Choose one of these best bank accounts to handle your finances like an adult.

If you don’t have a bank account yet, you should open one. (Continue reading for some suggestions.) Anyone who earns money from a job or any other source — even if there isn’t a lot of money to spare — should be using a checking account at the very least.

My bank tells me I’ve been a customer since the year I turned 13, so whether it was from an allowance, from taking care of my neighbor’s cat while they were on vacation, or from my first job in retail, I was at least trying to have a positive money attitude, inspired by my parents.

It’s possible to be successful without a bank account, but without one, you’ll have obstacles in today’s society. You can work at a job where you’re paid cash, or you can use check-cashing services at Walmart or storefronts. Prepaid debit cards can help you buy things in an increasingly cashless environment. But all these workarounds are expensive and limit your financial possibilities.

Bank accounts can be expensive, too, and many of these financial corporations will try to fleece you at any opportunity with overdraft fees, minimum balance requirements, maintenance fees, and ATM fees. The list of hidden fees seems to go on forever. Avoiding fees sometimes requires some attention, but when you can, checking and savings accounts are much better than “alternative banking products.”

You don’t need to go crazy. You can do everything you need with one checking account, but to make the most out of benefits banks have to offer, you’d need one savings account as well. That will help you earn interest on the money of yours you let the bank use — yes, when you deposit money in a bank account, you’re letting the bank use your money, so they should be giving you something in return (in addition to your ability to withdraw any amount of your money at any time).

I prefer the KISS strategy when it comes to bank accounts: Keep It Simple, Stupid. (No offense.)

Choose one of these best bank accounts to open.

Best Overall Bank Account for an Adult.

Fidelity Cash Management Account. This is the best example of the KISS method of banking. It’s a checking and a savings account in one, though the amount of interest you earn is minimal. But for a primary bank account, that’s just fine. Everything is free. Let me repeat: Everything is free. There’s no minimum balance. When you want to use an ATM, the owners will charge a fee, but Fidelity pays you to cover that fee.

You receive free checks to use. (You should learn how to use a checkbook and how to write checks if you don’t already know.) You can deposit any checks you receive using an app on your phone. Of course, you receive a debit card to access your money using an ATM or for purchases. Open a Fidelity Cash Management account.

Best Bank Account for an Adult Who Doesn’t Trust Banks.

Your local credit union. Not a fan of the financial industry? Credit unions don’t answer to Wall Street, so they’re not always trying to profit from their customers. Credit unions are owned by their members (who are also their customers), so it’s a system that makes the needs of the customers their priority.

Many community credit unions are open to anyone, but some have restricted membership. Navy Federal Credit Union is one of the best-reviewed credit unions out there, but you need to be affiliated with the military or the Department of Defense (or have an immediate family member who is) in order to join.

The Navy Federal Credit Union e-Checking is that organization’s best option taking all the facets of banking into account.

An independent credit union may also be the best option for Socially Conscious Adults. (Trump fans should head to CitiBank or Wells Fargo; the president owns stock in these companies.) Search for a credit union.

Best Bank Account for an Adult With Limited Mobility.

The branch that’s local to you. For a while in my adult life, I didn’t own a car. That really limited my ability to get around to a distant branch. This might apply to someone who lives in a walk-able city, too, like New York City.

Convenience is an important factor in choosing a bank account, sometimes more than a tiny bit of interest you might earn. So if you have a bank within a walking distance of 60 seconds, no one would ever judge you for choosing that bank’s free checking option over another bank.

Almost every bank account in existence today can be managed online, so there should be very few things you need to actually travel to a branch for. But sometimes, something comes up. But any online account should also be good for someone without access to transportation. Ally Bank is a strongly-reviewed online bank with a standard checking account. Simple is another interesting choice.

Best Bank Account for Adults Who Earn Interest.

Synchrony High Yield Savings. If you want just one bank account, choosing a checking account like one of the above. If you’re ready to have both a checking account and a savings account, and you’re moderately good at managing your money, a high yield savings account is a good choice for a second bank account.

And in recent years, Synchrony has offered one of the highest interest rates around. As of right now, that’s 1.05% APY (annual percentage yield). What does that mean? If you deposit $1,000 on day one and do nothing else, on day 366, your balance will be $1,010.50.

Not a huge increase, but it’s better than ending up with less. And we’ve been at a low point in interest rates. They will rise in the future — we just don’t know when. Open a Synchrony High Yield Savings account.

Best Bank Account for Adult Entrepreneurs.

Citizens Bank Clearly Better Business Checking. It’s important to separate your business finances from your personal life. If you develop a business, or you start earning money from your hobby in a serious way, you’ll want a business checking account. Make your business official with the state and federal governments, then open this account.

