WaMu Free Checking Account Opening Review

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I opened a WaMu Free Checking account today at my local Washington Mutual branch today, and it was pretty easy. If I like it, I might move all my local banking there from BofA. All I needed to apply in-person was $1 (it’s $100 online), driver’s license, and a credit card. The bank officer then basically led me through all the features:

No minimums, no direct deposit requirements – You can even have two free checking accounts if you want. She tried to upsell me the savings account, which does have minimum balance requirements or other catches. I declined, but she said something about not being able to remove it, so instead she set it to waive all fees forever. Let’s hope so.

Free checks for life – Got some starter checks and also ordered my free checks from a limited selection of free check designs, not too bad. Went for the puppies =)

Free ATM Cash Withdrawals – This really just means they don’t charge you for using other ATMs, but the ATMs themselves may charge you a fee. It does not mean they give you ATM rebates. WaMu has good coverage in my area, so it’s not a big deal for me.

Free Debit MasterCard with Rewards – You get 3 cents per purchase, paid out annually (max $250). Wee. Definitely not interested in this feature. The only nice thing is that you can actually track how many pennies you’ve racked up online. Maybe if you want to buy stamps individually at the PO and get 3 cents off each…

Free Overdraft Fee – You get one free check-bounce per year. The neat thing is that if you don’t use it, it rolls over to the next year.

Free Outgoing Wire Transfers – This is pretty cool, I don’t know of any other bank that does this. Wires mean almost instant transfers of money, and are useful for funding brokerage accounts or sending money overseas. (For some reason it makes me want to open up an offshore bank account in the Caymans…)

Free ID Theft Services

* Toll-free access to Identity Theft Recovery Specialists if you become a victim of identity theft.

* Identity Theft insurance up to $5,000 (with no deductible) to help offset certain recovery costs, including legal fees, lost wages and expenses paid out of pocket in connection with the theft of your identity. (See program materials for details)

The way she described it seems like they will help you work with the credit bureaus to clear up your credit reports in the event of ID theft, and also pay you for the time you spent doing so (up to the limit). Not bad for a free feature.

Initial Impressions
After logging into my account online, I see that they don’t have any way to transfer funds to external accounts. I’ll probably just link it up to my HSBCDirect account and transfer funds that way.

Their Online BillPay does not seem as robust as Presidential Bank or Bank of America, with no automatic recognition of popular payees like American Express. That’s a bummer.

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  1. You’re right about the online aspect and bill paying features. The online interface is the one thing I like about BOA. Very convenient and mostly intuitive.

    An aspect that I don’t like about BOA is the fact that you have to go through their website to download your transactions to Quicken. You can’t do it from within the program.

    Another drawback is that there is only one location in my area.

    It’s interesting that they tried to get you to sign up for their savings account.

    Oh well. It seems that banks that offer great deals on checking want to sell you something else, and if you turn it down there will be fees…

    Did you get the fact that their waving the fees in writing? It might be your only defense in the future, or you might find yourself looking for another bank.


  2. I opened up a Wamu free checking too and like you, have most of my daily banking with BoA. I use Wamu to fund my online savings account but I’m going to keep BoA because of their superior BillPay features. For some reason, I like having an additional checking account where I can separate all my online transactions into online savings, brockerage, etc from my ‘regular’ checking account at BoA.

    BTW, Great Blog!!

  3. Deymond Lashley says

    I tried to open up a WAMU free checking account at a branch in Manhattan, but was also told they would only open it up in conjunction with a savings account. I ended up opening the account over the telephone, to avoid that.

    If I were you, I would call their 800 number and explain what happened, and see if you can just get the checking account canceled without incurring any fees. I think this practice of theirs is extremely shady.

  4. Yeah, I probably should have probed more about the savings account. But since the branch is so close, I can just go in and make a stink in front of people (and everyone in the teller line) which is usually much more effective that over the phone – “You mean you LIED about NO FEES?”

