Choosing the right bank is important. Going to the wrong bank can cost you in fees, lost interest and inconvenience every time you need to interact with your financial institution.
It used to be tough to know which banks offered the best products and charged the lowest fees. These days, you can find great reviews online, including our list of top banks here at Investor Junkie.
If you’re looking to move to a new bank, be sure to consider the important questions below before signing up.
Do You Need a Physical Branch?
The first question to ask yourself is whether or not you need a physical branch. If you’re a restaurant server or valet parking attendant or have some other job that pays you in cash, you need a bank or credit union where you can deposit cash in a branch convenient to your work or home location.
If you don’t need a physical branch, you can consider an online-only bank. Online banks like Ally Bank and Capital One 360 offer better interest rates and lower fees than most banks with large physical footprints. If you’re paid by direct deposit and rarely use cash, an online bank is probably right for you. I’ve been online only with no physical branch for over two years!
Do You Use ATMs Regularly?
I use my credit card for every possible transaction to maximize my travel miles and points. If you manage your credit cards well and pay them off in full every month, cashback and travel rewards cards can make it easy to skip using ATMs.
If you do need cash often, make sure you can use ATMs for free at locations that work well for you. My Schwab Bank checking account offers unlimited ATM fee rebates for the rare times I need cash.
If the bank you want to use charges fees for using other banks’ ATMs, make sure your bank has convenient ATM locations near the places you go most.
Do You Care About Overdraft Fees?
If you have a habit of overdrawing your bank account, make sure you choose a bank that doesn’t charge high fees for overdrafts. For example, at Capital One you can choose from four options for overdrafts, including automatically declining them for no fee.
Ideally, you manage your accounts well and never overdraft. In all of my years of banking, I’ve overdrafted once when I accidentally pulled out the wrong card at a restaurant. A quick phone call got the fee waived.
But if you often go past zero, don’t get stuck paying your bank hundreds of dollars per year for the mistakes.
Do You Want Free Transfers to Other Accounts?
I have investment and bank accounts at a few different places. So I like the ability to hop onto my online banking app or webpage to transfer funds when needed. For example, if I want to transfer from my checking account to my high-yield savings at Ally Bank, I want it to be quick, easy and free.
If you care about this type of transfer, make sure your bank offers it and doesn’t charge you anything. You shouldn’t have to pay to move money between your own accounts.
Also, consider transfers to people at other banks. You could use one of the popular payment apps like PayPal, Venmo and Square Cash. But some banks let you transfer directly using an online transfer system. And if your bank is a member of the Zelle network, even better! Zelle lets you send same-day transfers to those with an account at a participating bank.
Do You Use Online Bill Pay?
Most checking accounts include free online bill pay for sending payments to any biller in the United States. Some billers are set up for quick electronic payments, while others will receive a paper check in the mail.
I use online bill pay to pay my credit cards, my water bill and a few other occasional bills for which I can’t use my credit card. If you use online bill pay, make sure your new bank offers this service for free.
What’s most important to you is that you have it and don’t have to pay for it. If you can check that box, you’re all set here.
Don’t Forget the Fees and Interest Rates
Last but certainly not least, consider the overall fees and interest rates. Banks commonly charge fees for these types of activity:
- Overdraft fee
- Monthly account maintenance fee
- Minimum balance fee
- Returned deposit fee
- Paper bank statement fee
- ATM fee for non-bank owned ATMs
- Inactivity fee
For savings, consider the interest rate you get for your account balance. Online banks like Ally and Capital One pay some of the highest rates. Big physical branch banks like those mentioned above are known for lower interest rates.
Choose the Right Bank for Your Unique Financial Needs
There is no perfect bank for everyone, but there is a best bank for you. So, decide what’s most important for you, then start searching for the right institution that meets those needs.
If you can use an online bank, you will find the best interest rates and lowest fees, but you can’t deposit cash and may have to pay ATM fees in some cases.
Once you’ve checked those important criteria, however, you can confidently switch. There is no reason to stick with a bad bank you don’t like. Move to a new bank that has your most important needs covered and won’t charge you an arm and a leg for your personal banking.