There are no maintenance fees and no minimum balance requirement, so it’s perfect for your side hustle. The bank offers 200 free check transactions, which should be sufficient for most small businesses. Open a Clearly Better Business Checking account.

If you have a bank account, which account do you have?

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With a real savings or checking account, you can handle emergencies and think about the future.

I understand the objections to owning a bank account, and I share many of the concerns. But proper adulting is nearly impossible without one of these best bank accounts, like it or not.

There may be some people in modern society who live a cash-only life, but that’s going to continue to get more difficult as time goes on unless they make many other sacrifices as well.

Why you absolutely need a bank account.

A bank account may be the only thing that gets you thinking about the future. When all of your mental energy is spent worrying about how you’ll make it through the week, you have no capacity for any kind of higher-order thinking. But that concern for the future is what is going to sustain you and your family over the long term.

Are any of these goals important to you?

  • Retiring from work and enjoying life all day instead of working until you die.
  • Buying a house.
  • Being able to support your children and eliminate unnecessary barriers for them.
  • Remaining calm when an emergency means you have to spend more money than you planned, sooner than you planned.

If at least one of these sounds appealing, start considering your future needs and saving for them.

Putting money aside is the gateway to flexibility. When you have access to cash, you have more choices. You have more freedom. It is the first step. It’s not enough to just save cash in your home. While it’s not a bad idea to stash some in case of emergencies, it’s dangerous to keep too much in your home or in your hand. It’s unprotected. It’s vulnerable. It could disappear, either by somebody finding it who shouldn’t, or by spending it when it would better for it to remain untouched for later.

Money in a bank account is safe. It will not disappear. In the many years of bank accounts being insured by FDIC, no one has ever lost money in a bank account. Even when banks fail — and some did during the latest recession — every customer had access to their money. The same cannot be said for cash hiding under the mattress or sitting on the shelf in a pickle jar.

Savings means the bank is working for you. When you deposit money, you are giving the bank the right to invest even more, and they often do by granting loans to community businesses and organizations. Banks earn money on these loans, and in general, some of that is passed onto you in the form of interest. Interest rates have been low lately, but those rates will eventually improve.

In the past, banks offered savings and checking accounts for free because they were making enough money from loans. As the depositor, your money is helping the bank earn a profit. But low interest rates have changed the situation, so now customers often have to shop around to find the best deals for bank accounts, but a free account shouldn’t be too hard to find.

There’s the ugly side of banking…

7 percent of households in the United States were unbanked in 2015, and that means that more than 15 million adults and more than 7 million children do not have access to a savings or checking account.

So how are these households, plus the more than 50 million adults and 16 million children who do own savings or checking accounts but are still considered underbanked, manage their money?

They use alternative services: check cashing at special storefronts or inside other retail stores like Wal-Mart, payday loans, pawn shop loans, and auto title loans. These services are expensive and tend to take advantage of individuals who feel they have no other alternatives.

… And there’s the uglier side of banking.

Why You Need a Bank Account Right Now

Why does it seem like the traditional banking route is no longer the best way to handle finances?

There never seems to be enough money. 76 percent of Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck. After taxes, every cent is spent on things that seem necessary. Often, this means rent (or mortgage payment), food for the family, and basic utilities. That’s if a paycheck is coming in at all. Living on disability, Social Security, or unemployment results in even thinner income available for necessities — if any.

This is a difficult situation, and the lack of cash flow makes a bank account seem unnecessary, even if that’s not true.

The banks don’t behave well. Every week, there’s another news story about a major financial institution taking advantage of its customers. Wells Fargo just happens to be the latest bank to be caught in a scandal, opening accounts for customers without their knowledge.

The financial industry has a powerful lobby, and they will continue to make things difficult for customers for the benefit of their shareholders, and even the shareholders lose out in the end.

Credit unions don’t run into as many problems because there are fewer conflicts of interest. Credit unions don’t have shareholders, so any profit they may have finds its way back to customers — who are members — in some form.

You may not be able to open a traditional account. I look at my debit card, and it says I’ve been a customer since 1989. That means that an account has been open in my name since I was thirteen years old. My parents opened an account for me and showed me how to use a checkbook. (Neither debit cards nor ATM cards were widely available when big hair and pastels informed the zeitgeist.)

Not everyone has the benefit of financial role models. Those lacking are slower to build credit history and positive financial skills. Without a history in the banking system it’s difficult to get approved for that first account on your own, but it’s never too late or too early to take some steps forward.

Here’s what you can do right now.

Online bank accounts are the best options. If you’re comfortable buying items from Amazon.com online, you should be comfortable banking online. It’s more safe and secure than banking in person. Unfortunately, opening a bank account online often requires that you have an existing account to transfer money. There are ways to get around this, but it’s not easy.

