Opening a checking account can be daunting, but there are banks out there who want your business, want to make the process smooth and comfortable, and won’t charge fees while providing the services you need and deserve.
Checking accounts are bank accounts where you keep and have access to your cash and can easily be connected with a savings account. You can deposit and withdraw money on demand instead of carrying it around with you or hiding it under your mattress.
You access your money using checks, automated teller machines, and electronic debits such as a Visa or MasterCard debit card. But as straightforward and simple as that seems, getting a checking account can be confusing and frustrating and we have banks to thank for compounding that confusion.
After evaluating over 1,000 checking accounts offered by banks and credit unions throughout the United States, here’s what you should be looking for.
1. Free debit card and unlimited check writing
A Visa or MasterCard debit card will become your best friend. You’ll use it to make purchases, eat at restaurants, pay bills, and shop online. Most checking accounts automatically include a debit card. For those who need to write an occasional check, your bank should offer this service for free and without limit.
2. No monthly service charge fees
You should NEVER pay monthly service charge fees. There are some outstanding banks that don’t charge fees. Some are near you and others can are solely online checking accounts. Don’t be fooled. Most banks charge monthly fees to maintain your account.
Big banks will advertise that their checking accounts are free or come with very low fees only to state in the fine print that you must meet certain conditions, such as keeping a minimum balance in order to have the fees waived.
More and more banks do not require an opening deposit.
3. No account minimums
Because your checking account should hold only enough cash to pay your necessary monthly bills, never sign up for an account that requires you to maintain a minimum daily amount. If the bank sets the minimum at $2,000, you will be assessed a service charge for dipping below that amount each time it occurs. Don’t keep any excess cash you have in a checking account, rather it should go into a high-yield savings account where it can sit and accrue interest.
4. Free use of ATMs
Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) are highly profitable for their owners because of the fees they charge to people who withdraw cash. Not only does the ATM owner make money, but your own bank will charge you an additional fee for the money withdrawal. People have used an ATM machine where they were dinged $7 just to withdraw $100!
When opening a checking account, make sure your bank can give you access to a huge ATM network where you can withdraw any amount of cash for free. Don’t accept anything less when it comes to opening a checking account.
5. Powerful mobile tools
Almost every bank has a mobile app for convenient banking on the go. For example, you may be able to deposit checks by taking pictures of them with your phone. That said, consult reviews for any bank’s mobile app to see what other customers are saying about the mobile app services and ease of use.
6. Free online banking and bill pay
When opening a checking account, virtually every bank offers its customers the ability to view their accounts securely from a mobile app and/or computer. You can also pay many of your bills through your computer with a service called Bill Pay. All you have to do is make sure it’s free. Your checking account should give you the freedom to pay bills at your convenience.
7. Strong customer service
Every once in a while it’s reassuring to talk to another human being about your checking account. Make sure your bank offers easy access to qualified customer service representatives around the clock. It may be worthwhile to look into whether you want to choose a bank or credit union to handle your finances. There are some noteworthy differences between the two.
8. Low overdraft fees
There are things that banks won’t widely advertise to people who aren’t reading the fine print themselves – particularly in the realm of contingent fees like overdrafts.
If you write a check or make a purchase with your debit card for more than you have in your checking account, your bank may charge you an “overdraft fee“. Most banks charge $35 every time this happens and on top of that, they often return the check unpaid.
If you want to avoid fees as much as possible, many online-only banks, as well as some credit unions and regional banks, offer free checking accounts and reasonable overdraft fees. Better yet, with all the mobile and online technology available, you need to know how much money is in your account. You can learn more about overdraft fees here.
Opening a checking account is necessary in today’s world. With changes in banking like debit cards and electronic funds transfers, checking accounts are one of the most useful – and often used – customer accounts. Even so, the labyrinth of fees and policies that your bank’s account agreement sets forth can be a tricky one to navigate. Hopefully, with this owner’s manual, you’ll feel a little more confident about your first checking account.