Pros: Umm.. ATM card is pretty?
Cons: Poor customer service, countless problems.. see review
I joined Astoria Federal Savings in 1995, since I was able to get a free account as a high school student who would soon be entering college on Long Island. In 2003, I recently closed my account with this bank because I had had quite enough. I don't think anything I have done through Astoria has gone off without a hitch. There was always some kind of incident or problem that made me feel irritated about being a patron of this bank, and now that I have an account with a different bank, Astoria is even worse, in retrospect.
As a member of Astoria, I had a free checking/savings account with an ATM card. I had to keep a minimum in my accounts ($500), and received statements on a monthly basis. (I believe the minimums are higher now, especially for non-students). There are quite a few options in terms of what accounts are available. I will talk about the major problems I have had with Astoria, which will, for the most part, cover the various aspects of my account.
Problem: Location, location, location
For starters, Astoria only has locations in Westchester, Queens, Nassau, and Suffolk counties. If I traveled out of the area, which I did on a regular basis, it was difficult to do banking. At one point, in grad school, I was able to have direct deposit for my job, but otherwise it meant mailing signed checks to my house or depositing them on the few occasions that I was home each year.
Therefore, I would not recommend Astoria to anyone who travels out of this area on a regular basis or is considering moving. My worst experience was when I spent close to a year in Arizona, and could never physically make it to a bank. Of course, this is to be expected, but things were just more difficult when customer service isnt the best.
Granted, Astoria has grown in the past few years, adding more locations. But as my frustrations grew regarding other issues, the resentment was beyond repair because of myriad other issues.
Problem: ATM Issues
I went to the ATM one January, and my card wouldn't work. I tried it several places. So I waited until I had time to get to the bank during staffed hours. When I spoke to a representative, she told me the card had expired. Granted, I did not notice the expiration imprinted on the card, but its one of those things that can be easy to miss.
So the process began. Rather, I had to go through a whole big mess of processes. I had to apply for a new card and wait... three weeks. No ATM card for three weeks? I don't know how I made it.
Personally, I believe that I should have been reminded and/or automatically sent a new application for my ATM card at least three weeks before the expiration date. If I was using and ATM card to get my money, wouldnt I want to continue using one? And hey, wouldnt the banks want to cash in on their inflated ATM fees? Even with my new bank, I got an ATM card almost immediately- not after three weeks.
Another time, the stripe on my ATM card wore out in Arizona. There was nothing that could be done to remedy this situation. I had to go to the bank in person to be able to get a new card. I can understand security issues, but there were times that I felt that they could have provided a replacement without making things so difficult (youll read later in my reviews how security issues become rather hypocritical).
In another incident, a family member and I merged accounts. For some reason, my ATM card was "accidentally" deactivated. I was left 700 miles away without any way to access cash. I had to call the bank repeatedly to get the card reactivated. It was Astorias mistake, yet I had to take the initiative to rectify the situation.
The only nice thing I have to say about the card is that it was attractive, and had an arrow to show the direction to insert the card into an ATM machine.
Problem: Checks vs. The Greedy Bank
Another recent uphill battle that had to do with Astoria had to do with my checks. Like most banks, I was given a certain amount of free checks, but then I wanted to order checks from an independent company, rather than Astoria. To begin, the company was confused by my account information, because my checks were outdated (this bank changed its account information). No one at the bank ever told me that my checks had two extra digits. If I ever wanted to do online checking payments through my credit cards, it would not have worked and I wouldn't have known why.
Anyway, the company needed a certain code from Astoria in order to print the checks. I had a relative back at home go to the bank and ask them to fax the form to the 1-800 number supplied by the check company. The people at Astoria flat out refused, but suggested their own checks.
So I called the bank and asked them to send me a form. The person on the phone, after some confusion, said that she could only send me the form to my permanent address (meaning someone at home would have to forward it to me). I was not happy about having to wait an eternity for this paperwork. However, I was understanding, since I figured it was a possible security issue although, the code (when I finally got it) was not particular to me, but to the bank. This was not a high security document. Not even a security one- it was just general bank information.
But without any other options if I wanted checks from a company besides Astoria, I went ahead and had the form sent to my permanent home. I waited three weeks before I realized I was never going to get it. As usual, in true style, the paper was never sent out, and I never got it at my permanent address.
Finally, a family member, who had a joint account with me, went to the bank to get this paper. In the end, my family member was able to get the paper, send it to me, and then I scanned it and sent it to the company through e-mail. Wonderful how I wasted so much time sitting around for them to send it out to me way back in the beginning! I had prepared to make an order to get the checks well in advance of running out, but with everything I went through with Astoria, I ended up running out of checks before I made my order.
After this incident, I had lost trust in Astoria. There were many possible factors that made such a simple task such a difficulty, and likely included a nice combination of greed, deceit, incompetent employees, confusion, etc.
