A bank that offers the latest in electronic banking might not be attractive to a customer who is seeking old-fashioned customer service.
Chextra or Freedom Blue? PC banking or branch banking? ATM or debit card?
The key to choosing the best checking account for you, experts say, is to know how you're going to use it.
``The customer first needs to figure out what they want,'' said Jean Milstead, senior vice president at Douglas County Bank, ``and that would sort of simplify their choices.''
These days, most banks offer a vast, confusing smorgasbord of accounts and a palette of services to choose from. If you start shopping before you know what you need, you'll probably have a difficult time making a choice.
``If you're only going to write eight checks a month,'' said Janet Eissenstat of the American Bankers Assn., ``you can get a much different account than you'd need if you're going to write 80 a month.''
So give these questions and tips some thought before you start account hunting:
- What are your short- and long-term financial needs?
``If you're just looking for a place to park your paycheck, that's one thing,'' Eissenstat said. ``If you want to save for a down payment and want some of that automatically transferred to another account, that's a different kind of account altogether.''
- How much money do you plan to keep on deposit each month?
This can be important because some banks will reward you for consolidating all your business with them. Others will offer bare bones accounts, a la carte fashion.
- How many checks do you write each month and how many deposits or other transactions do you expect to make?
According to the ABA, the national monthly average is about 25 checks. Such figures are important because some accounts levy a fee for each check or transaction over a certain number.
- How often do you need to get cash or otherwise access your account at a moment's notice, after hours or while out of town?
Virtually all banks now charge for using so-called foreign ATMs, or those owned by other banks. So if you're going to have to hit the ATM often, the charges could add up.
- Do you place a high value on being greeted or called by name when you go to the bank, or are you just happy conducting business electronically via telephone or personal computer?
``I haven't set foot in a bank lobby in years,'' Eissenstat said. ``I'm a child of direct deposit, I love ATMs, I use telephone banking all the time. So those things are very important to me.''
If you prefer the personal touch, you may want to consider a bank that has multiple, convenient locations. And don't forget to check the hours of operation. Is it open late? On weekends?
- Factor in intangibles such as the value of your time and convenience. Do you consider it worthwhile to spend an extra dollar or two each month to transact business at an ATM instead of driving across town or taking time off from work to do your banking?
- Consider your lifestyle -- where you work, live and like to relax -- and whether the bank has the right mix of ATMs, branch offices, offers banking by personal computer, etc., for your lifestyle.
-- Richard Brack's phone message number is 832-7194. His e-mail address is brack
- Does the account require a minimum balance? (If so, you should go with a bank that uses the average daily balance method, not the low-average method.) Is it a level you can maintain?
- Will you be charged for checks? Don't forget you can get bargain-priced checks from mail-order suppliers.
- Is there a per-check or per-transaction charge?
- Can you get an ATM or debit card with the account? Is there a fee to receive or use the card?
- Can you get overdraft protection? Is it free?
- Does the account earn interest?
- Are there special deals for older people? Many banks are offering them.
- Are free or low-cost accounts available for customers who have their paychecks electronically deposited or who have loans or certificates of deposit with the bank?
- Can you get canceled checks if you need or want them? Is there a charge?
- Don't get bogged down with prices of services you may never use.