What To Look For in A Checking Account

When it comes to dating, you probably have standards, right? Person must be x feet tall, kind, attractive, funny, employed, etc. – you don’t just pick up anyone and everyone, do you?

The same should go for your bank accounts. This is a relationship that the bank you choose hopes will go on for a very long time.

Banks want to market even more products to you, so you will think of them first when getting a car loan or a mortgage, etc.

So don’t pick the first Tom, Dick, or Harry that proposes to you with the lure of a free hat.

Here’s what to look for in a checking account 

  • FDIC insured.  

This means that if something happens to the bank, the federal government will step in and reimburse any losses you suffered up to $250k. 

  • No monthly maintenance fees 

Your checking account is there for you to store your money until you are ready to use it. In addition, banks are happy to keep your money for you because they earn interest from lending your money to other folks. There is no reason that you should pay to have access to your own money, especially when there are many banks out there willing to do it for free. However, if you love a bank that has a fee, just make sure the requirements to avoid the fee are reasonable. 

  • No minimum balance requirement 

A minimum balance requirement is the amount of money you must have in your account at all times to not be charged a fee. Again, we aren’t a fan of paying fees because when you are just starting out, your bank account may ‘look’ a little erratic – flush at the beginning of the month, but dwindled down to just ‘fun money’ once you’ve transferred funds for saving, investing and paying debts. Don’t allow a bank to hold your money hostage – choose a bank with no minimum balance requirements. 

  • A large ATM network or waived ATM fees 

When you need to get your funds in a hurry, an ATM (automated teller machine) can be very convenient. When you use your bank’s ATM, the fees are usually waived, however when you use an ATM from a different bank or company, you can often get charged twice! Your bank charges you for going out of network, AND the company that owns the ATM charges you for the convenience of using their machine. 

Imagine withdrawing $10 from your account and being charged a $3 fee from your bank AND a $5 fee from the ATM… that’s $18 total. You want to look for companies that have access to many ATMs and are in a large network where a group of banks ‘share’ access to the ATMs, or waive the fees incurred for out-of-network ATM use. 

Easy access to funds

Your checking account is an account you’ll use regularly, so you want to be able to easily pull the funds out when needed.

  • Has a mobile app 

Who wants to go into a bank anymore to make a deposit? You want a bank where you can deposit checks and transfer funds anywhere anytime.  

  • Online banking 

Can’t believe I have to say this, but yes, there are still some banks that don’t offer online banking (or have a very antiquated system). Make sure whichever bank you choose has a ‘good enough’ online system. 

  • No transaction fees 

Nope, I haven’t beaten the dead horse yet on fees, some banks charge fees for transferring funds from one bank account to another, and some charge fees for debit card usage or withdrawals … that’s going to be a big N-O. Remember we don’t pay to get access to our own money.

  • Good customer service 

If you’ve ever lost $20 or more, then you know the feeling when you’re money is messed up. You don’t want to have to deal with a company that doesn’t answer their phones, won’t respond to email, and there is no building to show up to talk to a manager. Choose a bank where customers rave about the service. 

  • Sound reputation 

I love a good underdog story, but not with my money. If the company has a bad reputation for opening fraudulent accounts without customer consent or not honoring their agreement then run away – fast.  

  • Free bill payment 

You want to use the systems and automations that come with your account to help make your life easier, so choose a bank that offers these features. 

  • BONUS: 24-hour or more grace period 

Sometimes things happen. Maybe a bill was paid before your paycheck cleared and that might cause you to overdraft. The last thing you need in that scenario is to be dinged by your bank, so pick a bank that offers a 24-hour grace period for you to fix the error. 

  • BONUS: Offers a cash bonus to open an account 

I know this sounds like a prince charming wish list, but there are actually some companies that offer all these features. 

  • Huntington Bank 
  • Capital One Bank 
  • Ally Bank 
  • Sofi  
  • Chase (if you can easily meet the fee requirements) 

Jordanne Wells

Jordanne Wells is your Master Instructor. She is a Certified Financial Educator, holds her Bachelors of Art Degree in Economics, has advised first generation wealth builders on personal finance and wealth building through her organization Wealth From Scratch.Club. She is the author of the personal finance book Credit From Scratch and her work is featured on Good Morning America, CNBC, NextAdvisor and more.

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