new accounts in October compared to its monthly average, and the number of online applications for new accounts doubled.

The head of Fresno-based United Security Bank said deposits are growing by the millions each week, a sign that new customers are transferring their money to the bank.

Porterville-based Bank of the Sierra had a 16% increase in new checking accounts in October.

In particular, credit unions – which are nonprofit organizations – are benefiting from the consumer frustration, with an estimated 650,000 people joining credit unions nationwide since Sept. 29 and shifting $4.5 billion into new savings accounts, according to the California Credit Union League.

The shift of dollars from national banks to local ones and credit unions not only brings them more business, but it has a positive effect on the local economy, said Joseph Penbera, an economist and Fresno State professor.

More of the money stays locally, rather than going to a headquarters outside of Fresno, he said. And since community banks and credit unions tend to have lower fees and rates on things such as auto loans, there's more money for people to spend on local restaurants and retailers.

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