6 Ways to Compare Banks

Reviewed: February 22, 2014
By FinanceWeb

Each year, roughly one in five people talk about dumping their banks, but few ever do. Setting up accounts can turn into a decades-long commitment, which is why choosing the right bank is crucial. Asking the following questions can help you compare banks and select the best guardian for your money.

1. Are your deposits insured?

If your bank participates in the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation insurance program, your deposits are guaranteed safe even if the bank collapses. You can get back up to $250,000 that you placed in checking accounts, savings accounts, money market funds and certificates of deposit. Even though virtually all banks today are FDIC-insured, they are not required to be. If you are thinking about joining a bank without deposit insurance, stay away.

2. Can you get the accounts you need?

If you prefer to shop around every time you open a new account, you may end up with a checking account at Bank of the World, a savings account with Hometown Credit Union and an auto loan with First State Bank. On the other hand, if you like the convenience of managing your money through a single entity, make sure the bank offers all or most of the financial products you will need. Look for checking and savings accounts, car loans, mortgages, home equity lines, investment accounts and credit cards.

3. Are their products affordable?

Americans have no reason to put money in a bank if nickel-and-dime charges will eat most of it away. Watch out for common bank fees, such as

  • monthly service fees for keeping an account at the bank
  • ATM withdrawal fees for pulling too much cash out of your accounts
  • debit card transaction fees for paying merchants through your checking/savings account
  • low balance fees for not keeping enough cash at the bank
  • inactivity fees for just letting your money sit there

No matter how small these fees look at first, they can add up over time.

4. Are their interest rates reasonable?

Placing money in a one-percent savings account will not make you rich, but every little bit helps. Make sure your bank’s investment accounts pay a reasonable return for the market. If a bank promises significantly high yields, watch out for fees and surcharges on the back end. They are making a profit somehow.

5. Is banking there convenient?

If you need frequent access to your accounts, then banking should not be a hassle. Consider whether you need bank branches and ATMs nationally or whether a few locations here and there would suffice. Are you willing to use an out-of-network ATM and will you be charged for doing so? Can you deposit checks through a smartphone app or will you need to visit a local branch? Can you pay bills online or must you write checks for everything? Take some time to think about your lifestyle and whether this new bank fits into it.

6. How well will you be served?

Product offerings and transaction charges are important, but you must also compare banks’ customer service. Whether you want to talk to someone face-to-face, over the phone, through email or via a web chat, you need to know that someone can answer your questions. Bank tellers and customer service agents should be polite, friendly and knowledgeable. You should be able to reach someone without waiting on hold for 20 minutes and then being transferred to the wrong department. Even if you are not ready to open an account, you can always contact the bank to see how your experience will be.

In the end, the bank you choose should protect your money and help you use it as you see fit. By pitting top candidates against once another, you can compare the issues that matter most and get the best banking service for your needs.