As many of you know, I bank at Washington Mutual (WaMu). As many of you also know, WaMu actually failed and the government sold it to JPMorgan Chase for $1.9 billion on Friday. This was the largest bank failure ever in the United States. So what caused the downfall of the nation’s largest bank?
The major reason is the huge amount of subprime (bad) mortgages that WaMu made over a period of time. Subprime mortgages are mortgages made to people with less than stellar credit. These people are most likely not able to afford the mortgages that they were put into. However, the bank could charge a higher interest rate and make more money on them. The problem started when house prices took a dive nationwide. The same people were now underwater with their homes and many walked away because they couldn’t make the payments.
But the bigger problem and the catalyst that caused the failure was the many people who took out all of their money based on fear and false rumors. In the ten day period following the collapse of Lehman Brothers, WaMu customers took out $16.7 billion in deposits. This caused WaMu to not be able to conduct day to day business because of the lack of cash.
I keep repeating this over and over. It is not a time to panic. Fear and worry doesn’t solve any problems. Only action solves problems. No one lost any money when WaMu went down. No one, including everyone with more than $100,000 at the bank, did not lose any money at all. Let me say that again; nobody lost any money, period.
So what does this mean to you?
If you bank at WaMu, you now bank at JPMorgan Chase (technically). In the short term, this means business as usual. You continue to use the same account numbers, branches, checks, debit cards, online banking, ATMs, etc. All JPMorgan Chase ATMs are now available to you fee free. JPMorgan has a nice page explaining everything about your banking after the buyout.
The merger is going to take some time. I would say that within the next 6-9 months, JPMorgan will begin to consolidate and get rid of the Washington Mutual name. I’m going to continue to bank there. I’m not taking out my money. I’ll continue to use the online bill pay and have my paycheck direct deposited there as I always have.
If you don’t bank at WaMu, it just means one less bank to choose from. It means less competition. It probably means higher prices. Higher interest rates on loans and less attractive rates on savings devices. Less competition is never good. But the lesson here is, don’t panic. Your money is safe and sound. Just remember to keep less than $100,000 in any account at any one bank. Unfortunately, I do not have that particular “problem”. God bless!
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