"Big Bank" Fees, Poor Online Banking
Mar 6, 2005 (Updated Nov 19, 2006)
Review by rorsteven
Rated a Very Helpful Review
(This review last updated March 18, 2006; previously August 3, 2005)
Recommend this product?
I was a member of Meriwest Credit Union - previously known as the "Pacific IBM Employees Federal Credit Union" for over 17 years.
In this same span of time I have opened and closed accounts with Bank of America, and Wells Fargo, and maintained an account with Coastal Credit Union. Unfortunately Meriwest has become the same "big bank" type mentality that is so odious, that I closed all my accounts and severed all ties.
I generally gave Meriwest high marks - except in the one area where I use them the most: Online Bill Payment. But they have lost the "credit union" feel and responsiveness as they have expanded into yet another impersonal, fee slapping large bank.
What Meriwest Offers
Just about everything. Home loans, Equity loans, car loans (new and used), Savings, Checking, Money markets, IRAs, low loan rates, Online Banking, Visa linked ATM cards, Visa cards, Business accounts, Custodial Accounts (for minors) and more.
Meriwest also has a 24/7 Loan application line, toll free numbers, telephone based banking, and online banking with customer support.
There are several different checking accounts that you may use. Personally I find the range of "choices" to be a hindrance not a help. You risk being nickeled and dimed to death (which indeed I have now been with $9 monthly services charges that were never previously levied) if you do not choose the right account type. I prefer a single "free checking, no fees, free bill pay, no restrictions account".
The closest Meriwest comes to this is with their:
"Freedom Checking" - see a description below.
I was disappointed when Meriwest elected to divide up the possible checking accounts into 4 ("Free", "Smart", "Freedom" and "Spectra"). The division means that you may have to pay fees to do business with them unless certain conditions are met. This nickel and dime shenanigan is very popular with the "big banks" who exact fees with a vengeance. Meriwest is not so draconian - but they do seem to keep adding little "gotchas" here and there.
Checking Account Choices
"Free" checking does not have any deposit or minimum average balance requirements, and allows free office visits - but it does not include "BillPay" services.
"Smart" checking earns a higher dividend, but incurs a $9/mo fee if you write more than 29 checks a month, fail to keep a $1,500 minimum balance or $10,000 combined balance.
"Freedom" checking allows you to use ATMs where ever you like with up to $10/mo surcharges refunded. BillPay is free** up to 15 per month, and 40 cents each thereafter. There is unlimited check writing. If you use in-office services for things that can be done online or via an ATM a fee applies (though I can't determine how much!)
"Spectra" and "Vintage" accounts have lower service fees per month, and no minimum daily balance or direct deposit requirements, but does not include BillPay.
**NOTE: Billpay is only free (in the "free" plans) if you use it at least once a month - otherwise you must pay a $5.95. Reminds me of Blockbuster "We have no Late Fees, just a restocking fee if you return your movie late." And it is not clear to me what "use" is... we didn't add any new payments, but apparently the scheduled automated payments don't count as "use".
Some Fees I Have Not Paid (until lately!)
Until I departed I NEVER paid an overdraft fee. But problems with an "automatic payment that would not die" have resulted in many $5, $20 and $22 fees.
Where Meriwest Does Business
Meriwest is centered in San Jose, California and Tucson, Arizona and serves surrounding cities. There are branches in Dublin, Milpitas, San Jose and San Mateo, California as well as in Tucson, Arizona. Due to reciprocal agreements among various credit unions there are many locations at which one may make withdrawals and quite a few non-Meriwest locations where deposits can be made. The credit union network is nearly nationwide. There are 20 cities in Alabama, 5 in Alaska, 23 in Colorado, etc. however there are none in Delaware, Connecticut, the District of Colombia, Iowa, and others.
Because of the CU affiliations, it is possible to transact business in person in places as far from San Jose as Los Angeles, CA - something we have done on several occasions.
Given the nationwide ATM network, withdrawals can be made just about anywhere - but many institutions charge those pesky $1.50 or $2.00 surcharges per transaction. Not to fear - if you have Freedom Checking, up to $10 per month of those fees are refunded.
So What is Wrong with Meriwest?
About now, it seems like everything has gone wrong with was once a great banking institution.
