Checking accounts used to be fairly straightforward; you put money in an account, and checks were drawn on the balance. But those days are definitely over! These days, checking accounts may offer everything from cash reward debit cards to cellphone insurance. But with the added complexity comes added confusion about which checking account offers the benefits that work best for you.
Asking the Right Questions
As with all financial decisions, starting with a basic understanding about what your goals are can make all the difference. How do you view your checking account? If your checking account is primarily the means by which you access your money, usually through a debit card, then your criteria will largely be dictated by whether there is a charge for number of transactions, ATM fees, and possibly overdraft fees. Do you want your account to act as a financial reward generator? Or would you prefer to select rewards from a slate of useful services? Rewards that used to be limited to certain credit cards are now becoming available through some checking account debit cards.
Who do you prefer to work with? Deciding what kind of financial institution, you prefer goes a long way toward helping you to choose your account, as well. If you prefer to have access to face-to-face assistance, then you will be looking for a credit union or bank that is near you and has accessible branches. Most financial institutions offer online banking, so your online preference may be best driven by whose app is most user-friendly. Either way, your balance is insured up to $250,000 by either NCUA or FDIC.
InTouch offers a handy comparison chart of our checking accounts.
Choices, Big and Small
Once you know what’s important to you, there is a wide variety of accounts to consider. One popular choice is for a no-frills, no-fee (or low monthly fee) checking account. Typically, these accounts offer a small slate of features and courtesies. They can be somewhat “bare-bones,” and some may require that the account holder sign up for an “overdraft protection plan” that automatically covers overdrafts, but for a fee. As automatic overdraft coverage fees can be quite high, you will want to be very clear about both the terms of the account and very aware of your balance if you choose this type of checking.
High interest earning checking accounts are another popular checking account option. With these accounts, you may be looking at a checking account that pays a good dividend on your balance but may offer you less in the way of additional bonuses or benefits. When you initially considered your goals, did they include benefits that are part of the package with this type account? Can you keep a consistent balance that will make the high-yield account worth it for you? These questions can help you make your best decision. Interestingly enough, these accounts may also carry “qualifying actions,” in their contracts, such as 10 debit card transactions per month. So be sure to read the requirements carefully to decide whether you are likely to meet the requirements every month.
Wrapping Up the List
Rewards checking accounts with specific benefits may provide good value if the services they offer are useful for you. For example, identity theft protection, cellphone insurance and purchase protection can be less expensive as part of a checking account than purchased as separate services. If you like to shop and travel, there are a number of accounts that offer travel insurance and travel and shopping discounts. Reading the fine print of rewards programs is a requirement, though, as rewards vary, time limits may apply, and prime travel may have blackout dates. In all cases, be sure to understand how rewards are earned and can be redeemed. Expired rewards are a disappointment we can all do without.
Choosing a checking account is going to depend on what you want to get out of it. Keeping track of expenditures and balance is the requirement for any checking account. The choice of which one often hinges on how and where you use your debit or ATM card or paper checks, and fees. If these things, combined with ATM availability and fees, or branches and customer support, are important to you, be sure to check out your financial institutions’ online resources. Look for a side-by-side comparison to show you how the features of each type of account corresponds to what you are looking for.