How To Compare Checking Accounts At Different Banks

By Matthew Cenzon. May 7th 2016

Opening your first checking account can be a difficult task, especially with the different types of checking accounts to choose from and the abundance of financial institutions that are willing to accept you as a customer. Here are 10 things to ask when you compare checking accounts from different financial institutions to help you make the right decision.

1. What Are the Monthly Fees?

A checking account will always cover the basic needs of a regular customer: a safe place to keep your money and convenient ways to withdraw or spend your money. You can expect that every financial institution will offer you regular deposits, ATM withdrawals, a debit card and checkbooks to help you use your money. However, what are the costs of these services, and are there any special conditions that must be met to avoid extra fees?

2. Do You Get Online Banking?

The internet has made managing your checking account easier than ever before. Paperless statements, email notifications and online access to your account balance and history at almost any time of the day are services that are too good to pass up. If a checking account you're looking into doesn't come with online banking, you should probably cross it off of your list. 

3. Is There a 24-Hour Hotline and Customer Support?

Imagine you are on a trip and you lose your wallet. There are a probably a hundred things running through your mind, and the last thing you want to be thinking about is someone trying to use your ATM or debit card without your permission. A 24-hour hotline and customer support from your financial institution can assist you with protecting your checking account, no matter where you are or what time of the day it is.

4. Will You Get Fraud Protection?

Going back to the scenario in tip #3, assume that a stranger does use your debit card for a purchase before you get in touch with your financial institution. Should you be held responsible for any of those charges? Financial institutions that offer Fraud Protection will not hold you responsible for any charges that are made without your permission. This can also be a valuable service when a business tries to issue a charge to your debit card without your knowledge or consent.

5. What Is the Minimum Opening Balance and Monthly Account Balance?

All financial institutions will issue a minimum opening balance that is required to open your new checking account. The amount required to open your checking account may affect your decision when choosing your specific type of checking account, and the financial institution you wish to do your banking with. The minimum monthly statement balance is another factor that needs to be considered. Some financial institutions may charge a service fee unless you maintain a certain balance in your checking account. Fees may be issued if your checking account ever dips below the minimum balance required. In other words, you are required to keep money in your checking account that you won't be allowed to spend or touch unless you wish to pay a service fee. In this scenario, checking accounts that do not require a minimum monthly balance are the most appealing.

6. How Many Branches and ATMs Will You Have Access To?

One of the biggest factors when comparing checking accounts with different financial institutions is convenience. Will you have a difficult time visiting a teller for assistance with your checking account? Are there going to be any issues locating a nearby ATM whenever you need cash? The number of branches and ATMs at your disposal can drastically affect your decision when comparing a checking account with a nationwide bank, and a local bank or credit union.

7. What Are the Perks?

Individual financial institutions come with their own added benefits. These perks can be anything like special rewards for debit card usage, a free checkbook for opening a checking account, or belonging to a financial institution where the employees know you on a first-name basis and treat you like family. Whatever the perks of belonging to a financial institution may be, make a list and incorporate them into the decision-making process.

8. Are You Interested in Any Other Services?

You may be looking into a checking account now, but a few years down the line, you may also want to set up a college fund for your child. Take into account what other services are offered by a financial institution and whether you'd benefit from having a checking account with the same institution that is in charge of your mortgage.

9. Is Your Money Safe?

Before you sign up for a new checking account with a financial institution, make sure that your money is insured. If you are going with a bank, they should be insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). If you are going with a credit union, they should be insured by the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund (NCUSIF).

10. What Is Their Reputation?

Make sure you read up on as many reviews as possible before signing up with a financial institution. If you are thinking about going with a certain bank, but find out they have a long history of poor customer service, that may be enough for you to forego an appealing offer for a free checking account with a low opening deposit and free ATM usage. Look for websites that feature customer reviews, complaints or just learn about a financial institution's reputation through word of mouth by asking friends, family and colleagues to help you decide if you want to be in business with them.

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