If you’re anything like me, you probably opened your first bank account when you turned 18 or started college because you were offered a free t-shirt or free lunch to sign-up. Maybe your parents took you to the bank they used, helped you open a checking account, and congratulated you for making it to adulthood. And chances are you probably still have that same account. If you have switched it’s because another bank offered you a sexy signing bonus or free kindle for opening with them.
Looking back, it does strike me funny. I comparison shop everything, but I didn’t comparison shop the checking account that allows me to comparison shop.
When you’re shopping for a car there are certain features that are crucial for you- reliability, gas mileage, looks, brand. We do this for almost everything else too- clothes, food, our crossfit gym. So why aren’t we doing it for our banks? Nobody really treats it for what it is- a service you are paying for.
After opening multiple checking accounts at several different banks I knew firsthand what features were important to me and what features weren’t. I tried the best of the big international banks, the large regional banks, credit unions, investment accounts, and even online-only banks.
Ultimately what it came down to was: what banks lets me accomplish what I do often (bill-pay, transfer funds, deposit checks) the easiest and most cost-efficient way.
You may use banks different than I do, but for me doing those things easily and simply was critical to me. I did not want to wrestle with the hassle of slow service, or jumping through hoops to accomplish these goals. If I could automate those processes, even better. I also would prefer to keep the costs to a minimum.
After weighing all my options and realizing which bank really fit my lifestyle, I ultimately decided on Bank of America. ::GASPS!::
I know, I know- lower your pitch forks and picket signs. Allow me to explain.
I find myself increasingly relying on a bank’s online banking capabilities. I log in at least twice a week. Contrast this with in-person branches and I’m lucky to step foot inside one more than twice a year. You may be different, but this is how I bank. Consequently, the most critical feature for the bank account I use is how efficient their online banking website is.
Bank of America’s Online Banking Website may not be the best in every category, but it is easily the best all-around website in the banking world.
Easy but Secure Log-In
Logging in is a snap. If I log-in from an unrecognized computer, all I have to do is answer a secret question. Contrast this with other banks that text you or email you a secret number to log-in (lame). They also use a secret individualized picture to authenticate the website from scam mirror sites- a nice seamless touch. I find logging into the website to be a breeze and pain free. When you’re first starting out getting into personal finances, building the habit of checking your account often can be tough enough- choosing a bank with an easy log-in can only help.
Quick and Pain Free Money Transfers
Sending and receiving transfers are also a breeze. As one of America’s largest banks, it’s not uncommon for someone else to also have a BofA account as well. Transfers between BofA customers happen instantly and are free. Receiving money is also just as easy.
In the rare instance someone else doesn’t have a BofA account, I usually just send money using another mean, but those occurrences are usually few and far between.
Bill pay is probably the most commonly used and most critical feature to me. This is where BofA really shines. They make it very easy to find your credit card or other debtor online. Adding those accounts to make subsequent payments were well thought out and even simple gestures like defaulting to the soonest business day available (as opposed to manually entering when the payment should arrive) is a nice touch and something sadly other banks don’t do.
Availability of ATMS (or refunded ATM fees)
There are a lot of amazing online only banks that will refund your atm fees and for this I continue to carry their card in my wallet, but I rarely have to look hard to find a BofA ATM. When I do find them, their ATMs are efficient, well designed, and a pleasure to use. Another plus. Depositing cash and checks have also been remarkably thought out and they revolutionized envelope-free deposits.
The best part of all this is that you can get it for free. You can sign up for their eBanking account which gives you free access to all those great features as long as you choose to recieve online statements and all of your deposits and withdrawals are done electronically or via ATM. This basically means you won’t pay a thing every month you go without seeing a teller, which if you’re anything like me is less than twice a year. I currently have two checking accounts using the eBanking option (I’ll explain why later).
Alternatively, you can bypass these restrictions if you direct deposit a minimum of $250 per statement or keep a minimum monthly balance of $1,500.
Unfortunately, the praise ends there. Calling BofA or stepping into one their branches is a chore not worth the hassle. I’m sure there a ton of capable people who work at BofA, hell I’m even friends with a few of them, but in my daily encounters there is a lot left to be desired- and that’s putting it nicely.
It’s as if they are two completely different banks. The technological side of the bank and what I call the old school banking options. Their websites, ATM’s, hell- even their twitter presence is the complete opposite of what I expect from their branches or their call-in options. Luckily I have limited my personal interactions to a minimum and prefer to simply interface with their technological peripherals- the website and their ATMs. Also keep a healthy minimum of cash in your account. I used to overdraft like crazy until I put a buffer to cushion my spending.
Features I don’t Really Care For
I used to get really excited when I would get a box full of free checks and leather case to keep them in. Now they’re sitting in my closet, collecting dust. I have an app for every account I own bundled together in my “Finance” grouping. That grouping never gets opened. Every bank has a ton of features designed to sell you on their account. However if you analyze the way you use your account and only put weight on the features you use, you can determine which accounts are best for you.
Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking
$0 Fees. $0 Account Minimums. .15% interest (it’s negligible but it’s a checking account!). Unlimited rebates from ATM’s worldwide. Amazing customer service. This account is a winner all around. Sadly their online bill pay is still lacking. I want to make this my default account, I do- but the online offerings and difficulty in sending in cash deposits really hold me back (to their credit – they do give you free postage-paid envelopes to send in your cash deposits but it just doesn’t beat the instant ATM deposits I receive from BofA).
USAA Free Checking Account
Very similar to the Schwab account. No monthly fees. Great online banking option. They even have a very robust online bill pay option (although they make you manually enter the payment recieved date which can get tiring when you’re paying several bills at one time). I could easily see this account becoming my default account in the near future with BofA playing second fiddle.
All in all, there are a lot of great options out there. These tree are the accounts I recommend for the various reasons. If you prefer to work with a credit union, a regional bank, or another large national bank make sure they give you the convenience and reliability you deserve. After all, it is your money.
Edit: USAA is becoming my go-to checking around. I use it for almost everything now except cash deposits.
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