Problem: Divulging Information via Answering Machine
Although I, at one point, changed my account so it was a joint account with a family member, I still had my own set of statements and so on. What I didnt like was when I would get a message on the answering machine divulging my information for example, You have bounced a check I dont care whether or not I have a joint account; it doesnt matter- do not put confidential financial information on my answering machine. For all they know I live with college roommate or whatnot, and here they are blabbing away my information instead of just asking me to call them back at my earliest convenience. They preach so much about security (making it hard to get checks, and ATM card, etc), but they sure have no problem breaking their own rule as well (while managing quite well to irritate me in the process).
Problem: No Free Online Banking
Astoria has online banking, but you have to pay for it (although it might come free with more expensive accounts). Because I travel so much, this was a horrible frustration. This caused a lot of problems for me, since I was unable to keep track of my account information. The people working at the bank would often mention that I should pay for online banking, or use Astorias free telephone banking.. bringing me to
Problem: Phone Banking
Another inaccessibility factor I would regularly get statements that had information regarding overdrafts and so on. The tellers at the bank couldnt provide information, so I would call the 1-800 number on the bottom of the paper that, quote, says "For customer assistance, contact..." However, this soon became another ordeal.
I remember this distinctly. First I chose from a long set of options, then another long set, and so on through myriad options. I had been on the phone for quite some time before I even reached a customer representative. When I asked her about the bill, she said I had to call my local bank. Therefore, the number was apparently irrelevant.
In other instances, the telephone banking service didnt recognize my account numbers. Part of this problem was related to the changed account numbers, so I would never remember which number I was supposed to use. The selections from the phone menu were long and frustrating, drawing out the process and making it more difficult.
Problem: Junk Mail, Solicitations
With every statement, I would get junk mail. Pieces of paper encouraging me to buy into promotion after promotion. And when I would go to the bank, I was repeatedly encouraged to purchase various promotions. There was never a time I would get just a statement in the mail.
Another thing that irritated me was one point where I was considering changing features on my account, and the representative at the bank was really pushy. I was going through a rough time, and I remember how angry I was when I left the bank because I let myself get suckered into some options. I ended up canceling the debit card and some other stuff that the representative had pushed so hard for.
Astoria also took it upon themselves to send me their own credit/debit card that I could use to get cash. I never applied for it and did not want it. I find this highly ironic, since Astoria wont automatically send me an ATM card (or even ATM card application), but they send me a debit card when I havent even asked for it. The card came out of the blue, and not right after I had opened my account.
Problem: Fees (Like All Banks)
Like all banks, Astoria charges fees where they can. This is probably unavoidable for most banks, but its never fun. With Astoria, you get charged for the usual- going below your minimum, bounced checks (or even with overdraft protection), and other things. They sure jump on those fees the second they can.
Problem: Astoria = Small Bank
In one situation, I bounced a check. It's a rarity for me, but it happened. A family member and I went to the bank to "explore options" that might avoid the situation repeating itself. The Astoria representative suggested that we merge our accounts. I am not quite sure why, except we were led to believe that there would be absolutely no charge for bouncing a check because the funds would always be covered by combining accounts. Well, we were misled. Instead, we were on a plan where if a check was bounced, a "mini-loan" was taken out to cover the check.
Anyway, my two peeves about this situation are that (a) this setup didnt avoid fees, rather, just bounce-age. You still have to pay interest, and if you miss the statement they send you, youll be charged. Secondly, (b), wouldnt a credit/debit card be so much easier? Thats what my new bank has, and theres no confusion and the entire situation lacks the need for so much effort.
It is difficult for me to write about banks, since I dont know much about financial institutions, but I cannot say that I have had a positive experience with Astoria Federal. The magnitude of what has happened to me through this bank is ridiculous. There are relatively few locations, making it inconvenient unless you are in the NYC Metro region that they service.
I joined this bank as a student, but even with the free account, it just wasnt worth it after all the haggling and frustrations that I went through. I recently changed to a new, bigger bank that has more locations and free online banking. No more confusion.
Although some of the things I wrote about are things that you deal with for most banks, I feel that there were plenty of situations that exceeded your average bank greediness. (For example, my fight to get my own checks.)
For some, small, local banks are good. Disregarding the problems I had as someone who travels a lot, I still experienced quite a few difficulties with Astoria. I wrote about many of the major issues, but there are others Im sure Ive forgotten. All I can say is that it was a relief to close my account and open an account with a larger bank. In comparison, Astoria is still awful, and I wish I had closed this account long ago, rather than dealing with everything that they put me through.
Note: I had posted this review a couple years ago, back when I was in that newbie-ish stage. I wanted to repost this review now that I have ended my 8 or so years with Astoria, and could quadruple my review! Thanks for reading!