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Switching to a Credit Union: Oh My God I Should Have Done This Years Ago. Seriously (#NoDAPL)

Trump will try to make the Dakota Access Pipeline a reality with his authoritarian machinations. This will put the Standing Rock Sioux and activists involved in incredible danger over the next few months, so it’s time to implement something I’ve been mulling over for months – closing my account with the Royal Bank of Canada, one of the banks responsible for financing the pipeline.

Take that, Capitalism! In around a month’s time, my measly income will no longer be yours to profit from.pennies

Actual photo of my net worth

I was really nervous, though, because I am both avoidant and finances-phobic. So I thought I would use this opportunity to try and get more acquainted with my own finances, and to learn more about banks and my role in larger financial institutions while I was at it.

The DeFund DAPL website lists banks that are funding the groups responsible for the pipeline. In their list of alternative banks I found a Credit Union that was walking distance from my home in Oakville, Meridian Credit Union. Cause, you know, I can’t drive and I live in my parents’ basement.

This article, “7 Easy Steps to Switch Banks without Worry”, led me through the rest of the process, without entirely delivering on its promise of “without worry”. I would have to set up my new bank account before closing the RBC one, and then switch over auto-payments (like my phone bill) to the new account somehow.

That stuff about switching automatic whatever sounded hard, so I ignored it and focused on the fun part: opening a new bank account!

What you need to open an account:

  • 2 pieces of ID (Drivers’ license, Passport, and Credit Card)
  • Social Insurance Number
  • A sense of adventure and/or urgency that will combat your intrinsic fear and apathy
  • The ability to not say yes, “you or any member of your family are working for a foreign government or military.” (But don’t worry: there are alternative ways for Russian spies to express solidarity with Standing Rock.)

Filled with righteous resolve and swaddled against the bitter cold, I marched up to the doors of Meridian Credit Union. Nicole, the banker, got me set up and brought me coffee, sealing the deal: as the age-old proverb says, give me caffeine, and I am yours.

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The blessed coffee feat. my notes

As I nursed my beverage, Nicole explained Credit Unions, my own accounts, and the process as a whole. She explained that rather than having (and being beholden to) shareholders, Meridian and other credit unions like it are owned by those who have member shares – in other words, anyone with an account. For $1, I can own a piece of Meridian, attend the Meridian AGM in April to have a say in the direction the bank takes, and help choose Meridian’s future leadership.

Hell yeah! This is exactly what I am looking for; the ability to not have what’s going on be shrouded in shell corporations and layers of secrecy, and to have the ability to impact the larger institution.

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Artists’ rendition of me attending the Meridian AGM

On another note, Meridian seems like a genuinely pleasant enterprise to be a part of. Nicole talked up the local events and charitable donations, adding that most Meridian investment is done at the branch level, meaning it’s logistically impossible for Meridian to invest in giant multi-national Evil Enterprises (my words, not hers).

Nicole and I chose a chequing account and a high-interest savings account, with no fees and a much higher interest rate than I had at RBC. Higher interest is good, for those with a similar level of financial literacy as me. In fact, credit unions typically offer interest rates higher than those at the “Big 5”. And despite being smaller than RBC, Meridian’s website is significantly nicer, with budget calculators and other handy things.

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A breath of fresh air after RBC’s Kafka-esque website, I s2g

As she was finalizing my accounts, Nicole offered me a chance to look at my credit score. Apparently this is something the Big 5 can’t do, but Nicole was able to show me what they saw when they looked me up. You can do it yourself through Equifax; Nicole recommended it be done once a year.

Now this has been a long-standing paranoia of mine – checking my credit rating only to discover that someone has taken out 15 credit cards under my name and that my credit score is in like, idek, the NEGATIVE numbers. This is a product of my past reaction to my finances: if I don’t look at them, they can’t be in bad shape. But I’m trying to not be avoidant, in my relationship to social justice as well as my finances.

So I put on my brave face and Nicole showed me my ‘Beacon’ and BNI, which are indicators of my credit health and likelihood to declare bankruptcy, respectively. And it turns out I actually have really healthy scores!

There are is no such thing as a negative credit rating, fyi. Just googled it.

So not only did my experience opening an account lead to increased peace of mind on my part and increased financial literacy, it was a straightforward and pleasantly caffeinated experience. I left feeling really confident that I don’t need to bank with RBC or any other the other big banks to have a good experience or healthy bank account – if anything, Meridian’s service was better and their products more appropriate for a student like me. I departed into the biting winter cold with a heart warmed by my own righteousness and newfound financial literacy.

Next up: Part 2, I roll up to the Royal Bank of Canada to close my accounts…

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Thanks Nicole 😇