What should I look for in a first or new checking account?

So you have decided to look beyond your current bank to try something new, or you are looking for your first checking account. Here are a few key things to look in a checking account, and a few examples of accounts that have these features.

  • ATM rebates when using your debit/ATM card at any ATM. These are becoming standard among newer checking accounts, especially those without extensive ATM networks. However, banks like Bank of America may not have rebates since they have ATMs in many locations already. I’d say either-or here — choose a huge bank (and the resulting downsides), or a bank with ATM rebates. Examples with rebates: Ally, Charles Schwab & Fidelity.
  • Interest. Nowadays (2013) interest is near non-existent, but some banks will have some interest (1%-2% or more per year via “reward checking accounts”)  if you use a debit card with them 10-15 times per month. Not bad, but not great. Examples: Ally has 0.40% interest without requirements, see Deposit Accounts for reward checking accounts with debit card usage requirements.
  • No foreign transaction fees. Nice when traveling — but not a common feature whatsoever. Example: Charles Schwab
  • Branch locations. Nice, but these days not as necessary. This varies a lot from city-to-city and state-to-state. It can sometimes be nice to go in and see someone face-to-face. Local credit unions are best in this case for friendly faces in my experience.
  • Open 7 days a week. Good luck with this one — you can’t win in every category it seems! However, TD Bank is one of the few that is open 7 days a week, and has extra hours beyond the typical business hours.
  • Check scanning via phone apps. Lots of accounts have this feature, and it can save you a trip (and gas/car maintenance). Examples: Bank of America, Charles Schwab, Ally, many others.
  • No monthly fees. This is a big one. All the big banks (Citibank, Bank of America, Chase, Wells Fargo) are charging monthly fees for simply having an account, so it’s best to look elsewhere if you want to keep your money… well, yours, and not in the hands of a big bank! Check out alternatives such as Charles Schwab, Fidelity or Ally for no fee banking.

Hopefully this gives you a good place to start when looking for a new place to store your money. Some might sound strange — such as the big brokerages, but being unconventional can oftentimes pay off for the end consumer, so don’t be afraid of trying something new, and don’t be afraid of ditching your old bank for one on greener pastures.

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