Are you thinking about opening a new checking account or switching your bank? If so, you probably know that not all checking accounts are created equal.
Whether you’ve had your account for years or you’re in the market for a new one, perhaps the most critical consideration when surveying checking accounts is their fee structure.
Different banks offer different types of accounts, some with promises of “free checking”—when you don’t count the other fees that you’ll be on the hook for. How should you evaluate checking account fees? Break down your options based on these common costs.
How much does it cost you to access your money?
Perhaps the most dreaded checking account fees come from ATMs. Out-of-network ATMs not affiliated with your bank will typically get you hit with fees twice: one from the ATM itself and the other from your bank. The average cost to use an out-of-network ATM in 2017 was $1.72 from the account institution, and $2.97 from the other bank or ATM owner, for a combined $4.69—just to access your money.
Some institutions have broader ATM networks, while others expect you to rely on your bank branch for access to your money for free. However, some banks will refund ATM fees up to a set amount a month, which helps with planning for lowest-cost, or free, withdrawals.
Monthly Maintenance Fees
Checking accounts often come with monthly maintenance fees, and typically, the fewer frills they have, the lower the fees. However, even just a $10 a month charge can add up over a year, so many banks allow you to avoid this cost if you meet specific criteria:
A minimum balance requirement: For basic checking accounts, you may only need to have a monthly average balance of $1,000-$2,000, or lower, in your account. For accounts with higher interest rates or other added benefits, the minimum amount might be higher.
Sign up for direct deposit: Many banks will waive your monthly fee if you utilize direct deposit, although again, there may be requirements for minimum deposit activity or frequency of deposits.
A connected savings account: Some institutions will reward you for opening a linked savings account with a waived maintenance fee. A benefit of connecting another account to your checking is that you may be able to get overdraft protection as money can be transferred between accounts.
Is your checking account costing you more than it should?
If you’ve ever been caught off-guard by overdraft fees, then you know how quickly they can spiral out of control. The typical overdraft fee for checking accounts is a whopping $34, so just a couple of purchases can potentially drain your account. You can add some protection against overdraft fees by linking a savings account that has adequate funds in it, so look for a bank that offers you that peace of mind.
In today’s digital world, most institutions will reward you with free documents if you access them online. Should you want to order paper copies of your account statements, you may be charged a fee; after all, the bank needs to print and mail your information, which takes up more time and resources.
How To Choose The Right Checking Account
When it comes down to it, finding a checking account that avoids these fees altogether is the golden goose of banking. It’s best that you make a list of the fees that you are most concerned about—like ATM charges if you’re often on the go—and start prioritizing accounts based on those metrics. Northpointe’s Free Checking account has no minimum balance requirement and no monthly fee, and will reimburse you up to $15 a month in ATM fees. With online banking, mobile check deposits, and secure fund transfers, you’ll get all of the benefits you want without those pesky fees interfering.
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