How to Pick a Better Bank
Maybe you’re drowning in fees. Maybe you’re looking for better customer service. Whatever the reason, if you’re thinking of switching banks, you need to weigh your options carefully. We asked Elyssa Kirkham, finance expert at GOBankingRates.com, how to decide which is the best bank for you.
KNOW YOUR FEES (OR AVOID THEM ALTOGETHER)
Bank fees can be pretty outrageous. A 2007 study from the Center for Responsible Lending found that customers pay an average of $17.5 billion each year on overdraft fees alone. There are also ATM fees, transfer fees, account maintenance fees—the list goes on. Thankfully, it’s possible to avoid forking over these excessive fees.
“Monthly checking and savings account fees will be major pain points,” Kirkham says. “Compare banks' fee schedules, including minimum balance or other requirements to waive fees, for checking accounts, savings accounts, and other bank products you plan to use. Picking a bank with low-fee checking or savings accounts is really the best way to avoid fees.”
You can search specifically for fee-free checking accounts or look for accounts that require a small balance minimum to waive the monthly maintenance fee.
You also want to consider overdraft protection, so read the account's terms closely. Kirkham adds that most banks, especially online banks and credit unions, will reimburse their customers for using out-of-network ATMs. Those fees can be expensive, so again, make sure to check your new bank’s policy.
CONSIDER CONVENIENCE AND PERKS
“Take a look at your own money habits and make sure you're shopping for the bank features and benefits that provide matching convenience, ease, and affordability," Kirkham says. "If you're constantly on your smartphone, you'll probably want a bank that has a robust mobile app with a full suite of features like person-to-person payments or mobile check deposit."
If you prefer face-to-face service or often make cash transactions, you want to find a bank with plenty of locations and ATMs in your area.
Or, “Maybe you have a healthy emergency fund and you'd like to be earning more interest on it, then deposit rates would be a key consideration,” Kirkham says. While most banks don’t offer much in terms of interest, some credit unions and online-only banks, like Ally or CapitalOne360, offer higher than average interest rates.
Some banks even offer bonuses for new customers. For example, if you open an account and make a large initial deposit, the bank may automatically credit you $50. These promotions change regularly, but you can keep tabs on them at bank comparison sites like GOBankingRates.
MAKE THE SWITCH A SMOOTH ONE
Switching banks can be kind of a pain, so the more prepared you are, the better. “Make sure you update payment information and switch over all payments to your new account,” Kirkham says. “Provide your employer with updated account information to switch over direct deposit to make sure you're still getting paychecks on time. Update account and payment information for all your bills to make sure your payments go out on time and you don't get hit with a fee for a late or returned payment.”
She also suggests leaving the old account open for a few months in case of any lingering bills or auto-payments you might have forgotten about.
“Switching banks is a bit of a hassle, but the effort involved is totally worth the payoff of having accounts and services that work for you and help you minimize money stress, rather than add to it,” Kirkham says.