My major complaint is with the frustrating Bill Pay service. Not only is the navigation alienating, but it is slow to load and sluggish. It appears to be contracted out to a third party and Meriwest deflects issues raised by stating "we are not in control" of the third party features.
Bill Pay Problems far short on usability
** Bill reminders (for "E-Bills") tell you your payments are late even if you have made a payment. [It does not appear to match your payments against the reminders].
** Bills for credit cards will only pay the minimum. You may be able to see the total due, but you have to manually copy it.
** The only way to modify a "repeating" transaction is to cancel a payment and re-enter it again with the desired amount. [The original system made it simple to modify the transaction amount].
** The Pending Payments column does not include the YEAR.
** The displayed columns have severely truncated payee names. For example my payees include "Los Gatos... *853-8" That could be any one of a half dozen payees.
** When you try to "Cancel" a pending payment it asks if you are sure, but you don't get any more information like the YEAR or the full information about the item you are canceling.
** The "Pay Bills" column in which you enter payment amounts do not have any information about the last payment(s) made. That information is found in a different table which is sorted in a different order.
** None of the tables can be sorted to make it easier to locate items by payee, date or amount.
** The "View Bill History" inexplicably shows confirmed payments for NEXT YEAR!
** Online help is poor. There are two places for help a ? button and a "help" tool bar. Usually neither provides sufficient information. Notably the "?" in the Bill Reminders table says nothing about how to remove or acknowledge a reminder.
** All links back to the Meriwest "Message Center" have been removed from the BillPay section. If you want to ask a question about something on the Bill Pay screens, you'll have to either remember it or print a copy and retype into the "Message Center".
** Bill Pay (and many other areas) aggressively timeout. If you take a minute or two on the phone or sip coffee a little long you're kicked out and have to log back in. Your work is lost.
** None of the payees listed on the main page have links that you can click to see further information. You must navigate to another page, select the payee from a pull down and then wait for it to give you choices. [And usually the choices are not what I expect - like there is no "Remove current reminders"]. And an automatic payment has a cryptic header "Cancel automatic payment 1" (which actually cancels ALL automatic payments, not just "1").
Message Center - Getting Help from a Person
The interface for requesting help (Message Center) is also clunky. For example, there is no "reply" when an answer you receive is incomplete or leads to other questions. There is a REPLY button(!) but it does not do anything! I pointed this out to customer service three times over the last 2 years and the answer I get each time is "one day we may do something with it" [I believe it should be removed until it actually does something!].
If you view a message you have sent your only option is "Cancel". This scared me as I was not sure if it would cancel my request or actually go back to the previous screen. Some minor wording changes could eliminate the several problems like this, but none have been forthcoming in the last two YEARS despite many changes to the Bill Pay system.
Because of the site design, it is also not possible (unless you're a internet whiz) to look at a previous message AND compose a new one. There are no links in the Bill Pay section to submit questions.
There are no online images for check payments... so if you don't recognize a check number or amount you're stuck.
I used the online "message" facility to inquire about the status of an outstanding check. The response I received was good (check had not been cashed), indicated I could do a stop payment, and that further inquiries should use the Case ID... BUT there was no case ID. My follow up asking what the fee for a stop payment was and where did I find the case ID produced this response:
A Case ID is a tracking number for an open investigation we may have. We provide this to you in our replies for any investigations.
The case ID is still not given! This is an example of several recent problems I have had with incomplete answers to my questions. For this reason and others I have now downgraded my rating of customer service from excellent to mediocre.
Other Missing Features
** Meriwest does not provide online 1099s - very handy at tax time.
** Although it is possible to transfer money to other institutions and accounts, setting this up is inordinately painful compared to other systems I have used.
Timeouts (i.e. automatic log outs) can not be disabled. They really do get frustrating when you're trying to carefully compose a query or cross reference online content with notes, etc.
I sadly no longer can recommend Meriwest. After raising these many usability issues for the last two years, Meriwest has repeatedly indicated that they are satisfied with the (Online) services they supply. I am not.
Since my primary usage is Bill Pay, the serious problems I continue to encounter even after the roll-out of "new improved" services over the last months and years have seriously soured me on Meriwest. I am now shopping for another banking institution. My recommendation is that you do the same.
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