When opening your first checking account or replacing an existing one, you might be inclined to quickly open an account and be on your way. After all, one account is the same as another, right? Well, not exactly. Accounts are designed with different features, and some may be more beneficial to you than others. Asking yourself a few basic questions will guide you to the best checking account for your particular lifestyle and needs.
- How much money will I keep in my account on a regular basis?
Many checking accounts require you to maintain a minimum daily balance or an average monthly balance. If you drop below this required balance, you may pay a fee. Determine realistically how much you can maintain in your account and what you will pay if you don’t, but don’t make that the deciding factor in selecting an account. Which leads to question number 2.
- Are there other ways I can avoid paying fees on my account?
Even if your checking account falls below a required minimum, there may be ways to have that fee waived. For example, will you have a savings or other account at the same bank as your checking? Some banks will consider combined balances of multiple accounts when waiving checking fees.
- Do I qualify for any specialty checking accounts with benefits for a certain group of people?
If you are a student or age 50-plus, you will most definitely find accounts created especially for you. But don’t overlook other possibilities. Some accounts offer special benefits for active members of the U.S. military, employees of certain businesses or other specific groups.
- Do I want to have a banking center nearby?
Is it important to have a physical branch where you can stop in or use the drive-through to make deposits? If so, that will narrow your options. However, if you aren’t much of a branch person, consider what digital and electronic banking options are available with an account. A nearby ATM that takes deposits and online banking may be all you need to manage your checking account.
- How much and where do I use ATMs?
Many banks charge you to use machines operated by other banks or third parties, and those fees can add up quickly. Think about your ATM usage and whether a bank’s network will give you greater access to no-fee withdrawals. If you are a frequent ATM user for quick cash, does the bank have an ATM near your home or workplace? Do you travel often and need access to a larger ATM network? Does a checking account come with a certain number of free ATM withdrawals at another bank’s ATMs?
- How many checks will I write?
If you still write many checks, look for an account that will not charge you an additional fee for writing them. Also, some specialty and interest-earning accounts offer free checks, which can save you some money. If you will rarely write checks, look for an account that enables you to manage payments electronically and possibly offers extra benefits for doing so.
- Is the latest in online and mobile banking technology important to me? Nearly all banks now offer online and mobile banking, but not all keep up with the latest technology. If you will do most of your banking using these services, compare their ease of use and functionality at different financial institutions. For example:
- In addition to making basic account to account transfers and paying bills online, do you want the ability to deposit checks or pay other people directly from your smartphone?
- Could you benefit from having a personal financial management program built right into your online banking, to help you consolidate all accounts (even those at other financial institutions) for budgeting purposes?
Most banks will have online information and demos to help you compare their online and mobile banking, as well as any associated costs.
Nowadays, pretty well all banks offer debit/check cards. The question is what comes with them. For example, some banks offer rewards for card usage, such as discounts on purchases at designated retailers. Also, you might prefer an account that enables you to add your debit card to a digital wallet on your smartphone or other device. It's a convenient way to securely pay at hundreds of thousands of stores and participating apps with a single touch on your Apple®, Samsung or Android device.
If earning interest is important to you, of course you will want to compare the Annual Percentage Yield paid on the accounts you are considering. Typically, checking accounts that pay a higher rate do require that you maintain a higher balance. Do consider whether you might be better off putting your money into a savings account though. Savings accounts are usually a better option for earning a higher rate of interest, although federal regulations (which apply to all banks) limit the number of withdrawals you can make from them.
Most banks offer overdraft services, so if you withdraw/spend more than you have in your account, the transaction will go through but you will be charged a fee. Before opening any checking account, you should know what overdraft services are available, whether you have to opt in to use them and what fees are associated with them. Also, ask what services are available to help prevent overdrawing your account, such as text alerts to let you know when your account balance has fallen below a certain level.
You've found the ideal account, so gather some basic items you will most likely need to open it:
- Some type of government-issued identification (Driver's license, passport, etc.)
- Proof of residency (Utility, cable or other bill with your address on it)
- Social Security card
- Your initial deposit
Open your account either online or in a bank branch with confidence that you have asked the right questions to select the best checking account for you! But keep in mind that the best account for you right now could change. So it's smart to do an account review every few years to make sure that your account is still the best fit.
Open a checking account online
Old National makes it easy to compare checking accounts here on our site and even open one online. Whatever your life stage – from student to senior – and whatever your financial goals, we have an account for you.
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