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Sundayindependent

How to wave goodbye to your bank in four easy steps

Louise McBride

Though the Ulster Bank fiasco seems to have finally come to an end, the hangover from the bank's technical meltdown could run for months.

If you're one of the 600,000 customers who have struggled to get at the money in your account for three weeks or more, it could be a while before you get compensated for any charges or expenses which arose as a result of the bank's technical problems.

Ulster Bank said last week that most customer accounts now have the right balance.

When asked how customers would apply for compensation -- and what kind of compensation would be paid, a spokeswoman for the bank said: "Compensation is currently under review, however, we are committed to ensuring that no one will be left permanently out of pocket as a result of this issue. We are also working with the credit reference agencies to ensure that customers' credit ratings are not impacted."

Even if you get compensated quickly, if you're an Ulster Bank customer, you might well be thinking of jumping ship after the nightmare you've endured over the last few weeks. Or maybe you're unhappy with another bank. So how would you go about doing that?

MOVING YOUR CURRENT ACCOUNT

Step One: Choose your new account

To move your current account from one bank to another bank, first decide which bank you wish to switch to -- and which current account you want.

It may be hard to find an account which doesn't cost any more than an Ulster Bank account. Although Ulster ufirst accounts have account maintenance fees, the bank's standard current account doesn't. The only other Irish current account which doesn't have an account maintenance fee is EBS's Money Manager account.

If you open a personal current account with AIB, you'll be charged €4.50 every three months unless you keep a minimum daily balance of €2,500 in your account.

You can avoid account maintenance fees with Bank of Ireland's personal current account -- but only if you keep a minimum balance of €3,000 in that account or if you lodge €3,000 into your account and make a least nine debit payments from your account every three months using the bank's internet or phone banking.

Permanent TSB's Everyday bank account has a quarterly fee of €12 -- which can only be avoided if you meet certain conditions, including lodging at least €3,000 into your account every three months. National Irish Bank charges annual fees of €20, €75 and €125, depending on the current account chosen.

Step Two: Contact your new bank

Once you choose your new bank account, contact the bank and ask for its current account switching pack.

This pack has a number of forms which you must complete and sign. One of these forms is the account switching form -- which ensures the balance in your old account is transferred to your new account (if you're closing the old one) and that any existing direct debits and standing orders are carried over. Another is a letter to your employer (and anyone else paying into your account) with details of your new account.

You must agree a switching date -- the date your account will start to be moved over -- with your new bank. Choose a date where there are not too much payments going into or out of your account.

For example, avoid choosing the date you get paid on -- or when your mortgage repayments are due. While you are switching accounts, make sure to have enough money in your old and new account to cover any bills, fees, charges and so on. It is a good idea to leave a two week window for that.

You need to provide your new bank with proof of your identity, such as your passport, driving licence or national identity card. You also need to provide proof of address, such as an electricity or gas bill.

Step Three: Tidy up

Decide if you want to keep your old account open or not. If you decide to close your old account, stop using the bank cards and cheque books on that account once your account starts to be switched over.

Destroy any old bank cards and send any unused cheques on your old account to your old bank.

You should also order bank cards and a cheque book for your new account -- and set up internet and telephone banking.

When you start to switch your account, both you and your new bank will receive a list of any existing standing orders or direct debits from your old bank.

You should check this list and let your new bank know if there are any changes you want to make. Your new bank will ensure your direct debits and standing orders are then carried over to your new account.

However, if you receive money from or pay money into an account outside Ireland, you will have to contact the international account holder directly and give them your new current account details.

Step Four: The switch

It should take no longer than 10 working days to switch your account. Remember, however, that you're unlikely to be able to switch your current account from Ulster Bank until the technical problems at the bank have been fully resolved -- and your account is fully up to date.

If you have run up an overdraft on your Ulster Bank current account, your new bank may not be willing to take on that overdraft. So, chances are, you will need to clear it before switching. Your new bank may also wish to run a credit check.

MOVING YOUR MORTGAGE

If you have a mortgage, it could be tricky to move it.

AIB, which offers some of the cheapest mortgages on the market, has not allowed people to switch a mortgage with another lender to the bank since February 2010. Bank of Ireland says it that considers switcher mortgages for those borrowing up to 90 per cent of the value of their home. Both Permanent TSB and National Irish Bank say that they accept applications from mortgage switchers.

A spokesman for KBC Bank said it allows customers with another lender to switch their mortgage to the bank "provided they meet KBC's lending criteria".

KBC and Permanent TSB, however, are some of the more expensive lenders on the market.

"Add in the average valuation fee of €150 and solicitor fees of €1,000 or more and it might not really make sense financially to switch your mortgage -- particularly if you're not switching to a cheaper interest rate," says Michael Dowling, spokesman for the Independent Mortgage Advisers Federation (IMAF).

Remember too, that while there is a switching code in place if moving your current account to another bank, no such code applies to mortgages, to credit cards or to other financial products. So it could be trickier and take longer to move those products to another bank.

If you have a fixed-rate mortgage with Ulster Bank, you will usually have to pay a breakage fee if you move to another bank.

MOVING YOUR CREDIT CARD

You may have difficulty moving your credit card to another bank, warns Simon Moynihan, communications director of the personal finance website bonkers.ie.

"You have to have perfect credit to move -- and even at that, your new bank may lower the credit limit you had with your old bank. From the feedback received through our website, some banks aren't issuing new credit cards -- even if they claim they are."

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