When it’s time to choose a bank, you’ll have loads of options and offers to consider. But making a smart choice depends upon several factors and, of course, your unique needs.
Finding the right match is an important step in securing your financial future, so read on to learn a dozen critical factors to consider when looking for a bank. Whether you’re more comfortable with a small local financial institution or a major national business, this list will guide you toward a good answer to the “How do I choose a bank?” question.
Importance of Finding a Good Bank
It can be valuable (literally and figuratively) to find the right banking partner for a few good reasons:
• It provides a home base for the money you earn.
• It can provide security, knowing that your cash is safe and you have a team of professionals to assist you with your money management.
• It can pay you interest on your funds so your cash grows.
• It can help you build your financial security and literacy.
• It may be flexible enough to grow and change with you as you move through the stages and phases of your life. (If not, you can always switch as your needs evolve.)
• It can offer you additional benefits, like a cash back debit card or a lower mortgage rate.
What to Look for in a Bank
There are thousands of options in terms of banking in the United States. So how do you narrow the choices down to the one bank that’s right for you? There’s no right or wrong answer; it’s all about finding what works best for you.
Consider the following twelve factors that can help you find the right fit for your current needs. You might create a comparison chart (Excel can be your friend here) so you can tick off the most important factors to you as you delve into this topic.
A good first step is to make yourself a comparison chart.
Then use the process of elimination to find your perfect financial institution match.
Sure, it can be smart to take friends’ suggestions into consideration, but the final choice should be the one that is all about you and your needs… not just what has a good marketing gimmick. Here’s what you need to consider when choosing a bank.
Whether you choose to put your money in an online bank vs. a traditional bank vs. a credit union, it’s vital to make sure your funds are safe. You will likely want to make sure your account is either at a bank that’s insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) or a credit union that is insured by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA).
In the very rare event of a bank or credit union closure, either FDIC or NCUA would be a safety net. You would be covered for $250,000 per depositor, per insured bank, for each account ownership category by FDIC and $250,000 per share owner, per insured credit union, for each account ownership category by NCUA.
2. Bank Fees
This is an important factor. Fees can eat away at the money you have on deposit and the savings you are trying to build up. Some banks charge minimal or no account fees, but in other cases, you may be faced with a deluge. A few of the obvious fees are ATM charges, maintenance fees, and overdraft protection, and they can add up quickly.
What are ATM fees? They can run a few dollars per out-of-network withdrawal and sometimes even more. And how about overdraft? The average overdraft fee is currently around $35, and while they’re a good way to avoid negative balances, they can cost you hundreds of dollars if you fall behind.
Returned deposits, foreign transactions, low balances, lost cards, and sometimes even interacting with a human can also incur fees. If you want to avoid monthly maintenance fees and more, be sure to read through the terms and conditions carefully so you aren’t unpleasantly surprised. You may just want to choose an account that’s fee-free instead.
3. Interest Rates
While some lenders might still offer the traditional — and very low — 0.01% interest rates on savings accounts, it doesn’t mean you’re stuck with that.
Especially with online-only banking where overhead is much less than traditional brick-and-mortar banks, customers are able to enjoy upwards of 3% annual percentage yields (APYs) on not only savings accounts. Many also offer some interest on checking balances, too.
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Consider whether you’re the kind of person who likes to visit brick-and-mortar branches or use ATMs often. If you do, you may want to bank with a financial institution that has physical locations close to your home, your workplace, or both.
You might also want to check out if your bank has ATMs or a partner network of no-fee machines near you and the neighborhoods where you typically spend time. This can be important for avoiding ATM fees, such as non-network fees and ATM operator fees. These can add a few or several dollars to every transaction.
5. Ease of Deposit
Along the same lines, you may want to consider how easy it is to deposit funds in a particular financial institution. Many banks offer the benefit of mobile deposit, or the ability to add a check to your account by snapping a photo with your cell phone and uploading it. Check to see what’s available.
Also, if you are looking at online banks, suss out how you might deposit cash, if that’s something you frequently do, and make sure it’s a convenient process for you.
6. Digital Banking
Building on the topic of mobile deposits, it’s likely worth your while to check out a potential bank’s app and online services. Are they easy to navigate? Do they offer the features you’re most likely to use? Comparing a couple of financial institutions’ user experiences can reveal important nuances.
