Your bank account: 10 questions to ask
What looks on paper like a no-fee or low-cost account may not actually be the one that’s best suited to your needs. Here are 10 questions to ask to help figure out if your account is right for you.
Can I use an ATM for free?
ATMs allow you to withdraw money from your checking account without visiting a bank branch. But some withdrawals could cost you. Many banks charge you to use machines operated by other banks or third parties, and those fees can add up quickly. If a bank has a large network of ATMs, you have better access to no-fee withdrawals. Plus, some banks reimburse you for ATM fees.
What happens if I try to withdraw more money than I have in my account?
Withdrawing more than your account contains is called an overdraft. Bank overdraft services generally allow your transaction to go through, but you will be charged a fee. Some banks prevent you from overdrafting when swiping your debit card and may let you request that all transactions are declined when your account doesn’t contain enough funds. You can also enroll in optional overdraft protection, which allows you to cover an overdraft with money from another account, such as your savings or a credit card. Keep in mind that this protection can result in a fee, and if you pay for the overdraft via a credit card, it may also be subject to interest.
Is there a fee?
Some banks charge monthly fees to maintain your account. In many cases, though, they waive those fees based on certain conditions, such as regular payroll direct deposits.
Do I need to keep a certain amount of money in my account?
Banks typically require an initial deposit to open accounts, and some banks require you to pay a fee if you don’t maintain a minimum or average balance in your account. Those fees also may be waived based on certain conditions.
Is there a branch nearby?
Unless you don’t mind doing all your banking online or over the phone, you might want to consider an institution with a branch close to your work or home. It may be worth spending some time on the bank’s website to figure out what transactions will require you to visit a branch.
Can I access my account information online?
You may be able to check balances, transfer money, receive statements and pay bills online. If you don’t have easy access to a branch, online banking can be very valuable. Make sure you know your online banking responsibilities and guarantees in the event someone fraudulently removes your funds through online services.
Is mobile banking available?
Some banks have mobile apps for convenient banking on the go. For example, you may be able to deposit checks by taking pictures of them with your phone. You may want to read reviews of your bank’s app to see what specific services are offered, since they can vary.
Will it cost me to transfer money?
Many banks don’t charge you to pay bills directly from your checking account. If you’re sending money to friends or family, you generally won’t be charged if your bank offers a person-to-person transfer service within the mobile app or online banking. However, if you need to wire money outside the bank to a person or business, you may be charged a fee.
Do I have to pay for checks or replacement cards?
At many banks your first book of checks is free, but you’ll likely pay for additional ones. Some banks also charge you to replace lost or stolen debit cards. What’s more, some banks limit the number of checks you can write from your account each month, and charge a fee if you exceed that number.
Does the account pay me interest?
Generally, if checking accounts pay interest, the rate is very low. High-yield checking accounts offer higher interest but typically require higher balances. Savings accounts offer higher rates, but because the accounts are intended for saving, they’re subject to different rules. Federal regulations, which apply to all banks, limit the number of withdrawals you can make from savings accounts each month, and some banks may charge for frequent savings withdrawals. It’s a good idea to check your bank’s deposit agreement and any disclosures to see what applies; you can do this while you’re looking at what interest rate the account may pay.