Let’s go right to a bank or credit union first.

Find a credit union in your town. There are seven within five miles of my apartment, and that’s a fact I discovered by using the credit union finder at A Smarter Choice. An urban neighborhood nearby has more than 14. Take any cash you’ve collected recently and bring it in. Talk to a banker about your free options for checking and savings accounts.

When you have a real bank account, you break the cycle of paycheck-to-paycheck living. You begin thinking about the future. You stop wasting money on services like check cashing and short-term loans. You set yourself up for success. You set a good example for your family, now and for future generations.

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You could embarrass yourself and cause money problems if you screw up writing a check.

Checkbooks are almost obsolete. But the old form of transferring money from one person to another is not quite ready to give up the ghost. Venmo might be fine for working out how to split the dinner check when you’re out with friends, and online bill pay definitely reduces headaches, but sometimes you have to pay a bill or put an initial payment down on a car, and you need to use a personal check.

File this under Essential Financial Skills for now. Having this skill makes you a financial bad-ass, or at least a budding financial bad-ass.

Checks come in books from companies that partner with your bank. Or you can order them separately for any checking account from independent checkbook companies. You can get fancy designs, which always cost money, or you can get a basic, traditional check design like the one I’ll use as an example here.

The fancy designs cost more. But whenever I open a new checking account, I make sure the bank will provide at least the first box of checks for free, if not free boxes of checks for the entire time I own the account.

Personal checkbooks usually have two options: single or duplicate. Duplicate checks just have special paper underneath each check that duplicates what you write so you have a record of it. That makes is easier to balance your checkbook and watch your finances.

The single checks assume you will remember what you paid, and they usually come with a check register. I always choose the duplicate checks because I find them more convenient when writing out a number of checks at a time, which I often do when I pay my bills.

Here’s an important piece of advice: Don’t write a check for money that you do not have in your checking account. Always track your finances so you know how much is available to pay. If you have $1,000 in your account and you know your $500 rent is about to be deducted from that account, you can’t write a check for $600 until you get more money.

Don’t try to beat the system thinking you’ll deposit more by the time someone cashes your check. Many checks are cashed electronically now and the money will disappear fast. It isn’t worth the overdraft fees or returned check fees.

Here’s what a typical check will look like once you’ve written it out. Take a look at this sample and the explanations below. (Someone seems to have a sizable power service bill from the Pulsar Quasar Electric & Gas company.)

Cash me at da bank, how bow dah?

Naturally, your check won’t have “VOID” and “NOT A REAL CHECK” written on it. That’s just so no one’s inclined to try to use this graphic for any other purpose than as an example.

Here are the parts of the check as labeled above, and what you need to know about each section.

  1. Your address. If you ordered checks from the bank, this should be the address on your account. If you purchased checks separately, this will be whatever address you provided when you bought them. Make sure it’s accurate. But it will not hold up your money if it is incorrect. Some companies prefer you to also include your phone number, which you can write below your address or on the memo line (area 7) if you are so inclined.
  2. The check number. You should write your checks out in numerical order as much as possible. That makes it so much easier to tell, when looking at your bank statement or activity, if someone still hasn’t cashed your check.
  3. The date. When you write a check, put that day’s date here, and spell the month name out so there’s no chance of confusion. Pre-dating a check is when you write an earlier date. That’s completely unnecessary. If the company receives the check late, it’s still late, regardless of the date that’s written on the check. Post-dating is the opposite: writing a date that’s later than the current date. Some will do this when they know a deposit is coming and they don’t have money they need to cover the check in the bank account yet. Here’s the problem: any recipient can cash a check before the date that’s written on this line. Post-dating does not protect you. You could ask nicely and maybe the recipient won’t cash or deposit the check until the date you specify, but no one is required to wait. Big companies won’t. They’ll just ignore your post-dating attempt.
  4. The name of the recipient. This will either be a person’s name or a business name. Double-check the name, including the spelling. If the name is not correct, it can cause problems for the recipient when he or she (or the business) attempts to deposit it. Fill any blank space on this line with a line. This slightly helps prevent fraud, and I like to put a line wherever there is empty space.
  5. The dollar amount of the check. Write out the amount in Arabic numerals. If there are no cents, I like drawing a line as pictured above instead of writing the double-zero in 5,722.00. This is a personal preference.
  6. The amount of the check written out. Spell out the amount of the check. If you run out of space for the cents, you can draw a horizontal line and put the amount of cents all the way to the right above the line. Put two cross marks (exes) underneath the line. (See the second example below.) You don’t need to write the word “dollars” because that is already printed on the check. The word “and” should only be used in place of the decimal point in the amount.
  7. The memo line. Write something on this line that helps the recipient identify what that payment is for — or if you use duplicate checks, you can also use the memo line for a reminder for yourself. Some companies instruct you to use this for your account number or phone number.
  8. Your signature. Paper checks are not valid without your signature. Don’t forget to sign your check before you send it away or hand it to the person or company you’re trying to pay.
  9. Bank information. The number on the left is your bank’s routing (ABA) number. The next number on the bottom line of the check is your account number. Together, these two numbers identify your account and allow a bank to process your check. You should keep these numbers private, between you and the recipient only. The third set of digits is your check number. It should match the number at the top (indicated with a “2” in the example).

