"Free Checking" Is Different Than "WaMu Free Checking." What?

Reader Edward would like to let you know that “Free Checking” at Washington Mutual is different than “WaMu Free Checking,” and if you’d like those “free checks” they’ve been advertising, you’d better make sure you’ve been upgraded to “WaMu Free Checking.” If you’ve got “Free Checking” like Edward did, and you try to order checks, you will be charged $20.

Edward writes:

I’ve been a customer with WaMu for over 7 years, and am appalled over their treatment of me. I’ve ordered a box of checks, which under the advertising for “WaMu Free Checking” is free. Of course, silly me I only have a “Free Checking” Account and got dinged $20 for those checks. Apparently “WaMu Free Checking” is different from “Free Checking”. Seems the same to me though… Very misleading!! Regular phone support was ridiculously useless. I’ve contact the executive team, and hopefully they will get me my free checks that they say I should get.

Eventually Edward was told he had to head over to his WaMu branch to have things sorted out.

Edward says:

I think it’d be a good warning to those with old “Free Checking” accounts at Washington Mutual to check with the teller next time and make sure they get upgraded to “WaMu Free Checking”. Misleading, don’t you think?

Sure do, Ed.

(Photo:Meghann Marco)


Edit Your Comment

  1. Nemesis_Enforcer says:

    Hmm it might be part of the new campaign, I got a letter in the mail saying Washington Mutual was now WaMu…as in the nickname is now THE name. It said everything was still the same but I belive that about as much as a car salesman…

  2. ptkdude says:

    When they launched “WaMu Free Checking” here in Georgia maybe 2 years ago, I did have to have my account switched from “free checking” to “WaMu Free Checking”. It was a matter of asking the teller to make the change. They didn’t balk, and it took about 5 seconds.

  3. jmschn says:

    Yep, knew about the discrepancy when they rolled it out. A lot of times, you just have to take the time for some due diligence…they aren’t pulling a fast one.

  4. camas22 says:

    it’s a systems integration issue. they created the new checking with more free features due to increased competition from other banks after the original was so popular. If they had automatically switched everyone over there would probably be another article just like this one, only mad that they had switched people. just tell the teller or call the online help. or can the delicate genius not be disturbed?

  5. fishingstar says:

    in spite of this crappy deal, overall Wamu’s awesome, and i’m convinced that they’re the best big bank around, at least where I live (FL). they’re way better than BofA and wachovia, both of which I’ve exeperienced. Going to a BofA is like waiting in line at a post office. Most unpleasant experience ever. And Wachovia tries to suck every cent out of you that they can from fees and never ending corporate mailers with no way to opt out.

  6. The Walking Eye says:

    I signed up with Charter One a few years back when they were a small chain offering “Totally Free Checking.” Get free checks for life, although predictably they’re now only a certain type which suck, they’ve got good interest checking accounts, and the branches I work with most are super on customer service. They actually look out for their customers (this is branch dependent though as Indianapolis and Chicago branches have mediocre to down right awful service). One lady recognized me solely to having a working relationship with my brother and every time I see her she always asks if there’s anything she can do for me or him.

  7. SadSam says:

    Slightly off point, but I hate companies that treat long standing customers (here 7 years) worse than new customers. I have the same gripe with my cell phone company that I have been with 10 years (AT&T wireless, Cingular, now back to the New AT&T). It really makes no sense to me that after 10 years of being a loyal customer and the 10 years of bills that I’ve paid I have to go to the end of the line for anything new and cool. Ugh!

  8. rse506 says:

    I’ve been a WaMu customer for 4 years, and yes, WaMu did change their accounts around a couple years ago–they got rid of the “Gold Checking” as well as “Free Checking,” both of which I had at one point, replacing both with the “WaMu Free Checking.” Confusing name aside, it did have better features–and all I had to do was go to the branch and ask them to switch the account. It was done in under ten minutes.

    Plus, I was notified of the switch by mail, on the website, in a mailer with my statement… basically, it was impossible NOT to know that they were changing things around.

    When it comes to dealing with banks, it almost always pays to just go to the branch FIRST. Leave telephone banking to mundane tasks like checking your balance.

  9. Flossie says:

    One of the great things about WaMu is that the tellers can take care of anything in the bank. Never will they pull a Wells Fargo and direct you to the courtesy phone by the door because only the 800 number can help you.