    I confirmed online that the first month’s fees for the savings account was waived, I’ll wait for next month to see if this continues.

  5. I have to agree with you guys BoA is great, billpay and what not.

    Grant – I use Microsoft Money and it automatically updates my BoA accounts and I have no problem with that.

    If I hadn’t opened the HSBC checking and citi I might have opened the Wamu checking.

    One thing that concerns me with HSBC is that I used the $50 checking offer mentioned on ur blog and then contacted them about the offer and they said sorry u didnt apply for the right offer. I called their CSR’s they gave me a number which turned out to be a fax#!! So I used their “Bankmail” feature and sent an angry email, 2 days later I got an email informing me that they will credit my account in 1 month!! 🙂

  6. In case WaMu does charge you a fee and won’t cancel your savings account in the near future, just set up a monthly $25 automatic transfer from your checking to savings to waive the minumum balance requirement ($250 to $300 perhaps?) and monthly service charge ($3) on the savings account! You can transfer the money right back to the checking also. It’s been working for me for years.

  7. Yeah, I already do the $25 auto-transfer at BofA (they offered bonus for opening savings account, and now I’m waiting for my KeepTheChange money). I didn’t want to do that at WaMu because if I don’t like them, I plan on keeping $1 there until I need a wire transfer.

    Hmm… maybe I’ll just close the savings account next month, in case they do offer a bonus for opening a savings account. Shrug.

  8. Well,
    In reference to this comment “Free Outgoing Wire Transfers” – Citibank also allows this up to $2,000 per day $15,000 monthly limit.

    I am thinking of dropping WAMU as they have switched to MasterCard; one of the reasons I had them was so that I could have a Visa card in my wallet…

    I travel a lot and I don’t use WAMU to get money abroad as they have a ATM charge each time I use another ATM.

    I opened that Citi eSavings account (MMA really) so I could get a better interest rate on my savings so I am transfering that for free from WAMU electronically. Have to check if they have a charge from the savings account. If so, then I will just move the money to the checking account where there is no fee as I have both.

  9. Thanks for the tip, Newbie. I’ll have to check into Microsoft Money.


  10. Ralph – Outgoing wires cost $12.50-25 each according to Citibank’s fee schedule, unless you are a member of their Private bank. No mention of limits. Are you sure you are talking about wire transfers and not ACH or another online transfer type?

  11. I am not a Private Banking member, but I’ve had a relationship since ’92.
    When I went to do the transfer, that was the fee schedule I saw:

    Into Citibank is Free
    Rush (next day) is $3
    Out of Citibank is $3.00
    Rush is $10

    Daily aggregate limit is $6,000 transaction limit is $2,000

    This is transfering funds to/from Citibank to another bank.

  12. Ralph – Those are not wire transfers you speak of, those are ACH transfers. While they both move funds, they aren’t the same thing. Wires involve the instantaneous movement of money, instead of going through in batches like ACH. If you wire money to another person or institution, it usually can be used right away.

    Many banks offer free ACH-in, like Citibank and Bank of America. A few bank allow free ACH-out. But I have never seen a large bank offer free wires out without a huge deposit balance.

  13. Jonathan, when you say “free ACH-in, but not free ACH-out” you mean that some banks will not let you instigate an ACH-out from their side without charging a fee, right? Because I use ACH to transfer funds out of BoA and Citibank all the time, and I don’t think I get charged a fee (but I instigate the transaction on HSBC’s side, not from BofA or Citibank).

  14. Yes, when I say that I mean *initiate* from the same bank like BofA. BofA allows you to link external accounts to them, and allows free initiated pulls into BofA, but charges $3 to push out of BofA.

    Almost all banks allow you to initial an ACH transfer from other banks without a fee. HSBC allows free ACH push/pull, but ONLY from their OnlineSavings account. For checking accounts, initiated ACH-out costs a fee.

