Check It Out: Finding a Checking Account that Works for You

Last week we wrote about savings accounts and encouraged you to look into online ones, which tend to have a better interest rate than brick and mortar banks.  As we explained, these accounts have to be linked to an existing checking account so you can transfer money in and out.  But maybe you don’t have a checking account, or, more plausibly, you are looking to open a new one that’s more convenient than your college credit union account.  Or, most likely, you have a checking account for which you pay a maintenance fee, effectively canceling out the earnings you make on your savings account.

You need a checking account that works for you, not against you.  Look for accounts with a very low minimum balance requirement and no maintenance fees.  I know that many banks waive maintenance fees as long as you set up direct deposit, but, in this economy and depending on your circumstances, I don’t think you can count on that direct deposit protection.  You shouldn’t be paying maintenance fees while you’re looking for a job or if you go back to school, or, even worse, you don’t want to lose your job, and, on top of that, pay for it.

I’ve reviewed some of the main banks in my area, and this is what I’ve found on their simplest checking accounts:

  • Bank of America’s MyAccess: no minimum balance requirement and no maintenance fee for accounts opened online
  • BB&T’s Free: no minimum balance requirement and no maintenance fee
  • Chevy Chase Bank’s Free Direct Deposit Checking: no minimum balance; maintenance fee waived as long as you have at least one direct deposit per statement cycle
  • Citibank’s Access Account: does not include paper checks, which are an important feature of checking accounts for many people (virtually all of us who pay rent); waives maintenance fee with direct deposit
  • Citibank’s Basic Checking: has a fixed monthly fee, which ranges from $3.50 to $10 depending on your state plus fees for the checks you write
  • PNC’s Free Checking: no minimum balance requirement and no monthly maintenance fee; it has less ATM locations than other banks, but reimburses non-PNC ATM fees if you keep a $2,000 minimum average monthly balance

Out of these accounts, Bank of America’s MyAccess probably is the best option (with PNC’s Free Checking coming in second place) – you don’t have to worry about going below a certain minimum balance or losing that direct deposit, and Bank of America has ATMs almost anywhere.  I have that account, and find that it works quite well for me.  To avoid the minimum balance and maintenance fee, you only have to open it online; after that, you can use the branch just like any other customer who opened their account in person.

When I opened my account online last year, I got a $50 bonus for being a new customer.  It seems that Bank of America is offering an even better deal for those of you who already have a BofA credit card: .  You don’t have to open a MyAccess account, but if you choose to do so, make sure to go through this link to get an extra 75 bucks.  Your checking account should suit your needs, and I think that no fees and perhaps some extra cash matches almost everyone’s needs.


One Response

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