7 Tips for Choosing the Right Bank

You’ve got enough going on in your life, and the last thing you want is to spend time jumping through hoops with your bank. Who has time for that?

Many banks have turned to new ways of making profit after regulations started putting the squeeze on the ways they used to collect fees from credit cards and checking accounts. Accounts you’ve held for years may see significant changes in the future — if they haven’t already. Make sure you read any notices your bank sends you about changes to your checking accounts or their fees. If you feel you’re not getting a good deal, it may be time to make a switch. Here are some thoughts on what to look for if you’re on the hunt for a new bank.

1. No Nickel-and-Diming

Look For: Checking accounts with no monthly fees.

Avoid: Simply put, monthly fees. Some banks’ charges can reach $15 a month or more. Also, in order to avoid paying fees, some banks make you meet requirements, such as maintaining a certain bank balance, enrolling in a direct deposit program or conducting a specific number of transactions each month.

2. Helpful Overdraft Policies

Look For: A bank that won’t let you overdraft your account when you make a debit card purchase or use an ATM.

Avoid: Banks that ask your permission to let you overdraft your account with debit cards and ATMs. The fees charged for overdrafts can reach as high as $38, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. “Be sure to watch out for overdraft protection programs that charge you a fee to pull your own money from your own savings account to cover a debit transaction,” adds Collins.

3. Free ATM Access

Look For: The flexibility to use ATMs outside of your bank’s network without paying additional fees.

Avoid: Banks that charge transaction fees for using ATMs outside of their network. “Out-of-network ATMs charge their own transaction fees — in addition to whatever fees your bank may be charging you,” says Collins. “You could be charged two separate transaction fees for a single, out-of-network withdrawal, creating an expensive double whammy to access your own money.”

4. Electronic Bill Pay

Look For: A free service that lets you pay bills when and where you want. “For many merchants and vendors, your payments will arrive faster online than by mail, and you’ll save the cost of a postage stamp,” adds Collins.

Avoid: Monthly fees charged for online bill payment or a high minimum-balance requirement to waive the monthly fee.

5. Free Checks

Look For: Even in an era of online bill payment and debit cards, you may still need to write an occasional paper check. “Who wants to pay for something they may rarely use?” asks Collins.

Avoid: Annual fees charged for debit cards.

6. No-Cost Debits

Look For: Free use of a debit card for convenient, safe purchases.

Avoid: Annual fees charged for debit cards.

7. Banking on the Go

Look For: The ability to check your balances and account activity, transfer funds, deposit checks and pay bills with your cell phone, iPad® or mobile device.

Avoid: A bank that makes it hard for you to access basic customer service functions when you travel or move.

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