  10. jdmba says:

    I fell for this very same thing. I had a platinum account (everything supposedly free, plus a WHOPPING 2% interest rate) and a “free checking account”. I went to order the free checks thru the WaMu site link (trust me, if they weren’t free, I would have gone for something else). Lo and behold, $20 fee. I called customer service who basically told me ‘too bad’. Ultimately I went into my local branch to talk to the friendly assistant manager who explained to me the subtle difference … but she changed me over (without an account number change) and refunded the $20. VERY frustrating.

  11. I recently had a vendor accidentally charge me around $1k for an item (instead of $100) — this caused my “Free Checking” account to go negative. I had heard on radio ads, etc. that everyone gets like one of these mistakes a year, without having to pay the overdraft charge. When the overdraft charge appeared on my bill, I went into Washington Mutual. The conversation was something like this:

    Me: “Hi, I have an overdraft charge on my account, and I thought the first one would be free. I’m not even supposed to be overdrafted, anyhow. The company mis-charged me.”

    Bitter Old CSR Woman: “Oh.. well.. you have FREE CHECKING. That’s not WAMU FREE CHECKING. You’ll have to pay the fee still.”

    Me: “Huh? Wait, I have a Washington Mutual free checking account. What gives?”

    Bitter Old CSR Woman: “Yes, you have a free checking account, but not a WAMU FREE CHECKING account.”

    Me: “Wait.. what?”

    At that point she hands me a pamphlet, and proceeds to tell me how I should’ve been notified (I wasn’t) and that I should switch my account over. I ask if switching costs anything, she says no. I also ask if it’ll remove this ding. She again says no.

    Fun! Next time, Washington Mutual, change the checking account name to something a little more different than the old name. Perhaps a “Wacky Fun Free Wamu Checking For Great Justice” account?

  12. mgk0070 says:

    Yeah I ran into the same problem here in San Francisco, I too was a WAMU customer for 7 years and when I needed to order checks they billed me as well even though my account was called Free Checking. However when I walked into the local branch by my office, and was about to tell them that this is really misleading and I’ll just cash out and take my money elseware, the teller didn’t even give me the chance she just said we’ll update your account to WaMu free checking and credit me back the cost of the checks. I did also try to take care of this situation over the phone but they told me I would have to have it figured out at the local branch, kind of a waste of time but I needed to get cash anyway. It is really dumb that WaMu just didn’t upgrade their long time customers but I guess no harm no foul. Of course this is much better than one day trying to login to my online statement and recieving a message that my online account does not exist, this happened to me a few years ago.

  13. TaviRider says:

    I don’t see why people bother with the megabanks like WaMu, Bank of America, Citibank and so on, when credit unions are a fantastic alternative. Instead of making money for investors and corporate executives, they make money for their members. WaMu could’ve automatically converted people to the more-free “WaMu Free Checking”, and notified its customers of the new better benefits. Why didn’t it do that? Because if it did it would make slightly less money for its investors. On the other hand, a credit union’s motivation is the opposite. Why make money on fees to eventually give back to its members when it can do the same thing more efficiently by ending those fees? I’ll never use a bank again.

  14. jmschn says:

    What are checks?? it took me 1 year to use 1 booklet (4 booklets come in my pack)..it’s all about online payments.

  15. veronykah says:

    I don’t quite understand…you ordered checks and nowhere until they were paid for did it say you were going to owe $20?
    I’ve been a WaMu customer with the old “free checking” for about 7 years as well. I knew that my account didn’t earn me any free checks and that it was different from the new Free Checking…not sure how, but I did.
    The other day when I realized my checks from 5 years and 5 addresses ago were almost gone, I went into a WaMu branch to make a deposit. At that time I asked the teller how I could get my account to be part of the new free checking. It took all of 5 mintues for her to make my deposit, change my account and order me new checks. I got them last week. No problem.

  16. krunk4ever says:

    I had emailed WaMu customer support when the free checks campaign came out and asked how I could switch over to the new account to get the free checks. They said I would have to go into a local branch and have them switch over for me. For some reason they weren’t able to do it online.

    Anyway, till this day, I still haven’t finished the 1st check book (of 3 which I got when I first signed up), so I haven’t bothered getting it switched yet.

    Given that, I do have to ask, did WaMu just not tell Edward there was going to be a $20 charge, or that Edward was just being careless and didn’t notice that before he submitted his order for checks.

  17. m.ravian says:

    credit unions….credit unions…

    my parents have been banking at the same small bank for 35 years, right down the street. when i walk in the door, they know who i am and who my parents are, even though i closed my account eight years ago when i left for college.

    you really can’t beat that.

