How to Choose the Right Bank, According to a Money Expert

Choosing who handles your money is an important decision. Make sure you know all the facts.

How to Choose the Right Bank, According to a Finance ExpertiStock

Picking out a new bank is a lot like dating. You have to determine what’s most important to you before finding the right match. But first things first: You may not even need a new bank. “(It) may have introduced offerings that better fit your needs since you first opened your account, or your needs may have changed since then,” says Mike Townsend, director of public relations at the American Bankers Association (ABA).

But let’s say your current bank doesn’t make the cut. Now what? If you’re reassessing your financial situation, these guidelines from the ABA can help you get you—and your money—where you need to be.

Know your options

There are four primary types of banks you’ll choose from: national, regional, and Internet or “direct” banks. National banks have branches and ATMs across the country and offer just about any financial service you may need. You can take out loans, get a credit card, buy insurance, get a mortgage, and more. These are perfect for people who travel often because of the easy access to ATMs and branches. Regional banks offer pretty much the same services as national ones, but they aren’t as widespread, generally operating in just one region of the country. Community banks are locally owned and operated. They tend to provide more personalized service since their employees understand the financial needs of the businesses and families in that community, living up to their name. Finally, Internet banks are run completely online and have no “brick and mortar” building. Find out which banks are near you (or, in the case of Internet banks, which ones look appealing) and are insured by the FDIC. Then, compare them with the following questions:

What you do want from your bank?

Do you just want to open a checking account? Look for a bank that has a “no frills” account with basic services. In contrast, “packaged” accounts let you choose from a variety of services, usually for a larger fee. If you’re making a big purchase in the near future, like a home or a car, find out what sorts of loans are offered at a given bank. Or perhaps you want to save a good chunk of money for a renovation project or your kid’s college tuition. Investigate what savings products the bank has to help you achieve those goals.

Did you read the fine print?

You may need a minimum balance in your account to avoid fees. Those fees, service rates, and interest rates vary between different banks, so comparing your options could impact your decision. Small regional and community banks typically have lower fees than larger, national ones. Since Internet banks have low operating expenses, they usually offer low or no fees and a lower minimum balance.

How was the customer service?

It may seem trivial, but your relationship with bank personnel can be a deal breaker. (Here are 20 secrets your bank teller won’t tell you.) If you have a bad experience with an employee at one bank, do you really want to make that place the home base for your finances and risk similar interactions? That’s why some people prefer the personal interactions of a community bank. Internet banks really have no human interaction, which is great for avoiding grumpy employees but less great when you need to get ahold of someone about a problem. A final thing to consider is whether the hours and location of the banks you’re researching fit your lifestyle.

How can you switch banks?

You’ve done your research, and you’ve finally found the bank you need. Now you need to ask your new bank for a switch kit to make the transition easier. A switch kit is a step-by-step checklist that covers everything you need to officially make the switch, like template letters to help you change your direct deposit, redirect payments, and close previous accounts.

“It’s important to remember that your old account needs to stay open until all of your checks or payments have cleared,” Townsend says. “Plan to keep your old account open for at least a month or two after switching to avoid automatic bill-payment glitches during the transition.”

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