Goldilocks I ain't, but I sympathize with her plight. I've been sampling from several bowls of porridge, so to speak, looking for the one that suits me "just right." The financial institution, that is. I can't say I've found it yet.
The regional bank I once considered my primary financial institution offers the supreme convenience of a branch and ATM right around the corner from my office, but, as I explained in my November column, I've decided I want to put my money with an institution that was founded to serve me and my community.
That decision led me to what I'll call Credit Union "A." My apartment is an easy 15-minute drive from the nearest branch and about a minute's walk from the nearest surcharge-free ATM, but the credit card issuer used by the credit union does not come highly recommended, to put it mildly. That's a bummer for me because I, like many of my peers, would like to build a credit history, and the credit union's young adult card seemed ideal for that before I learned its card program is owned by a bank.
Enter Credit Union "B." It's on the dean's list at CreditCardConnection.org, a website that locates fair and ethical card programs, meaning its interest rates do not exceed 18%, its late fees do not exceed $25, there are no balance transfer fees or annual fees, and there is no penalty pricing or increase in APR if late. I've joined the credit union and was approved for the card, and I'm confident that it will be a valuable financial tool.
But unfortunately, the story doesn't end there. Unlike Credit Union A, which offers free online bill pay, no strings attached, with most of its checking accounts, Credit Union B charges a monthly fee if the minimum required number of payments is not made-for all of its checking accounts. That's a major turn-off for a Gen Yer like me for whom no-hassle online banking is a must.
So Prince Charming-PFI Charming?-remains elusive, if you'll permit me to mix my fairy tales. Or, as it were, my financial services, choosing porridge flavors ? la carte-free online bill pay from Credit Union A, ethical credit card from Credit Union B and useful financial guidance from the Internet.
When my credit card arrives in the mail, I will have a plan for using it responsibly and to my best advantage, but not thanks to anything I read on my credit union's website. Instead, I owe a debt of gratitude to a personal finance website for an informative article that explained what a credit utilization rate is and what percentage I should shoot for to benefit my credit score.
By contrast, I've searched high and low on my credit union's website, and although there is some information on managing excessive credit card debt (a situation I'd obviously like to try to avoid in the first place), the only concrete advice it offers on using credit cards is to pay the balance in full by the due date. A good suggestion, but it falls far short of the comprehensive rundown the article gave.
As it turns out, the article was written in response to a question from one of the website's commenters, leading me to daydream about how awesome it would be if my credit union did something similar instead of referring members to a collection of abbreviated resources provided by a trade association. For example, it would be great if it maintained a blog where it addressed questions about personal finance with in-depth posts. That way, all members could benefit from their fellow members' queries and the credit union would improve its image as a financial expert and authority--a place to find a balanced breakfast instead of just porridge.