Choosing a bank is about as exciting as shopping for car insurance, but examining your banking options periodically can save you money and time in the future. It might be easiest to make a change when you life is undergoing a change as well, such as a move or a marriage. Whether you're thinking about signing up at a credit union, online-only bank or traditional brick-and-mortar institution, look beyond the promotional offers and dig into the details about how much it will cost you to hold and access your money.
Make an honest assessment of your financial habits and savings goals to create a short list of banks you want to check out in detail. If you and your sweetie have combined finances, think about how you handle money together. Maybe one of you is a saver and one is a spender, or maybe both of you are frugal enough to stash cash each month. If keeping money in your checking account is a challenge, look for banks that don't require minimum account balances. Saving-oriented couples using an institution that offers high yield, interest-bearing savings accounts may find even more motivation for putting money away.
Payments for the convenience of accessing money on the go has become one of the biggest income generators for financial institutions. With ATM fees as high as $7 for access to cash in places like corner stores and malls, you'll want to look for a bank with an extensive list of convenient branch locations and affiliated ATMs. Look for a bank that won't charge you extra to get cash from an out-of-network ATM.
Whether you choose a traditional bank or a Web-based one, find an institution with usable online banking options to help you manage your money on the fly. For example, the ability to link all of your bank accounts together, see the exact amount of money in each one and pay bills using your mobile device can help you keep closer tabs on your finances. In addition, many banks are giving customers the ability to deposit paper checks simply by snapping a photo of the check. Always inquire about what it costs to use these services.
Room to Grow
Changing banks is a hassle, so look for a banking institution that's flexible enough to grow with your career and lifestyle choices. For example, when you're ready to buy a house, you'll find it advantageous to have an established relationship with an institution that also offers mortgage services. Should you decide to turn your dog-treat baking hobby into a small business, banking with an organization that also offers commercial checking accounts is handy. Typically smaller banks have closer relationships with their customers, but larger banks provide more services that can grow with your needs.
Before handing over your cash to a new bank, check the health of the institution. First, review the bank's website to confirm that customer deposits are insured by the U.S. government's Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. The FDIC protects customer deposits up to a specified limit (generally $250,000) in the event of a bank failure. A visit to the FDIC's website can tell you about the bank's current financial status as well as any performance issues being investigated by the organization.
Rene Agredano is a traveling journalist and entrepreneur based in Fort Collins, Colo. Since 1998, she has covered travel, home-and-garden, fitness, animal care and other lifestyle topics for publications such as "The Times-Standard" newspaper of northern California. Agredano holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Chapman University.