6 Tips on How to Compare Checking Accounts

Reviewed: February 19, 2014
By FinanceWeb

Not all banks are created equal, they certainly don’t all provide the same level of service, nor do they have the same fee structures. There are several important factors to consider when choosing a bank for a checking account and these tips will help you make an informed decision:

1. Check on The Bank’s health.

Check out bank rating websites like Bankrate.com to find out if the banks under consideration are in good financial condition. Although the financial crisis is over, some banks are still on better financial footing than others. Better Business Bureau is also a good place to look for ratings and any major complaints that could indicate poor name. Keep in mind that most banks will receive their fair share of complaints, but how they handle them may make all the difference.

2. Customer Service

Checking the banks reputation will allow you to discover larger issues, but looking at the everyday customer service practices will give you a good idea of what you are signing up for. Although, you may not be the type of customer that walks in a bank’s lobby very often, you will at one point need to speak to a service rep regarding an issue. Walk into the bank and ask them questions. You should immediately get a feel of their service quality. Chat with neighbors, friends, or family about their experiences. Look up ratings of a particular location on yelp, google, etc. Doing a simple internet search on the bank in question will reveal previous customer experiences and other service information that will allow you to make an informed decision.

3. Is Free Checking Really Free?

If free checking is what you are looking for, make sure the bank really offers free checking. Sometimes, a bank will say there is free checking, but that only applies in certain cases. For instance, many banks will only allow for free checking if the account has a minimum average balance. Others will only allow free checking if you write under a certain number of checks each month. Bank A may have no charges at all if you keep a low balance while Bank B may charge a fee if a checking account balance falls below three or four hundred dollars.

4. Compare Fees

This is really important because checking account fees can vary dramatically. An overdraft fee can range from $25-$50 and different banks might structure these fees in different way. Order of transactions posting is also important as this can affect the number of fees incurred in a short period of time. Other fees such as returned deposited checks, wire transfer fees, stop payments can also impact your monthly budget, so it is important to carefully consider them according to your needs. Most banks will offer a free debit card and allow you to use it for free in most instances. Check to make sure this holds true in your case. Good news is that banks are required to fully disclose their fee schedules and practices so ensure you reviewed a copy of these items before opening your account, so that there are no surprises.

5. Website quality

With most banking needs being fulfilled on the internet, a bank’s website quality is more important than ever. Look for safety, user friendliness, and features. Many banks now allow you to do almost everything online. Bill pay, e-statements, personal information changes, wire transfers, ordering checks and more, have now become minimum standards. Added features such as electronic transaction registers, spending reports, budgeting, extensive record keeping and online tax documents are definitely a plus. Peek at a bank’s website before making your decision. In some cases you may even be able to open your account online.

6. Compare Interest Rates and other added benefits

Something else to consider when comparing checking accounts is the amount of interest earned. With rates being at an all time low, this may not make a huge difference now, but it could do so in the future. Some banks may advertise reward programs. Points or miles may accumulate in your account, discounts at certain stores may give you extra savings. Carefully consider these perks and match them to you style and spending habits in order to maximize the benefits.

By following these 6 tips in your quest to finding the best checking account, you’re guaranteed to make an informed decision. As not all banks are equal, neither are people’s banking needs. Matching the right checking account to your specific needs is the backbone of a successful long term relationship.