Here’s an alternative example without a round dollar amount, so you can see how the cents are written both in area 5 and area 6.

You have a number of options when writing amounts, and it doesn’t really make a difference exactly how you do it, as long as the amounts are absolutely clear, and the amounts in area 5 and area 6 match exactly.

If you don’t get checks for free through your bank account, you can order blank checks from any number of companies. Some of the most recognizable are Harland Clarke, Deluxe, and Checks Unlimited, but you can find more options on Vistaprint, Costco, and any number of other services and professional printers. You can even print your own.

Someday, paper checks will likely be eliminated from the banking system completely, but that’s a long way down the road. For now, even though they’re not as necessary in everyday life, you may still need to write occasional paper checks. Now you know what you need to know.

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Introducing the first book from the Adulting.tv team: The Best Bank Accounts for Adults: That Moment You Need to Put It Somewhere Other Than Your Mattress.

This book gives you a head start on making the most of your financial life with tricks and tips for finding the right bank account for you. The book is updated on a monthly basis with the latest information that’s will help you succeed right away.

For a limited time, the digital edition of the book is available for FREE.

Why do you need this book?

Checking and savings accounts are the building blocks of your financial success. The earlier, a person opens a bank account in their life, the more likely he or she will advance forward and improve his or her station in life. You cannot move from poverty to middle class without making the right financial choices. You can’t move to the upper class without bank accounts and investments.

Not only that, but if you make BAD choices with managing your money, there is a better chance you will lose it. The Best Bank Accounts for Adults provides the context you need for opening the right savings and checking accounts, and also highlights the best options available for you.

Who are the authors?

Harlan and Miranda have three decades combined in experience watching and writing about the financial industry. Their advice has been trusted by millions. Harlan created the first personal finance blog through which he recommended the best financial products. He also founded the Plutus Awards, which highlights more financial products based on the survey of some of the best writers in the financial media.

Miranda has been a freelance writer for over a decade, focusing on personal finance. Her advice has appeared in the Huffington Post, Seeking Alpha, Banks.com, and H&R Block. She is also the author of Confessions of a Personal Finance Blogger.

What do I get?

You will receive, for FREE, ALL new editions of The Best Bank Accounts for Adults. I LOVE giving stuff away. I think just about EVERYTHING on the internet should be free. But in order to keep doing what we’re doing, we will be selling the books we write. For NOW, though, and for limited times here and there, we will offer most, if not all, of it for FREE.

The financial industry is always changing. Future editions of this book will have additional guides, up-to-date interest rate information, and MORE! But future editions will NOT be free. Download the digital copy TODAY.

ALSO, you’ll receive a free weekly(ish) newsletter that helps you in ALL aspects of your life: money, career, and relationships! You can cancel at any time. (But WHY would you want to?)

Just complete the form and check the option to download the FREE eBook.

 

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You need an emergency fund. For reals. Here’s how to get started and where to put it.

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If you had to come up with $500 for a car repair or a new appliance, could you get the money? What happens if you lose your job? It’s guaranteed that every adult will face some sort of emergency.

Most Americans can’t handle that, so they turn to credit cards and other debt to help when life throws them curveballs.

Don’t be one of them. Get ready for an unexpected setback by building an emergency fund designed to provide you with what you need in a pinch.

Concepts

  • What is an emergency fund, and why do you need one?
  • How much should be in your fund?
  • Where should you keep your emergency fund?
  • All-cash funds vs. keeping it elsewhere.
  • How to set up a tiered fund.
  • Tips for starting your emergency fund.
  • Characteristics of a good emergency fund.
  • Do credit cards have a place in an emergency?

Listen for our “do-nows” for specific actions you can take right now to begin building your emergency savings. We’ll also answer a listener question about how to free up money even when you’re sure you don’t have any available.

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Resources

CNBCAmericans without emergency savings
BankrateAmericans don’t have emergency savings
FPA - Financial Planning AssociationAll cash may not be the best choice
Hosted byHarlan Landes and Miranda Marquit
Produced byadulting.tv
Edited and mixed bySteve Stewart
Music bybensound.com

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