Wells Fargo

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Wells Fargo -- Convenience, but at what price?

Mar 8, 2007 (Updated Mar 17, 2007)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Tons of branches, huge array of financial products, decent customer service.

Cons:Awful savings yields, weak credit cards, lousy loan packages. Many fees associated with banking.

The Bottom Line: Pretty good if you can avoid fees. Very convenient locations and huge number of banking products. Tons of fees and some lousy product offerings.

Wells Fargo Bank has been around since 1852 -- now 155 years and counting. Their corporate image is the stagecoach since they've been around since the days of the wild west. They are extremely well established, and firmly entrenched in the Western United States.

This bank offers everything under the sun in the way of financial services. There's the standard set of checking and savings products. In addition to the regular stuff, they also cover things like loans, safe deposit boxes, stock brokerage accounts, mutual funds, retirement planning, credit cards, and insurance. If you can think of a banking product, it's probable that Wells Fargo offers it.

Wells Fargo has more than 6,500 ATM locations and 3,000 branches. The majority of these locations are located on the West Coast where Wells is nearly ubiquitous. It's a very convenient to be able to drive around in California and spot a Wells Fargo ATM location in just about any major city.

I've been a Wells Fargo customer since 1986. After reading some of the various horror stories about this corporation, I must say that my experience has been fairly pleasant. In general, I've been an anonymous customer with only a few problems.

I have used only two products from Wells Fargo. The first is their checking accounts, which I've had for more than 20 years. The second product is their Health Savings Account (HSA). I've only recently opened the HSA account, so I don't have much to say other that it has been "as stated" so far.

After 20 years, anybody who banks with one institution is bound to have a few problems. I guess I haven't encountered anything that is nightmarish, but I've had a few issues with Wells Fargo.

A couple years ago, my checking account had dropped below the required daily minimum balance. I was unaware of that my balance had dropped to an unacceptable level. When I received my statement, I was a bit surprised to see that I'd been charged with a monthly service fee of about $4.95. I figured that 5 bucks was no big deal, but I called the 1-800 number to see what other account options were available.

The service representative was very helpful and courteous. She suggested that I go with an account with a $1000 minimum balance to avoid fees (I think it is called custom advantage checking). I agreed and she immediately switched the account type. Unexpectedly, she had the $4.95 charge credited back. I had not asked for a credit and therefore I was quite impressed.

A second problem I had was an annoying recurring charge for an image statement fee of $2.50 per month. I'd seen the charge and didn't really know what it was about. At first, I thought maybe it was a one-time item, but then it reappeared on the next month's statement. I called customer service, and without asking the rep credited the money back. He removed this annoying charge and stopped it from recurring.

I've had other similar experiences where I felt like I was treated kindly and with respect. It's this kind of customer service that keeps me banking with Wells Fargo. A little bit goes a long way in terms of building a good customer relationship.

Aside from the solid customer service I've received, the bank has a couple other things going for it.

Wells Fargo has good stock brokerage accounts. Right now, they are offering 100 free trades per quarter when the brokerage account is funded with $25,000. 25K is a lot of dough to start and so I haven't tried it, but "free is free." I don't know how they stack up against other "free trading" companies like Bank of America or the nascent Zecco.

Next, the company offers a lot of "in-branch" services at little or no cost. I've gotten signature guarantees and notary services done for free, although YMMV. I think I was supposed to be charged for these things, but the bank tellers were cool and just waived any fees.

It's nice to have all your banking needs housed under one roof. Personally, I don't use Wells Fargo for most of my banking, but for some people this might be an important factor. Keep in mind that it's a matter of convenience to have everything at one place, but it's definitely not the most inexpensive method.

I think the online banking is pretty good, and the website loads quickly and is intuitive. There's a little too much stuff on the screen due to the zillions of products, but it's still workable. I think the security could be improved, since Wells Fargo only requires a username and password with no security key or special features.

Well, there's a lot that's bad. Being a huge institution means Wells Fargo isn't competitive in many areas. A company doesn't get as big as Wells Fargo without royally screwing over some customers along the way. They will nickel and dime you unless you are careful. The savings interest rates are simply pathetic, and the mortgage rates, HELOCs, and other loan offerings are pretty much worthless too.

The cash back credit card offerings are flat-out weak compared to the plastic offered by Chase or Citibank. Wells Fargo's maximum is 1% cash back and it's a messy, confusing tiered system.

The checking account minimums to avoid fees can be fairly steep for some people, and therefore they don't fit everybody's profile. A quick look shows that the "regular" checking costs $8 unless you maintain $1000 or have direct deposit.

Other bad stuff:
1. Bill pays costs a monthly fee of $6.95.
2. Non-branch ATMs cost fees, $1.50 or more.
3. No "Push" ACH transfers online to external banks. In branch only and it costs money.

I don't use any of Wells Fargo's non-competitive offerings, so they aren't making an extra money off me. I would be hesitant to recommend such products to anybody.

In sum, I think Wells Fargo is a pretty good bank. I give them 3 out of 5 stars. I knock off one star based on pitiful savings yields, non-competitive loans, and lame credit cards. They lose another star because of their continual attempts to charge fees for everything.

You might be interested in some other financial reviews I have written:
Apple Bank
Capital One
Emigrant Savings

Recommend this product? Yes

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