If you’re like most people you have had the same checking account for years and maybe even decades. Perhaps it’s the only one you’ve ever had. The fact of the matter is most people open a checking account at the same time they get their first job and stick with it through thick and thin. The problem with that is that the checking account you opened in high school or college may have been adequate then but probably falls short of the mark now.
The Right Way Vs. The Wrong Way
Choosing a new checking account is like everything else in life, there is a right way to do and a wrong way to do it. Some favorite examples of the wrong way include:
- My ______ (parents, friend, cousin, aunt, boyfriend, girlfriend, etc) use this bank.
While this seems like a rational solution, it is based on two false assumptions. Your friend\relative is happy with their choice and your needs are exactly the same as theirs.
- That guy\woman in the commercial seems sincere.
They’re actors! It’s their job to appear sincere. The fact is commercials and ads are never good ways to choose anything, especially not a home for your money.
- They have a branch in the lobby of my office building.
While convenience of location can be a consideration, you must view that in the larger context of how many branches do they have rather than just being close to where you live or work right now.
Those are just three of the wrong reasons. There are plenty more which will become apparent when we look at the right way to choose a new checking account.
- Balance Requirements – Are there minimum balance requirements for free\low fee checking and are they amounts that you can realistically maintain?
- Interest – Is the account interest bearing (does the bank pay you to keep your money there)?
- Online Banking – Does the bank offer access to online banking services? Not having online banking means having to either wait for a monthly statement or running to an ATM every time you want to check your balance.
- Overdraft Fees – Let’s be honest, mistakes happen. The inconvenience and embarrassment of a bounced check is bad enough but adding insult to injury with excessive overdraft fees could be a deal breaker.
Take Your Time – It’s All About You!
At the end of the day the single best advice there is when it comes to choosing a new checking account is to be selfish. It’s your account and it should meet your needs as closely as possible. There are plenty of relationships in your life where you should have a balance between your needs and the needs of others but a checking account is not one of them.
A great way to start the process is to sit down with a pencil and paper or at the computer and compose a fantasy list of what the perfect checking account would look like and what it would do for you. Put your list in descending order of importance and assign a number from one to five with how flexible you are willing to be for each item.
Related Article: Checking Account Dos and Don’ts
The Bottom Line
After you’ve chosen a new bank to be the home of your money and opened your shiny new checking account, don’t get complacent. Banks change hands through mergers and acquisitions all the time. Senior management changes and sometimes just old fashioned greed leads to dramatic changes in the interest rates banks pay you and the fees they charge. Your needs also change over time as well.
Consider a regular annual or bi-annual review of the state of your checking account and your needs. Look at what is available from your bank and competitors and don’t be afraid to switch again. It really does get easier the second time around.
Photo Credit: Cory