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When trying to decide on a new bank, the multitude of options can be overwhelming. How do you choose between a large nationwide bank and your neighborhood community bank? Should you opt for one that is online-only, a traditional brick-and-mortar, or a hybrid? Not to worry, here are all of the factors you need to consider to decide which bank is best.

What Should You Consider When Choosing a Bank?

One of the first and most important factors when choosing a bank is its type. Types include international, national, regional, community, or online. Further, you could also opt for a credit union. Here’s a brief overview of the options:

  • Larger international and national banks offer expansive coverage in terms of services, branches, and ATMs but often have high fees and impersonal customer service.
  • Regional/community banks and credit unions don’t offer the wide coverage but usually have lower fees, more personal service, and competitive interest rates.
  • Online-only banks offer members the convenience of being able to bank from anywhere while paying minimal fees but have no physical locations, which can be inconvenient and impersonal.

You’ll need to weigh the pros and cons to find which bank is best for your needs.

Account Types

The next step is to look at the types of accounts that a bank offers. Common options include basic checking, interest-bearing checking, savings, Certificate of Deposit, Money Market, and Individual Retirement (IRA).

Identify which type of accounts you want. Ideally, you should find a bank to suit all of your needs now and in the future.

Fees

Now for the fees, a major source of revenue for banks. Common fees that such entities charge include:

  • A fee to open the account;
  • Monthly service fees;
  • A monthly service fee for not maintaining a minimum balance;
  • Overdraft fees;
  • A fee for inactivity;
  • Lost card fee;
  • Returned check fee;
  • A fee for paper statements;
  • ATM fees;
  • Foreign transaction fees;
  • Account closing fee.

You will find fees vary from one bank to the next regarding their types and amounts. Research carefully as they will end up playing a large role in how much it costs to maintain the account.

Eligibility Requirements

Most financial institutions will check your past banking records before approving you for a bank account, and some will request a copy of your credit report. As a result, it will be more difficult to get approved by some banks than others. Typically, the larger the bank, the stricter the eligibility requirements.

Branches and ATMs

Accessibility is also an issue. Check on how many branches and ATMs a bank has and where they are located. When you have to use an ATM fee outside of your bank’s network, it often results in higher fees. Further, if you’d like to be able to go into a branch, it will be important that they exist where you live or frequently visit.

Security

How safe is your money? By choosing a bank that has federal deposit insurance through the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation), your insured deposits will still be available even if the bank goes under. The standard coverage is $250,000 per person.

Technology

Online and mobile banking capabilities will be important if you want to bank from home or on-the-go. Common features include:

  • Viewing your account activity;
  • Getting alerts;
  • Transferring and receiving money;
  • Making deposits with a smartphone.

It’s good to find out how tech-savvy a bank is. Most top rated banks will offer these capabilities.

Financial Products

In addition to bank accounts, banks often offer other financial products. In some cases, the products are exclusive to bank members, and in others, bank members get discounts. Examples are:

  • Home loans;
  • Personal loans;
  • Car loans;
  • Business loans;
  • Loans against securities;
  • Credit lines;
  • Credit cards.

Check with the banks you are interested in to see what they offer and if their rates and terms are competitive.

Customer Service and Reputation

Lastly, how does the bank treat their members? If you ever have a problem or need assistance, the customer service the bank offers will become important. A good way to find out is to read bank reviews from sources such as Pissed Consumer, Yelp, Consumer Affairs, and the BBB. Find out what current and past customers have to say, and look for the best rated bank s. Take note of any recurring complaints as you will likely have to deal with them, too. On the other hand, if customers are generally happy, chances are you will have a similar experience.

How to Choose a Bank in 5 Steps

Now that you know what factors to consider, here is a step-by-step guide on how to choose a bank that is right for you.

  • Identify Your Needs

    Take some time to think about what you need from a bank. What kinds of accounts do you want? What additional products and services might help you? Will you be traveling or stationary? Do you want to be able to go into a branch and to talk to someone in-person? Go over the factors above and write down what your ideal bank will offer.

  • Research Bank Offerings

    Next, start your research. Look up banks that you suspect will meet your needs and take notes of their offers. Don’t hold back here, look up several options. A good place to start is with the top rated banks you find in reviews.

  • Shortlist Banks that Fit Your Needs

    Now, it’s time to compare banks . Review the data you‘ve collected and pick the top three choices that most closely resemble your ideal bank.

  • Review and Compare Banks

    Take a closer look at each of the shortlisted banks, read the fine print on their websites, ask friends and family, and dig into real-user bank reviews . Compare the pros and cons of each.

  • Make Your Selection

    Pick the very best that fits for your needs and open an account.

How to Find the Best Bank for a Checking Account

What if all you need is a checking account, how should you compare banks? Here are the factors to research:

ATM Fees

ATM fees can add up quickly if you frequently withdraw cash. To keep the costs to a minimum, check how much a bank’s fee is when using an ATM owned by the bank, how many ATMs the bank has, and how much the fee is when using an ATM not owned by the bank.

Overdraft Protection

Accidents happen, and sometimes people spend more than they have in their account. Banks will vary on how they handle this situation. You may have the option to:

  • Have the bank decline the transaction;
  • Approve the transaction and charge you a fee;
  • Approve the transaction and fund it from a backup funding source.

Decide what will work best for you, compare overdraft fees, and choose a bank that suits your needs.

Account Minimum Requirements

Check if the bank requires you to keep a minimum balance in the account and if any fees apply when your balance drops below the threshold.

Service Fee

Find out if the bank will charge you for simply having the account. How much? Keep in mind, there are banks that offer free checking.

Rewards

Lastly, find out what you can get in return from the bank for opening a checking account. Rewards can range from cash back and airline miles to high-interest rates. Checking bank reviews can help you evaluate reward offerings and find top rated banks.

Comparing banks and checking accounts according to these guidelines will help you wade through the options and find which bank is best.