It’s not easy to switch banks. That’s partly because today’s digital banking is superconvenient, with checking, savings, and other accounts linked together at the same bank. Direct deposit, automatic bill pay, and other services bind customers to their bank even tighter. And bank-account closing fees, rules, and other hassles are just enough of an obstacle for most folks to give in to inertia.

But it shouldn’t be that way. Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, has called on Congress and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to remove those obstacles. Banks should make it easier for consumers to transfer funds, automatic bill pay, and direct deposits to new accounts; eliminate unfair fees for closing accounts; and be prohibited from reopening closed “zombie” accounts. But until regulators take action, here’s how to switch banks as painlessly as possible:

1. Open a new checking account as a secondary one at your new credit union, virtual bank, or smaller regional or community bank without closing the existing one. For virtual banks, that’s a relatively easy online process; for the others, the process may take 30 minutes to an hour and require a deposit of $50 or less.

2. While you’re waiting for your debit card to come, contact your employer to move the direct deposit of your paycheck to the new institution (it may take a few weeks).

That may also make you eligible for free checking. If you really want to get the new account up and running fast, use the old bank’s online bill pay to transmit funds to the new account, or write a check from the old account to deposit into the new one—but see steps 3 and 4 first.




3. 
Stop auto bill payments. That can be easily done online if you have been using the bank’s bill-pay feature, where you control when so-called “push” payments are sent out. If you auto-pay by authorizing a payee to “pull” the payment from your account, you’ll need to contact the company and follow its procedures for stopping payment. Then we recommend that you never use that method again, so that you retain complete control of your account.

4. Keep the old account open at least until the last check you have written from it clears.

5. Set up the additional features you need for the new account after the direct-deposit flow starts there, including online bill pay, mobile banking, and alerts.

6. Go to your old bank to close your account. Zero out any remaining balance by having the old bank electronically transfer the funds to your new account, or by obtaining a cashier’s check or cash. There should be no fee to close accounts you have had for more than a few months.


Editor's Note:
 This article also appeared in the January 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.