See if you can download a demo or find one on YouTube. Ratings and reviews can also be a great way to find out other customers’ experiences — the good, the bad and the ugly — as opposed to trusting a commercial to be honest with you.
Linking to an outside bank account can help you lower overdraft fees.
For instance: Can you activate push alerts for low balances, or can you link your account to another financial institution? (Life hack: Linking to an outside bank account can help you lower overdraft fees — you’ll still get charged if your bank has to pull from the external account, but it’s typically less than if you didn’t have any other account to pull from at all.)
7. Minimum Requirements
Explore whether your potential bank has a minimum deposit and minimum account balance requirement. If so, that means you must initially put in a certain amount of cash to open your account or to start it and earn a certain APY. Then, with minimum balance requirements, if you dip below a given level, you’ll likely pay a monthly account charge. For traditional banks, there is often a $100 or more minimum balance requirement.
With online banks, you may not have a minimum opening deposit or balance requirement; however, you may not earn the top APY unless you maintain a certain level of funds in the account. Read the details when considering a bank.
8. Availability of Funds
Few people like waiting for funds to clear. When evaluating prospective financial institutions, find out how quickly funds clear. Some banks may offer early paycheck access, for instance, for qualifying accounts.
9. Customer Service
Here’s another dimension to consider when choosing a bank: What kind of customer service do they offer and when? If you are the type of person who likes to interact in-person, you may prefer a traditional bank with branches.
But even if that isn’t a big plus for you, also consider the availability of support by phone and chat during non-business hours. What if you have a pressing financial problem at 9 AM on a Sunday? Would help be there for you?
10. Investment Account Options
If you’re looking for more than just checking and savings, consider a bank that also has investment account options. Having everything you need within the same financial system can make deposits, withdrawals, transfers, and automatic saving a breeze.
Some banks may offer perks that appeal to you, so see what’s out there. For instance, some financial institutions may offer a cash bonus when you open an account; others may have cash back options that suit your spending style. Still others may offer educational events to boost financial literacy; others have special passes that allow clients to visit local cultural institutions for free.
12. Your Banking History
One last factor to consider when choosing a bank: If you have some less than perfect aspects of your financial life, see if you will be penalized for that. For instance, some banks may scrutinize your banking history. If you have enough overdrafts in your history or other issues, they may not approve your account application. Or you might need to open what’s known as a second chance checking account until you prove that you’re a reliable client. It’s wise to consider this as you go bank shopping.
Banking with SoFi
If you’re in the market for a banking partner, come take a look at all that SoFi offers. We think you can bank smarter when you open an online bank account with us. Our Checking and Savings account lets you spend and save in one simple spot; you’ll earn a competitive APY, and you won’t pay any account fees. That means managing your money may be simpler and your cash can grow faster. What’s more, qualifying accounts with direct deposit may get paycheck access up to two days early.
What should I do if a bank does not have what I am looking for?
If a bank doesn’t have the features you are looking for, it’s wise to shop around. There are thousands of banks and credit unions in America, and one or more are likely to suit your needs.
What are some banking red flags?
Banking red flags will vary depending on what your needs are. For instance, is that enticing APY offered just a promotional rate that will drop considerably lower in a short period of time? Do you notice that your bank’s ATM network is getting smaller? Focus on the most important features you’re looking for and read the fine print to prevent disappointment and dissatisfaction.
What is the most important thing to look for in a bank?
Depending on your particular financial style and goals, the most important things when choosing a bank may be interest rates and fees; convenience; and additional features it may offer (such as budgeting tools, cash back, competitive mortgage rates, and the like).
SoFi members with direct deposit can earn up to 4.20% annual percentage yield (APY) interest on Savings account balances (including Vaults) and up to 1.20% APY on Checking account balances. There is no minimum direct deposit amount required to qualify for these rates. Members without direct deposit will earn 1.20% APY on all account balances in Checking and Savings (including Vaults). Interest rates are variable and subject to change at any time. These rates are current as of 4/25/2023. There is no minimum balance requirement. Additional information can be found at http://www.sofi.com/legal/banking-rate-sheet.
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