  18. Dustbunny says:

    I just want to say that last weekend WaMu had an ad in The Oregonian announcing they were opening a new branch and inviting people to come meet the “WaMulians” who work there. “WaMulians” makes me laugh. That is all : )

  19. iheartconsumerist says:

    If you move out of state with a “free checking” account and then want to upgrade to “WAMU free checking” you are SOL. Aparently it is impossible. I have no idea why, but WAMU just refuses to do it. You must open a brand new account, with a different account number and transfer everything over to the new account…To make matters even better the two accounts can never be linked in internet banking so you can’t transfer cash between the old and new one…

    I learned this the hard away after having to sign up for multiple accounts online, spending hours on the phone with customer service, and having my previous account profile deleted (nothing like logging in to your account and seeing a $0 balance to freak you out). I’ve been a wamu customer for almost a decade but after this whole fiasco I opened an account with HSBC

  20. EtherealStrife says:

    What are these “checks” of which you speak?

    I saw my first permanent “WaMu” sign yesterday. Bizarre. I guess those extra letters were just too costly to maintain.

  21. EmmaC says:

    I have the old “Free Checking” and not the new Wamu Free. They never notified me about the different accounts or about upgrading to “Wamu Free.” I know about this because my sister opened an account there and told me they were now giving out free checks. I haven’t upgraded because I prefer to have my checks sent to me (at no charge) but will have to give that up for “Wamu Free”.

    Off subject, has anyone else been burned by Wamu’s “Free Companion Airline Ticket?” They’re not returning my sister’s calls on this so called promotion.

  22. ThinkAboutItPlease says:

    @camas22: “…or can the delicate genius not be disturbed?” Huh? I am troubled by camas22’s seeming blame of the victim and attendant nasty tone. In my view, it is incumbent upon WaMu to supply free checking when the account is called “Free Checking” — period. Systems integration is no excuse to betray the customer. Edward should not have to jump through a single hoop to retain free checking in his Free Checking account. Any notion to the contrary speaks very poorly of WaMu.

  23. mherweg says:

    Legitimate gripe to be sure. I’ve been with WaMu for quite a while now (somewhere between four to six years) and I had the old free checking for probably a majority of that time. But I must say, they beat Bank of America by leaps and bounds.
    I was convinced by a family member to open a BoA free checking acct., mostly over their $25 promotion for account referrals (i.e. we go to the bank together, you tell them you referred me to them, they give us both $25). Well, I never got my $25, which was not that serious in and of itself, but after that summer had ended and they completed their Fleet merger, all of a sudden my acct. was no longer free and I got service charges left, right, up, down, all over. I got fed up and closed the account (all of a sudden they wanted to make it free – no thanks) and took my money back over to WaMu to my old account. Given that they were running a heavy ad campaign about their overdraft forgiveness at the time, I made sure to ask if my account would have the new features. It in fact, did not, but it took the teller no more than 2 minutes to switch my account over. I think it would have been nice if they told customers about the change.

  24. Brie says:

    @creditunionfolks: Why don’t I use credit unions? Because the three that I qualify for don’t have 24/7 customer service. I like the concept, really I do (and used the one for my college back before I had a family and jobs.) But when I’m doing my finances at 7 AM Saturday morning and have a question, I want an answer without having to wait until business hours on Monday.

    To get back on topic, WaMu overdraft fees burnt me for about $200, which as far as I’m concerned makes up for the free checking – they had no record of the money I’d transferred over from Wells Fargo in order to cover the WaMu checks I’d written. I can accept “Sorry, we see your deposit but we need to hold it for 10 business days;” I couldn’t accept “Sorry, we don’t see that deposit in our records.”

  25. ShadowFalls says:

    It really doesn’t help when you get routed to India for your support call either. Since they tend to act like mindless drones who read scripted responses, you get nowhere really fast.

  26. LAGirl says:

    i moved back to LA in 1999. i had citibank in NYC. at that time, there weren’t very many Citibank branches in LA, so i opened an account at Wells Fargo. that got old real fast when i realized they charged for everything + anything. the last straw was being charged to use the automated phone system. i closed that account + went to WAMU. it’s been 7 years now and i’ve been happy ever since.

    i always receive great customer service. i’ve got overdraft protection, but they still charge overdraft fees to cover an item. it’s rare that i go into overdraft. but if i do, i’ve found that if i go into my local branch and explain why i went into overdraft (usually a dumb mistake on my part), they will reverse the fee(s).

    if i had the problem that this guy had, i’d call the 800 number, or go to my branch, ask them to reverse the charge and change my account. pretty easy fix.

