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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:
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:
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:
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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