Choosing a Bank: Get the Best Bang for Your Balance
People often open accounts at whichever bank is most convenient without checking the services it offers or the fees it charges. That may not be a great idea.
When I was younger, my bank gave out green lollipops with the bank’s name on it. While that bank was bought by another major bank, I still remember the excitement of getting a lollipop every time I deposited the money that I’d received for my birthday or holidays.
Unfortunately, when I went to college, my bank didn’t have a branch in my college town. So I opened an account with the first local credit union I saw, which offered me a student account with no fees.
After four years, I needed to move my money again — and again, I picked the first nearby bank I saw. Do you see the pattern here?
I had no idea what I was doing! Was I getting a good interest rate for my savings account? Could they help me get a good credit card? I didn’t ask these questions when choosing a bank account.
How to Choose a Bank: 4 Top Considerations
Since then, I’ve learned a lot more about how to choose a bank the right way. Now, older and wiser, I’m more aware of what I should ask when opening a new bank account. Could it be time for you to switch? Here’s what you should consider when choosing a bank:
- What online services does the bank offer?
- What do its policies look like?
- Does the bank offer credit cards?
- How good is its customer service?
1. Online Services
I love the ability to check my account balance from an app on my phone or on the web at any time of day or night. My bank offers online bill-pay and notifies me when a payment has gone through or a withdrawal has been processed, helping me track my cash flow easily.
If your bank doesn’t offer online services, you should consider switching.
There are only a few reasons you would need to go to a branch, and checking your balance, paying a bill, or even depositing a small check should not be one of them.
2. Bank Policies
When choosing a bank, research its policies in-depth before moving your money, and make sure to have all details about fees in writing.
Will the bank charge you a monthly fee if you don’t have direct deposit or a certain balance in your account? What’s your monthly limit for withdrawals before it charges you? Savings accounts often have a limit for withdrawals, while checking accounts usually don’t. (This is a result of Federal Regulation D, which requires “depository institutions” such as banks to hold a reserve of money on-hand for certain kinds of deposits.)
Will the bank charge you for depositing in-person? One of my banks charges me a fee if I deposit money into my checking account at a branch, but not if I deposit it into the savings account. So I know that if I have a check that exceeds my limit for a mobile deposit, I should make sure the teller deposits it into the savings account. That way, I can avoid the fee.
3. Credit Cards
Does the bank have credit card offers? When I was in St. Louis, I switched to a new bank solely because I knew I had a great chance of getting a credit card with no foreign transaction fees. It worked. When I moved abroad at the end of my year there, the bank gave me the credit card, which made it worth the switch.
4. Customer Service
However, most of my money is with an online bank — or at least one that doesn’t have a branch near to where I live. One of the major reasons I stay with it is that it has excellent customer service. I can call at any time of day and always speak with a friendly representative who assists me without a problem.
My debit card is part of the Allpoint Network, which offers 55,000 ATMs worldwide with no fee. That’s much better than a card that I have from another bank, which only allows me free access at their own ATMs. At any other machine, I have to pay a fee.
The Next Steps in Choosing a Bank
If you decide to switch banks, make sure to bring photo identification and your Social Security card to open the account. You should also be prepared to deposit a certain amount of money into the new account.
Cancel any automatic payments in your old account and let them and any outstanding payments via check clear before you close the account. If you receive direct deposit, also notify your employer of your new account so that you can avoid a lapse in payments. Finally, close your old account and make sure to get notification of the closed account in writing for your records.
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