  27. LAGirl says:

    @ShadowFalls: i’ve found with WAMU, if you call during regular business hours, you usually get someone in the US. it’s when you call at night that you get the Indian call center. if that happens, ask for a supervisor. seems like that can get you back to someone in the US.

  28. Jesus On A Pogo Stick says:

    WaMu totally screwed me. I finally got fed up with their shit and moved to a credit union. I have free checking. I’ve never been happier. Free online banking, free ATM usage, great staff. Plus, I don’t feel like I’m being raped every time I walk into the building or look at my statements from them.

  29. shoegazer says:

    Headline please… “is Different FROM”. The tipster got it right.


  30. @TaviRider: Using a credit union doesn’t necessarily solve the problem here: getting free checks with free checking.

    Why didn’t they do more to make the names of the two different accounts be…different? It comes across as though they’re trying to be sneaky about the fact that old accounts don’t get all the same benefits as the new accounts. They could have called it “New”, “Totally”, “Premium”, ect. but instead they just stick the name of the bank in front of the new account name.

    How is that not confusing? Isn’t the old Free Checking also WaMu Free Checking since that’s the name of the bank now and they’re the ones offering it?

  31. strathmeyer says:

    I hate WaMu as much as the next guy, but what exactly is going on here? They’re promising free checking, not free checks. It’s like being promised free entrance to a club or movie and then complaining about having to pay for food or drinks.

  32. zingbot says:

    They told us about this several different ways (mail, e-mail and in the branch itself) and I changed both of my accounts over immediately. This guy just wasn’t paying attention at all to have missed it. I distinctly remember getting annoyed with them telling me multiple, multiple times about the new kind of account and asking to switch it over.

    Wamu has been better to me, personally, than any other bank (screw you, Chase). I respect the fact that they have expanded hugely without any inconvenience to me.

  33. TaviRider says:

    @Rectilinear Propagation: Credit Unions are typically ahead of the curve in customer service, in part because they have to compete with banks. I’ve had free checking with free checks from both of the credit unions I’ve used, since 1997, long before WaMu started its faux free checking, and I’ve enjoyed better interest rates. People often aren’t aware of the superior service from credit unions because they don’t spend millions of dollars in marketing to advertise this fact. Instead they get new customers through their membership system.

  34. swalve says:

    @strathmeyer: Thank you!

    You, as the customer, can only expect to recive what you signed up for, or that you personally upgraded to. Incentives are there to lure new business. It’s not like you are paying for the service. “Hey, you’re not being nice enough to me for letting me use your services to manage my money for free!”

  35. swalve says:

    And for all you little leaguers out there, credit unions aren’t necessarily better than banks. It has more to do with the size of the organization. I guarantee a credit union the size of WaMu would be no different.


    It doesn’t say who regulates and oversees these institutions. I don’t know the answer. Does anyone, besides the shareholders? Are their assets FDIC insured?

    I was also surprised to learn that they aren’t required to serve under-served communities like banks are. Basically, they can amend their rules so they can cream-skim the desirable customers, leaving the undesirables to the banks who have to take them.

  36. starmouse70 says:

    About a year ago I was charged an ATM fee for using a non-WAMU ATM. However their advertisements said no ATM fees. At the branch they explained that I had a different free checking account and easily changed my account.

    In response to the posts regarding credit unions. Credit unions are great if you would like low rate loans and interest payments on your savings accounts. WAMU pays 0.25% on my savings account. With my credit union, for the same type of savings account I receive 5.00%. Credit unions are a cooperative and as such are catered more to the customers who are also the owners. It used to be that credit unions were based for certain professions/employers such as a credit union for federal employees but many credit unions are now open to residents in the local area.

    The National Credit Union Association (NCUA) regulates the credit unions. They are like the FDIC.

    It is all a matter of preference. Yes with WAMU and the bigger banks you can contact customer service 24/7 and find branches through out the country. However credit unions might have better products and services available to you.

  37. LS427 says:

    I agree that this is very confusing,and they should have updated long-standing customers. When I got married a few years ago, I joined my husband on his ‘free checking’ account with WaMu. A few months ago we had an issue, and through that I realized that we had been paying $7/month for our ‘free checking’ account. That amount of money adds up over the years, especially when you think it is free. Yes, it was easy to change to WaMu ‘free checking’ once we realized it wasn’t the same. And yes, they sent out noticed that they were changing it. But we get so much mail/junk mail from them trying to get us to sign up for credit cards, etc, that I often ignore that type of mail. I do like WaMu, but this incident was definitely frustrating.