  15. I have to agree with Ralph. I’ve see and heard of numerous free ACH transactions (which usually take 2 days to post) into and sometimes out of a bank.

    Umbrella bank says that’s how you can get money into their bank electronicly.

    However, I’ve never seen free wire transfers. Most banks will waive the fee for wire transfers coming into their bank, but that doesn’t mean the originator won’t charge a fee for recipient either.

    If you can get free wire transfer, take it, it’s really wonderful if you need to move money instantly into a brokerage account, send money overseas, etc….

    Have a wonderful monday,

  16. I’ve had WaMu for years, every year since I’ve needed a bank actually. I’ve been very happy with them. I tried BoA and was really dissapointed by their service and the (non)free checking. I also tried a local credit union but it took them 3 days to post direct deposited money from my paycheck to my account! That caused some financial issues.

    I have stayed, and will stay, with Washington Mutual for the majority of my banking needs. Good post.

  17. I second the comment by wesleman at April 9, 2006 11:05 AM

    As a wamu customer, I have a savings account with a $25/month automatic transfer from checking. My real savings is with ingdirect, so I don’t plan on meeting the $300 minimum in order to discontinue the automatic transfer.

  18. I really wish WaMu upgrades online banking in the near future, because that is the only thing keeping me away from them. I currently have B of A who has the best online banking, Wells Fargo (getting rid of them shortly because of a two-week process to get stolen debit funds back), and the Golden 1 Credit Union.

    Funny thing is my credit union currently has better online banking then WaMu (check images, bill pay on par w/ B of A), and very very soon it will be upgraded to be even better, with inter-institution transfers and a friendlier interface. If they can do it, WaMu definitely has the resources to.

  19. I opened up Washington Mutual’s “Old” checking account for myself several years ago. They set up the savings account with it, I put money in it, and then when all these banks like HSBC and ING started getting better interest rates, I just closed the WaMu savings account. It was quite simple.

    Make sure you sign up for WaMoola for Schools. It’s totally free to you, it’s easy to do and you never have to think about it again once you do it. You select just about any school you can think of from their list, and every time you use your debit card you rack up points for that school. At the end of the year the points are turned to money and donated to that school. I chose my best friend’s daughter’s elementary school.

  20. Regarding the free checks for life, only basic checks are free. The deluxe ones cost money. When I opened my account I was sent deluxe checks (without my knowledge) and then they tried to charge me for them. I never asked for deluxe checks and I fought their CSRs on the phone and got my money refunded. They are a good bank but some of their practices are shady.

  21. Grant not sure what state you are in but in california BOA has offered full Quicken intergration for over 10 years. I use Quicken to pay all my bills, Downloand all my BOA accounts which include mortgage, Checking, Savings, Overdraft and credit cards and I can make transfer between all of them within Quicken. ie a transfer from Checking to credit card would be a payment which posts right away and a transfer from credit card to checking would be a cash advance which posts right away also.

    Now BOA requires you have a prima account or better or there is a $9.99 fee to use to Quicken but prima checking only requires a $10K between all loan and cash deposit.

    Only problem with BOA is they have worst paying savings rates in the country. I moved my checking account over to Citibank last year when they first intruduced E-savings account at 2.80% and with it now paying 4.5% it all gravy.

    Citibank also support full Quicken intergration just like BOA and they waive all fees with EZ-checking or better which also requires $10K between all deposit or loan balances.

  22. anon-from-NY says

    A comment about the Citibank eSavings account. Beware of opening one if you live in upstate NY. Citibank has sold 20+ branches in upstate NY to M&T Bank, and all eSavings accounts will be converted to M&T accounts (at 0.5% vs 4.75% (current rate in May/June 06)). This only applies to those that live in upstate NY.

    I opened an eSavings account recently and was dismayed to find out today that the account will turn over to M&T by June 30, 2006.

