Chances are you haven’t given much thought to your checking account lately. Yet, it is the single, most important account of your personal finances. It serves as the central hub for your hard-earned money – a place to deposit earnings and manage expense outflows. Unfortunately, choosing the wrong checking account is a lot like having a slow leak in your tire – difficult to notice at first, but over time, it will wreak havoc on your budget.
With thousands of options to choose from, it can be difficult to identify the subtle differences that add up. Although the trend for maintenance fees, overdraft fees, and ATM fees is down over the past six months, 16% of checking shoppers on FindABetterBank indicate that high fees are the primary reason they want to switch banks. But these shoppers represent a small percentage of consumers paying too much in bank fees. Why? Most people don’t notice bank fees because they never look at their monthly bank statements.
So, what’s the secret to ensuring you’re getting a great deal instead of paying way more than you should? Pay attention to these five things:
1. Monthly Fee
Based on over 700 checking accounts listed on FindABetterBank, the average checking account fee at top U.S. banks is $9.06 – that adds up to over $109 annually – enough to make real progress in saving or for a nice night out on the town. Although checking products differ from bank-to-bank, you should be able to avoid monthly checking account fees altogether. No fee accounts are typically billed as “Free Checking,” and are a great place to start. In fact, 24% of checking accounts listed on FindABetterBank have no monthly account fees. However, if you need more functionality from your account, look for options where the monthly fee can be easily waived by linking it with your direct deposit or maintaining a minimum balance across checking and savings accounts at the bank.
2. Minimum Balance
The average bank interest rate for checking accounts in the United States is 0.06%. That essentially means any extra money you hold in your account is earning virtually nothing. If your checking account requires that you maintain a minimum balance, that’s money that you can’t use. There are plenty of good bank accounts with no minimum balance requirements that you should not have to make this compromise.
3. Link to Savings
Avoiding overdraft fees is one of the best ways to save money on bank fees. A great way to protect yourself from those fees is to link your checking and savings account so you’re using your own money rather than borrowing from the bank when your checking account is $1 or $2 short. Fees for using your savings account as a buffer are typically in the $10/month range, which is significantly less than overdrafting, which can cost up to $35 a pop.
4. Free ATM Access
Because your checking account is the hub of your day-to-day money, having access to ATMs is a critical function. But you certainly don’t want to pay $3-5 each time you get cash. So, when you choose a bank, carefully consider how their ATM network maps to your day-to-day commuting patterns – and whether or not they reimburse ATM fees imposed by other banks.
5. No Limits On The Number of Transactions
Precisely because your checking account is the hub of your financial activity, you don’t want to have to keep track of the number of transactions, deposits, withdrawals or transfers between accounts to avoid fees. The bottom line, avoid checking accounts with fee thresholds tied to transaction activity. You should have a checking account that gives you the freedom to to move your money around as you need without charging you more for it.