Pick the right account
Knowing your money habits will help you find the best and least costly account
Banks offer several different types of checking and savings accounts: Some pay interest, some don't. Some offer perks, some don't. Some are specifically for senior citizens or students, while others are geared to those with low incomes. They all share one thing in common, though. They each have restrictions, fees and opportunities to waive fees if you meet certain requirements.
When shopping for a bank and choosing the best, most economical account for you, consider, among other things:
How much money you plan to park at the bank on average -- The higher your average balance, the more likely you are to get "free" checking with interest. In a fall 2001 survey, Bankrate.com found the average balance required for a fee-free, interest-bearing account was $2,434.
How many checks you write a month -- Some no-fee accounts limit the number of checks you may write and charge high fees if you exceed that limit. On the other hand, PIRG suggests if you only write a few checks a month and probably won't meet the minimum balance required to avoid fees, you might benefit from a no-frills, flat-fee checking account.
How many related banking services you'd like -- If you want to direct-deposit your paycheck, ask if that entitles you to free or low-cost checking. If you use ATMs frequently, make sure the bank has plenty conveniently located near you. If you use another bank's ATM, you might pay as much as $3.00 for the privilege, once you combine the surcharge imposed by the other bank and the fee your bank charges for going to a competitor's machine.
How many different types of accounts you want to set up at the bank -- The more relationships you have with your bank, the greater your chances of getting prices breaks and perks on its services and products. So if you have a checking and savings account and are taking out a mortgage or signing up for the bank's credit card, be sure to ask if you're entitled to any discounts.
Using the Internet is one of the easiest ways to compare fees, yields and minimum deposit requirements nationwide. To comparison shop, plug a bank's name into any Internet search engine or compare what different banks offer on Bankrate.com's banking resource center.
Regular checking account: $228/year|
Big banks: $266/year
Small banks: $191/year
Credit unions: $101/year
Minimum for checking with interest: $2,434.50
Minimum for checking without interest: $408.16
ATM surcharge: $1.45
ATM foreign fee: $1.36
Bounced check fee: $24.85
Checking account fees from Public Interest Research Group, November 2001 survey. Figures assume customers don't meet the minimum required balance. Includes all service fees, account fees and ATM fees.
All other figures from Bankrate.com, Fall 2001 survey. Figures for minimums is the amount required to open an account without fees. An ATM foreign fee is the fee a bank charges you, its customer, to use another institution's ATM. An ATM surcharge is what the other institution charges you to use its ATM.
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