  23. I could not warn people to stay away from WAMU enough. I tried WAMU and am now getting rid of it. I found them to have the worst customer service of any bank I have ever had dealings with. I opened up a checking and savings account over the phone at which time I requested to have the automatic savings plan put into effect, or so I was lead to believe. When I received my second statement (which is when I expected to see it had started) there was instead a $3 service charge. After repeated calls and emails, all I got was the there claim that is wasn?t the banks error and therefore they would not refund the charge. I’ve never dealt with a financial institution that was so uncompromising on a fee. I?ve talked myself out of much larger fees that were my fault, and it this case I am positive that I set up the savings account so there would be no fees. Because I felt this to be a very un-trust worthy experience I am closing my accounts.
    I also bank with BoA, which I use as my primary checking account and have never had a problem with them, and so will just stick with them.
    Additional problems we encountered were receiving PIN numbers for our debit cards that didn?t work (it took my wife nearly 2 hours in a branch to get hers fixed, I never got around to having a working one) and not being able to use the online bill pay with out calling and having the first transaction made via the phone. All in all an awful experience for a two month relationship, I only wish I didn?t transfer my direct deposit to WAMU.

  24. I used to work for wamu, and not to be biased they offer good customer service at least in the portland metro region. Here, if you argue your point they will give you whatever you want. All you have to say is I want to close my account. As for their target market, they offer the best checking account I’ve seen.

  25. There’s a feature on the wamu.com website where you can transfer funds from external accounts like HSBC. All you have to do is click on Account Services and then External Accounts. Then you enter the routing and account number for your external account and in 2-3 days you’ll verify that the accounts are yours by trial deposits. Once your external account has been verified you’re good to go. You can have up to 5 external accounts. Honestly, WaMu is the best bank that I’ve ever known. I work at the bank and I spend a good amount of time researching the products of other banks. WaMu clearly has products focused on consumer interests.

  26. Andrew, I have similar experience with WaMu as you. I’ve openend the account for a $50 bonus for a grand opening special at our local branch which they later determined I wasn’t eligible for. I’ve attempted several times to resolve the issue and everytime I get a different excuse from them. All they tell me is that an error was made and the only thing they can do is apologize, but without a certain reference number that I was supposed to have received they can’t do anything. Their treatment of customers is very ignorant and I’m just about ready to close the account.

  27. I was a WaMu employee for several years and opened branches for them. I had numerous problems with the Grand Opening $50 bonuses. I used discretion and took money from the branch marketing GL to credit people that said they did not receive the bonus. I went above and beyond for promotion tracking but still had instances of promos being lost in the mail, not being entered on the system by the employee, the customers exact address already being linked to the bank promo under another name, etc. I had a limited time after the promotion to access my GL to credit customers that claimed they did not receive the promo. Another problem I had at one branch was that so many people tried to defraud the bank through the promotion that they cut it off. A request to speak to the regional manager should get better resolution to the problem. I continually opened, closed and shopped accounts at other banks for years until this January’07 and found WaMu’s service and products to be well above average. JD Powers seems to agree.


    I signed up for “free checking” at branch and was given a hefty folder of reading material. I specifically asked if “free means free, no charges” and they said yes. Next month I found out I was automatically enrolled in some promotional ($5/month) credit club but they were reimbursing me for the first 6 months. I told them I wasn’t interested in that club and cancel my membership which they did. Next month I got a $10 early cancelation charge.

    Reader’s Digest version: Wamu is dishonest. Free doesn’t mean free. Go to another bank for better service.

  29. Wamu is not free at all. Expect to pay several overdraft fees per year to do business with these crooks. So the fees are alive and well, they are just hidden. I recommend an electric orange account from ING Direct if you want to experience checking the way it was meant to be.

  30. WaMu has been excellent to me and these comments on shady practice seem shady to me… I initially had an account with BofA and not only were they rude but also incompetent. So I opened an account with WaMu and yes their advertised free checking was free. I never got these extra bills others have mentioned. And lastly, the reason I really liked them was because of the no outgoing wire transfer fees. The customer service has been excellent and responsive (someone with a brain replies to your inquiries which means a lot to me). The only negative I can say at this point is the teller who opened my account was in a hurry for some reason and was being a bitch ….

