Banking options if you're looking to avoid fees

Many Americans in the past month have chosen to voice their outrage over banks' fees by moving their money somewhere else.

According to the Credit Union National Association, 650,000 Americans have moved their money into credit unions in the past month, and on the so-called Bank Transfer Day last Saturday, some local bank branches had 700 new customers in one day.

Though proposed debit card fees from big banks have now been scrapped, the movement away from those establishments continues, in part because consumers fear the fees may shape up in some other form.

The woman behind the Bank of America fee protest

Financial contributor Carmen Wong Ulrich said many people are deciding to move their money into traditionally non-banking establishments. One of those options, she said, is mega-retailer Walmart.

"(Walmart has) a money center," she said. "You can see it online. They cannot save your money; you cannot invest your money with them. They are not an actual bank, but they provide banking services, such as everything from paying your bills to credit cards and pre-paid debit cards to check printing to money transfers. ... The most popular thing, though, is check cashing. They offer really competitive prices in comparison to a check-cashing storefront. (A storefront) takes a percentage of your money. (Walmart) charges a flat $3 for checks up to $1,000 and $6 for checks up to $6,000."

Wong Ulrich added, "Walmart did file for a banking charter several years ago so they could provide full banking services, but did not get that charter, but it's reported they have it in Canada and Mexico, so I have a feeling they will be back, because this is very big business."

Other establishments are getting in on the action, as well.

"You've got customers upset. You have high prices. Someone is going to come in and take advantage online," she said. "So there is a website called Simple.com. ... It's a bunch of tech guys and engineers who got together and built a storefront by partnering with credit unions, so they actually have full banking services online, but through credit unions, but they are the tech(nology) to get through to no fees, no checking fees, no monthly maintenance fee, no overdraft charges -- all of these things are available to you because it's actually credit unions that they have partnered with."

Wong Ulrich said customers can now feel empowered to look for other options. She said, "We have the technology, we have the other services, that can come in, and folks can come in and take advantage of it and offer us better deals."

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