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Small banks get big 

Plus: Burr, Bunning and bibliophiles

In late 2009, the news/political Web site The Huffington Post organized Move Your Money, a "movement" designed to show big banks — like Charlotte's own Wells Fargo/Wachovia and Bank of America — how pissed off customers are about the recent spate of bailouts, bonuses and other bad financial moves. Move Your Money encourages people who hold accounts at big banks to, as the name suggests, move their money to community banks and credit unions.

Since its inception a few months ago, the movement has been gaining steam (The group's Facebook page has more than 33,000 fans, and more than 20 local and national media outlets have published reports about the effort.), and community banks are starting to see some success from the campaign. Manhattan's Lower East Side People's Federal Credit Union, for example -- according to the weekly publication Credit Union Times -- has doubled the number of new accounts, partly in response to the movement.

Some community banks and credit unions in Charlotte have also seen increases in business -- but probably not because of Move Your Money.

Nathan Tothrow, marketing director for Charlotte Metro Credit Union, said his employer grew by 21 percent last year; and the last four months, in the midst of Move Your Money, Charlotte Metro added 1,900 new accounts. Tothrow, however, thinks that growth is the result "an advertising campaign that started last fall." Though he admits that his department hasn't queried the branches about customers who have come to the bank because of the Move Your Money Campaign.

Bank customers like Austin Davis said leaving a big bank, like Bank of America where he had been a customer years ago, has less to do with the Move Your Money Movement and more to do with bank fees. He currently banks with Charlotte Metro Credit Union and SunTrust, but still has a bitter taste in his mouth about an experience with Bank of America.

"I had made a $70 overdraft and I paid it back, but [Bank of America] reported it on my credit report as failure to pay," said Davis. "After that, I never dealt with them anymore." Davis said at a community bank, though there are fees, the bank works with you more than the larger ones.

Something else smaller banks are doing that the big boys aren't? Loaning money.

Nationally, according to Federal Reserve data, lending to consumers declined 7.3 percent last year. But since credit unions and some community banks didn't get involved in the sub prime mortgages, they are able to continue making loans. According to The Wall Street Journal, the nation's credit union loan rate was up 18 percent last year to almost $33 billion.

That's one big reason why Charlotte photographer Deborah Triplett has signed up as a fan of the Move Your Money Movement on Facebook and is considering moving her personal and business accounts to a community bank.

Triplett remembers when she banked with First Union (now Wachovia, a division of Wells Fargo) and would get personal calls from the bank about loans. But those days, she said, are gone.

"I grew up in a small town and I remember growing up thinking that you could go to the bank and get help and if you're a customer that means something," she said. "But it doesn't mean anything anymore." (Cheris Hodges)

Burr and Bunning sitting in a tree: It's good to know with whom your representatives in Washington ally themselves. Take Sen. Richard Burr and the thousands of unemployed folks in North Carolina whose finances are being destroyed by the Great Recession. Burr represents them, right? He's in the Senate because he wants to do good things for this state's citizens, right? Guess again.

On March 3, the Senate finally passed a 30-day extension of unemployment benefits, 78-19. The vote came after a one-man filibuster by Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY) threatened to stop the extension. Bunning's action, and his arrogance during the whole episode, made Republican leaders fearful of his potential impact on the GOP in November, and they had to scramble to change his mind. (Bunning's increasing unpopularity in his home state led GOP leaders, particularly fellow Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, to force him to retire at the end of his term in January 2011.)

So, back to Richard Burr. Who did Burr ally himself with in this unemployment benefits extension brawl? You guessed it -- Sen. Jim Bunning. Burr was one of the 19 senators who voted against extending unemployment benefits, even though our state's unemployment rate is even higher than the already-brutal national rate. Something to remember, and pass on, in November. (John Grooms)

Bad news for bibliophiles: This sucks. Library officials are saying they may have to close up to four Charlotte-area libraries. According to an article published in The Charlotte Observer March 1: "Mecklenburg director Charles Brown said the branch changes would be a worse-case scenario, and assumes the county requires the system to cut five percent, or $1.56 million, from its budget for the year ending in June." I know in my community (Mountain Island Lake, in northwest Charlotte), our library is an important oasis for job seekers, parents, children, the elderly ... me. I can only imagine every library branch is as important to its respective community. Here's hoping county officials can find a way to keep our libraries open. (Rhiannon Bowman)

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