Checks may be old-fashioned, but checking accounts are a huge part of a solid approach to handling your money. If you live paycheck-to-paycheck, getting a checking account is the first step. If you have some money in the bank, a checking account will let you get to it very easily. All of your everyday transactions should happen with a checking account if you aren’t in the habit of using a credit card effectively and paying it off every month.
But the biggest question is where to start. I like the idea of using a checking account at a bank or credit union that is likely to have ATMs where ever I go. But access can sometimes be expensive, and there are free options available.
These three things are MUST-HAVE for your checking account.
1. You should not have to pay a bank to hold your money for you. Banks like to think they’re providing a service when you deposit cash into savings and checking. And while they may be, what are they offering you to make them choose to bank with them instead of just using cash?
When you deposit money, banks and credit unions use your money to make loans to other people and businesses. There’s nothing wrong with that — your money is guaranteed to be available to you when you need it. But that’s a service you’re providing to banks, and they should either pay you for providing that service (with interest) or at least not charge you extra fees.
Of course, it doesn’t always work out that way.
But you should look for a checking account that offers interest or that doesn’t charge any fees.
If you’re a student, you often have more options available to you.
2. Your bank should have a modern website and an app. I still get checks made out to me when people want to pay me or my business. It’s great having an app that allows me to use the camera on my phone to snap a photo of both sides of the check and deposit the money directly into my account. It’s better than driving to an ATM or, heaven forbid, going into a bank branch and interacting with a teller. (Many banks even charge you for visiting a branch now.)
With the app from my bank, I can check my balances, transfer money from one account to another, order a new debit card, and chat with customer service. These are standard features, so don’t choose a bank without a fully-functioning smartphone app.
3. The bank you choose should have stellar customer service. Every bank is going to have upset customers. How are complaints handled? Check your bank’s Twitter account for an idea of what you can expect for customer service. Some banks — just like all companies — are more responsive that others. Look for online reviews, but consider them with a grain of salt.
If you do expect to visit a branch often, make sure the hours are compatible with your life. Some banks open at 9:00 am and close before 5:00 pm on weekdays, except perhaps for one evening a week. Does that mean you have to leave work in order to get your personal business done?
Where do you keep your checking account?