    With BofA I opened an account and never got my debit card and checks even after 3 months… in this time frame I contacted the branch (teller, manager) 4 times and repeated my address to them 3 times. It turned out they sent it to an incorrect address long ago, but kept telling me it’s in progress… finally I learned it was sent to the wrong address so they said they will order a new one — fast forward 3 months and my card and checks are at their branch, but by this time I’ve already closed my account with them. And to put the icing on the cake, they charged me for the second check book. I didn’t feel like fighting with them because after calling them several times and putting with extremely rude customer service, it’s not going to go anywhere. Their website on the other hand is pretty good.

  31. WAMU is a great bank i had them for many years but one thing i didnt like was when i wanted to do a deposit lines. there was always lines at the branches even though they had lots of customers. its was ridiculous. i just opened a account with BOA, i noticed that BOA, WACHOVIA charge 3.00 for out bought transfer to nonbanks. But Wamu & Citi have the ft. for free. but GFB, BA, COmmerce dont give you the option to transfer to other banks? any recommendations? on W/ with bank that gives you in/out ach for free, besides citi and wamu. Citi i have gotten tired of the horrible indian customer service via the phone and the lack of branches from my household.

  32. I would like to share my experience with Wamu checking. I opened 3 cheking accounts a few months ago. First let me tell you that I was looking for a bank that allows you to open more then one checking account and also for their debit card to work with no fees abroad. After researching I decided on Wamu. The debit card withdrawals abroad are indeed free of charge. There is only the 1% foreign exchange fee (or whatever it is called) on each transaction (not charged by Wamu). The thing that almost let me considering closing the accounts is their Overdraft protection feature which comes automatically with a checking account. What this is actually I cannot call “protection” . If you attempt to withdraw money over your available balance they will LET YOU!!! But then they will charge you $32 fee for each withdrawal over your balance. Same thing is for debit card purchases or checks. So if you by a coffee for 1.50 it will cost you $33.50.!!! I called them and ask: What kind of “protection” is this???? They explained that this saves me from being “embarrassed”. So, if you rather pay $33.50 for a coffee then being embarrassed…be my guest. I would rather be embarrassed. Just think that it costs them 50 cents to return overdraft but they charge you $32 !!!! They offer a real overdraft protection but of course for a fee. Well, I guess no bank is entirely honest. That is how they make their money. The largest source of revenue is the fees they charge. I dont use other services from Wamu. I gave the debit cards to my relatives in Europe so this is the cheapest way to send money abroad.

  33. linda palmer says

    I have had a wamu “Free Checking” account for over a year it reminds me of a low grade bank for people who do not really
    save there money just in and out which what I use my account
    for pay my bills with and nothing more and the lines really do suck. The branch I go to (Inglewood California) has this circle line with the tellers in the middle (I wonder what happens when the line does a complete circle around the tellers?). The ad on TV regarding the no fee bounch check is misleading if I am correct and I will look more closely at the commercial again but it makes you believe that you can bounce a check anytime and they will not charge you for it when in fact you only get it once a year. If I do not see any small print or if they do not mention it in there commercial I am going to contact WAMU. The commercials may be cute but than it is kinda of like false advertising right!?!

  34. I had been with wamu since 2006 they do give you alot but the only problem is that they put holds on deposits over $100 for two days, the only reason why i opened another account online with them is because of the no monthly service charge savings account with 4.25% interest rate when opended with the wamu free checking.

    My advice to people who want free checking from wamu get your pay checks direct deposited or you will face the 2 day business hold, free is not always free.

  35. anonymouse says

    i got a wamu free checking letter in the mail and tried to apply online so i could get my free account and free $50. the promo code supplied does not work. what’s the deal?

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