If you’d like to open a checking account, one thing’s for sure: you have options. In fact, early on in your search, you are likely to become overwhelmed by the sheer variety that is out there. How are you supposed to wade through all the options to arrive at the one that’s right for you? The answer lies in educating yourself about the most popular options and features and deciding which ones matter the most.
These days, you aren’t limited to local brick-and-mortar banks for checking account access. Because they lack physical locations, Internet banks have a lot less overhead, so they tend to pass along the savings to customers by offering no-fee checking and other perks. Rewards checking accounts up the ante by offering higher interest rates and more. To qualify, account holders usually have to meet certain requirements.
For help in determining which checking account is right for you, keep reading.
Consider the Monthly Fees
A checking account is the optimal way to use and spend money, but you shouldn’t have to fork over a bunch of it for the privilege. Before opening any checking account, always read the fine print. Carefully review the bank’s fee schedule for the account that you want to know going in what you’ll have to cover.
Examples of fees that are often charged on checking accounts include:
- monthly maintenance fee
- ATM usage fees
- minimum balance fees
- overdraft protection fees
- online banking fees
- balance inquiry fees
Even when fees are assessed, many banks waive them for customers who meet certain criteria. In particular, you should be able to avoid the monthly maintenance fee by having your paycheck directly deposited, maintaining a certain minimum balance, being a high school or college student, or being over a certain age — usually 60 or 62.
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Look for Free Checking Accounts
Instead of worrying about meeting the criteria to avoid fees, you might consider seeking out checking accounts that are completely free without any strings attached. These days, the best options in this department can be found among Internet banks. Without brick-and-mortar locations, these banks have a lot less overhead and can therefore offer checking accounts without assessing any fees.
Of course, if you are one of the few people left out there who needs to visit local branches regularly, Internet banks may not be suitable. In that case, credit unions are good places to look for no-fee checking accounts.
Mobile Banking Options
Mobile banking usage skyrocketed from 11 percent to 31 percent between 2012 and 2017. Compared with having to visit a local bank to get cash or to handle other business, mobile banking offers unparalleled convenience and ease of use. Internet banks, like Ally and Discover, naturally include mobile, or online, banking. Most checking accounts that are offered by brick-and-mortar banks include online banking access as well, but some banks charge online banking fees.
When looking for a checking account, insist on one that includes free online access and mobile banking. The latter typically allows you to download an app onto your smartphone, which you can then use to log in and conduct business. Always read the fine print regarding a bank’s online and mobile banking features and any fees that may be assessed.
Rewards Checking Accounts
When it comes to checking accounts, free is great. Even better is being able to earn rewards by using your checking account, which rewards checking accounts bring this option to the table. Typically free, rewards checking accounts offer a variety of perks for customers who meet certain criteria. Unlike with traditional checking accounts, however, you won’t be charged fees for not meeting these requirements.
A few examples of the types of extras that you may be entitled to by meeting certain requirements — for instance, by having your paycheck directly deposited or by singing up for electronic statements — include the following:
- an annual percentage yield, or APY, of one percent or more
- cash back on select transactions
- refunds of ATM usage fees from out-of-network machines
- sign-up bonus; typically anywhere from $50 to $200
- airline miles
Overdraft Protection and Options
The best way to avoid overdraft fees and other problems is by not allowing your checking account to go into the red. Of course, everyone makes mistakes, and things happen. For such situations, it’s nice to have a checking account that offers affordable and reasonable overdraft protection. Some accounts include one free overdraft item per month. Others extend an overdraft line of credit, which accrues interest, with a transfer fee. Still others will automatically transfer the necessary funds into your checking account from your savings account, but both accounts must be held at the same bank and fees usually apply.
Carefully read a bank’s information about checking account overdraft protection before opening an account. Keep in mind that different banks have different policies regarding overdrafts, and it pays to shop around a little.
Compare and Contrast the Top Options
Finally, after you have narrowed things down to a manageable number, compare and contrast the features of each checking account to determine which one is most likely to suit your needs. Online comparison tools are available, and they allow you to quickly compare important things like fees, online and mobile banking access, overdraft protection, and more. While you are at it, check out online reviews from everyday people to see what the consensus seems to be about a particular checking account.
A few additional things to compare and contrast while doing your research include:
- minimum opening deposit
- check writing privileges
- daily transaction limits
- wait time for deposits
- ATM network availability
With a little research, you should be able to pinpoint a checking account that will meet your needs without costing you a fortune.