This is How to Find a Better Bank

By Jackie Lam
November 26, 2017

Perhaps it’s obvious that it’s time to switch banks. Or, maybe you’re just looking for a better online banking option to sock away your hard-earned beans. Now the question becomes: which bank is best for you?

With the vast array of banking options out there—over 5,000 commercial banks in the U.S. alone—it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. But, before you bury your head in the sand, we reached out to some savvy money folks who can help you pick a bank. Take a look at their top tips.

Do Your Own Research

Sure, what your friends and family may say about a particular bank is great, but before making your final decision, it’s best to do your own research. “Don’t take Aunt Nancy’s first recommendation,” laughs Lindsay VanSomeren, a personal finance writer and blogger at Notorious DEBT. VanSomeren has switched banks a few times, and while credit unions are known to have solid customer service, the one she banked with proved otherwise.

After doing her own research, VanSomeren narrowed it down to just a few choices. Visiting each website and reading reviews of each bank helped her decide on an online bank that had higher-than-average interest rates and solid ratings.

Focus on the Things That Matter the Most to You

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to banking. What you value the most in a bank may not be what someone else does. Do you want to grow your money in a no-risk investment while trying to get the most interest possible? Or, is the ability to bank on your phone most important to you? For starters, consider how you actually use your bank account, says Eric Rosenberg of Personal Profitability.

For instance, you may not need a physical bank branch to do anything aside from depositing cash. If you don’t regularly make cash deposits (which is most people), an online-only bank might be the best fit for you.

Do a Tech Check

When switching banks, you’ll want to make sure a new bank has modern technology features to do what you need to do, says Deacon Hayes of Well Kept Wallet. For example, is the app easy to navigate and use?

Other technology features that may be important to you include mobile deposit, setting email alerts, and automating features that help you save more money, pay yourself first, and even pay friends for last night’s dinner.

Consider Fees

Bank fees are a royal pain and should be avoided at all costs. Some banks have fees just for having an account. Although fees can often be waived if you have direct deposit, spend a certain amount each month, or conduct a minimum number of transactions, most of us don’t want to worry about these provisions. Besides, you still may get socked with overdraft fees or foreign transaction charges.

And, just think: it’s highly likely that you’ll end up paying many fees over the course of a year. It adds up. In fact, the average out-of-network ATM fee has soared to a new high of $4.57.

The solution: you’re better off choosing a bank no fees whatsoever.

Nix Widely Held Assumptions

Many people think bigger is better, but this isn’t always the case, points out Joseph Hogue, CFA and founder of Peer Finance 101.

“Customer service and even rates may be better at your local community bank or credit union,” says Hogue. You’ll also want to make sure you compare rates and fees on all the account types you’re planning on using, not just the savings rate. For instance, if you plan on socking away your money for a longer period of time, look into current CD rates.

Come Up With Your Own Mix

Why not go for multiple banks for your different needs? That’s the approach Aja McClanahan of Principles of Increase has adopted. McClanahan and her husband need different features for different money goals. They, therefore, have bank accounts for savings, checking, brokerage needs, and real estate investing.

For instance, a few years ago McClanahan was looking for a bank with low fees. She also wanted minimal access to the account as she felt this would limit the couple’s withdrawals. The McClanahans decided on an online bank account with no debit card. The bank offered twice the interest as a traditional brick-and-mortar.

Talk to a Human

Don’t be shy about reaching out to a bank with your questions.

“You can use their responsiveness and willingness to help to gauge how a relationship would go,” says McClanahan.

If you want to get super nerdy about it, jot down a list of questions after you spend some time researching a bank and its offerings. Speaking of customer support, you’ll want to see if the bank offers different ways to answer your questions. For example, Jim Wang of Wallet Hacks looks for online chat in a bank. This way he can avoid dealing with multiple bank departments on the phone.

“I hate calling customer support,” says Wang. “The phone trees, the frequent handoffs to different departments, explaining my situation a bazillion times, and all to get a simple question answered or a problem remedied.”

Online chat, on the other hand, “gives me the ability to chat on the computer with someone while I’m doing something else.”

You Can Bank On It

As you can see, there’s a lot to consider when switching banks. However, if you do your homework and know what’s most important to you, this will help you wade through all the options. In the end, you’ll find a better bank that is a solid fit for your needs and lifestyle.

Jackie Lam is an L.A.-based financial writer whose clients include Fortune 500 companies and FinTech startups. Her work has appeared in Forbes, Business Insider, and GOOD.

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