Put your money where your home is

The Portland Phoenix | By Deirdre Fulton

Earlier this summer, I wrote a piece about local banks versus big banks (see "Keep Your Money in Maine," by Deirdre Fulton, June 24). FDIC statistics show that in Cumberland County, more than 80 percent of the market share of deposits is in TD Bank, Key Bank, or Bank of America.

As a result of researching and writing that article, I decided to make a (tiny) dent in that percentage by MOVING MY MONEY from Bank of America to a local institution.

It took me a long time to choose among several venerable banks and credit unions. Once I finally selected (my decision was based largely on convenience), waltzing into the branch and opening a new account was easy enough.

The harder part is severing ties with my old bank.

I cribbed from a letter drafted by Catherine Austin Fitts, a bank-local enthusiast who currently serves as president of Solari, Inc., a progressive investment company based in Tennessee. It expresses my appreciation for 10 years of BoA customer service, then explains why I am leaving.

"In recent years, I have become increasingly alarmed at the growing corruption in the financial system in this country," the letter reads. In a bullet-point list, it goes on to say that "American households are experiencing record deficits while America's largest banks are enjoying record profits," and "As private banks and their investors increasingly control our government bank accounts and financial policies, it falls to the private citizen and private markets to assume greater responsibility for ensuring that our financial system operates on an ethical and lawful basis." (Read the letter here.)

I can't give this to them, though, until I deal with the seemingly infinite loose ends it takes to close an account. And this, of course, is what trips people (me) up: the transferring of direct deposits, the switching of automatic bill-pays, the paperwork. I'm muddling through, and I'll keep you posted.

• While behemoth banks dominate Maine's financial market, SMALLER INSTITUTIONS ARE GRAPPLING FOR A BIGGER PIECE OF THE PIE. And in some arenas, they're succeeding. With 47 percent of Maine residents using a credit union for at least some portion of their banking needs, Maine is the fifth-strongest "credit union state" in the country, according to Jon Paradise, government and public affairs manager at the Maine Credit Union League.

The only way to grow that number, however, is to get 'em while they're young. Right now, between 12 and 15 percent of 18-to-25-year-olds in Maine belong to a credit union. Young & Free Maine — with its 24-year-old representative, Seth Poplaski — hopes to increase that percentage. At YoungFreeMaine.com, young adults can find money-management tips and tools, blogs about finance, and information about credit unions.

The Young & Free campaign is a marketing gimmick, yes, but one with earnest roots. It was launched in 2007 by Currency Marketing, a Canadian firm that claims as part of its mission: "We can't wait for the day when credit unions have more members than banks have customers. We want credit unions to gain ground on the banks one member at a time."

Today, there are Y&F "spokesters" in eight US states and two Canadian provinces. Like Poplaski, they travel to college campuses, talking to the 18-to-25 crowd about financial responsibility and how credit unions can serve students and recent graduates (with services such as free checking accounts, shared-branch networks, and surcharge-free ATMs).

"You're more apt to just walk into a big bank," Poplaski admits. Which is why part of his task is to demonstrate that "credit unions are a viable option for young people."

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