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Choosing the Perfect Checking Account

There is a stack of bills in your email and on the corner of your table…sitting…waiting.

You need a checking account for a convenient and quick way to pay them all. However, there is no one-size-fits-all checking account. Use this guide to help find the perfect one for you.

How do you intend to use your checking account?

There are several factors to consider when choosing a checking account: benefits, rewards, customer service. What really differentiates each type of account is the type of activities you do the most.

  • Minimally — I write checks and do transfers to and from savings accounts to pay bills. I get my statements online every month.
  • Regularly — I use my debit card for everyday purchases to earn rewards, and also write checks to pay bills.
  • Frequently — I have bill payments and transfers set up directly from my account and manage my money online and on my phone. I use my debit card almost exclusively.

Minimal Users – Consider Free Checking Accounts

If you use a checking account purely for transactions, you may want to take a look at a free account. This type of account is very basic and may come with a debit card, a specific number of monthly transactions, and limited ATM availability. Free checking accounts are good for managing money put aside for specific activities, such as a vacation or a large purchase, where you do not want to confuse it with money for day-to-day activities.

What to look for:

  • Low or no minimum balance
  • No hidden transaction fees
  • Free debit card

Regular Users – Consider Standard Checking Accounts

A standard account is about convenience. This type of account may have a monthly maintenance fee and a minimum balance requirement that varies between financial institutions. It allows greater usage such as unlimited transactions, ATM reimbursement, and online bill pay.  Standard checking accounts offer additional pay-per-use services such as transfers, overdraft privilege, and fraud monitoring. This type of account makes bill paying easy and can help you save money on postage and late fees by paying electronically.

What to look for:

  • Low monthly fee
  • Low minimum balance
  • Fee waivers
  • Rewards program
  • Free or reimbursed ATM fees
  • Free debit card

Frequent Users – Consider Premium Checking Accounts

If you carry a high balance in your checking account and want to earn dividends/interest consider a premium checking account. This may also be ideal if you use your debit card to earn purchase rewards, frequently make deposits and withdrawals at ATMs, and manage your money through online or mobile channels. It may feature services such as mobile deposit, online money management tools, and a rewards program. Many accounts have waivers based on number of transactions or account balances. Premium checking accounts may have higher monthly fees than other account types. Look for fee-waivers for having another account or for card usage.

What to look for:

  • Rewards program
  • Dividends/interest bearing
  • Money management tools
  • Fraud and ID theft services
  • Free ATMs
  • Free debit card
  • Availability of fee waivers

Philosophy

You want a financial institution that values you and shares your beliefs. Some institutions give back to the community by providing financial education, low-rate loans, higher dividend/interest rates, and equal treatment regardless of the amount of money you have with them. Look for local co-ops, such as credit unions, as an alternative to multi-national corporations.

What to look for:

  • You are part owner
  • Customer representation on the Board of Directors
  • Community focused
  • Educational opportunities

Choosing the perfect checking account doesn’t need to be stressful. Consider your activity, account features, and institutional values to pick the one that is just right for you.

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