Need a checking account? Before you simply walk into the first bank you see, spend a little time shopping around.
All checking accounts are not created equal. Some offer just the basics, while others feature a surprising array of bells and whistles.
Today's checking accounts are more than simply a place to have your paycheck direct-deposited and pay your bills. So before you open an account, think carefully about what you need your account to do for you. While it may not be possible to find a checking account that can do everything you want (there are no accounts that cook dinner and do the dishes yet, as far as we know), the one you choose should come close.
Here are nine things to consider when choosing the right checking account for you:
- Checking for free or fee? Free checking accounts are not as common as they once were, but they are still around. However, while “free" is good, you may find that the free account is too basic for your needs and you may have to pay a nominal fee to get all the other services you want. If you choose to open an account that is accompanied with a fee, it should truly be minimal: According to ABC News, monthly checking account fees at the 10 largest banks range from $2.99 to $12.
- Online Banking access. Most modern accounts include access to online banking. If you plan to bank on the go, make sure the account you choose also offers access from mobile devices. Just keep in mind that to protect your privacy, it's never a good idea to access your bank account using a public WiFi network, like those available in a coffee shop or airport. However, you're likely to want to access it from your home computer or other secure network.
- Mobile Banking capabilities. And if you're banking on the go, you probably want more than just access to look at your balance from your online or mobile device. You may want to make remote deposits, transfer money, and conduct other banking business with your smartphone. Look at what capabilities are available with each account you're considering.
- ATM access. If you plan to use an automatic teller machine (ATM) regularly to withdraw cash from your account, does the bank have ATMs in your area that are conveniently located? If you have to use outside ATMs, you will likely incur fees.
- Purchase protection. If you plan to use a debit card linked to your checking account, there's always a chance that your card or card information could be stolen and used for fraudulent purchases. Find out how the bank will respond in such a case: Will they cover fraudulent charges? How should you go about reporting such instances? And do they have a process for reviewing your purchases for possible fraud?
- Overdraft protection. Nobody plans to overdraw their checking account, but sometimes it happens. Does the bank you're considering allow you to link a savings account to your checking account to protect you from accidental overdrafts? If you do overdraw the account, how much will the bank charge you in fees?
- Interest earning. Do you expect to earn interest on the money in your checking account? If so, you'll need to find a checking account that pays interest, and in most cases, you'll have to maintain a certain balance in the account in order to earn interest.
- Withdrawal or check-writing limits. If you plan to write lots of checks or make regular withdrawals, ask about account limits. Some accounts charge a fee for each check written after a certain number per month.
- Customer service. Whether you plan to go into the branch to conduct banking business or handle it all online, you'll still have to deal with the bank's customer service department from time to time. Try to get a feel for how they work with customers and how problems are resolved. For instance, is your only option to call an 800 number to get questions answered? Or can you get the name, phone number and email address of a banker with whom you have a personal relationship?
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