You’ve probably had a checking account for most of your life and never gave it much thought. It’s just there to store your everyday cash, right? Not necessarily.
If you’re considering questions about checking accounts as you take a closer look at your current setup and explore opening a new one, it’s important to note that checking accounts are designed with different and unique features. Some may even be more beneficial to you than you realize.
For starters, most checking accounts offer a host of conveniences, providing customers the ability to set up automatic payments for routine bills, schedule electronic transfers and make all deposits and transfers via a smartphone app. Some accounts even allow you to earn cash back on your debit card purchases.
“A checking account can have a long-term impact on your financial well-being, so it’s worth taking the time to figure everything out,” says Jeff Kreisler, money expert and author of the personal finance book “Dollars and Sense.”
At this point, you might be thinking, “What questions should I ask before opening a checking account?” To help you decide which account is right for you, here are four key questions to ask yourself:
1. What types of checking accounts should I consider?
Before you open a new checking account, do a little homework to learn about the different types of checking accounts offered by banks, Kreisler says. There’s the standard personal checking account that allows you to write checks and make payments with your debit card or electronically. But when thinking about questions to ask when opening a checking account, go beyond the basic features to find an account that best fits your lifestyle and financial goals. Here are some examples:
- Online checking account: Ready to bypass the teller lines with the benefits of an online bank? Then this is the checking account for you. Doing your banking from any computer or mobile device is sweet—and since online banks don’t have brick-and-mortar locations, they can often pass their savings from overhead down to you. Just verify that the online bank or credit union supplying the checking account is backed by the FDIC or the National Credit Union Administration.
- Rewards checking account: One question to ask before choosing a checking account is if you can earn rewards or incentives for certain activity. Discover Cashback Debit, for example, lets you earn 1% cash back on up to $3,000 in debit card purchases each month.1 That means your monthly cashback earnings could yield $360 in total rewards each year (finally, dinner and drinks at that new French bistro in town!). Some banks may also offer a checking account bonus just for opening a new account, while others have a variety of reward options based on certain qualifying purchases. A rewards checking account works for almost anyone looking to maximize their debit spend or a balance they regularly hold in their checking account.
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- Joint checking account: Most checking accounts can be opened as a joint checking account, which is an account held by two or more people. This can be a convenient solution for couples, minors and their parents and even seniors and their caregivers who are trying to manage a household budget. It does require good record keeping and communication, so make sure you understand the ins and outs of joint accounts before choosing this option.
The above checking accounts are the most standard and usually have appealing benefits. But if you have more questions about checking accounts, there are options that can cater to more specific needs. However, they often have less flexibility. For instance:
- Interest-bearing checking accounts are available for those who want to earn some money while their cash is parked in the account. The rate of return is usually low and minimum balance requirements high.
- Student checking accounts are often low-cost, but they could come with limitations. Whether or not a student account is available may be a good question to ask before choosing a checking account if you’re looking for a starter account for yourself or your child.
- Second-chance checking accounts could be a fit for those who may not be able to get a standard checking account due to their banking or credit history; however, they often have higher fees.
“A checking account can have a long-term impact on your financial well-being, so it’s worth taking the time to figure everything out.”
2. Are there fees associated with the checking account?
This is one of the most commonly asked questions about checking accounts. Before choosing a checking account, be sure to research its fees, says Marc Bernstein, financial planner and strategist for MWealth Advisors. Types of fees and fee amounts can vary greatly from bank to bank, and even among accounts at the same bank.
A question to ask when opening a checking account is if the account charges fees for ATM use, automatic bill pay, monthly maintenance, ordering checks, replacing a debit card or ordering official bank checks. Banks may charge any combination of these fees—or none. Discover Cashback Debit comes with no fees. Period.2 That means you won’t be charged a fee for any of these services.
Along with including the fee topic on your list of questions to ask before choosing a checking account, you should also consider obtaining “a document outlining the fees you’ll be paying, in case you have any questions, and check the fine print,” Bernstein says. You can also typically find a list of fees (if any) on the bank’s website or in the account agreement.
3. Is there a minimum balance requirement?
According to Bernstein, among the questions to ask when opening a checking account is if it requires an initial minimum balance to open. You’ll also want to know if a minimum balance needs to be maintained to avoid a fee.
Bernstein suggests looking for an account with no minimum balance requirement if you tend to keep less than $1,000 in your account or like to have flexibility when making large withdrawals.
If you’ve asked this question about checking accounts and are still comparing accounts that have a minimum balance requirement, realistically determine how much you can keep in your account per month and what you will be charged if you can’t keep that balance.
Even if your account falls below a minimum requirement, there could be a way to save on fees. If you have multiple accounts at one bank, the bank may allow you to combine the balances to waive checking fees.
The total average cost of withdrawing cash from an out-of-network ATM is $4.68. That’s 36 percent higher than it was 10 years prior, with no signs of decreasing.
4. What ATM fees could I incur?
If you frequent the ATM to take out cash, a good question to ask before choosing a checking account is: Where are the bank’s ATMs located in relation to your home and work?
Availability of ATMs is an important question to ask when opening a checking account that can really affect your wallet. For instance, if you decide to withdraw money from an ATM that’s not in your bank’s network, you can get hit with two separate charges: a surcharge from the ATM owner (since you’re not a customer) and a fee from your own bank.
And those fees can really add up. According to Bankrate’s 2018 checking account and ATM fee study, the total average cost of withdrawing cash from an out-of-network ATM is $4.68. That’s 36 percent higher than it was 10 years prior, with no signs of decreasing.
One way to get cash without paying an ATM fee is to use your own bank’s ATMs. The more ATM locations that your bank offers that are conveniently located, the less likely you are to use one that’s out-of-network and rack up unnecessary charges. If you can’t always use your own bank’s ATM, one of the questions to ask when opening a checking account is whether your bank allows you to use a broader ATM network for no-fee transactions.
Find the best checking account for you
Opening a new checking account is an important step toward establishing, or rebuilding, your financial foundation.
Now that you can ask the right questions about checking accounts, you’re one step closer to choosing an account that fits your individual needs. And that feels like money in the bank.
1 ATM transactions, the purchase of money orders or other cash equivalents, cash over portions of point-of-sale transactions, Peer-to-Peer (P2P) payments (such as Apple Pay Cash), and loan payments or account funding made with your debit card are not eligible for cash back rewards. In addition, purchases made using third-party payment accounts (services such as Venmo® and PayPal™, which also provide P2P payments) may not be eligible for cash back rewards. Apple, the Apple logo and Apple Pay are trademarks of Apple Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries.
2 Outgoing wire transfers are subject to a service charge. You may be charged a fee by a non-Discover ATM if it is not part of the 60,000+ ATMs in our no-fee network.