Back to Basics: Choosing a New Bank


If you're unhappy with your existing bank's customer service, want more competitive savings rates or feel like it's time to move on, here are the top five things to consider when picking a place to house your cash, especially in this turbulent and shrinking financial market.

Narrow down online banks to those that have a nearby physical location, too, with representatives who can help you in case of an emergency. Online banks like and, with no physical location, shouldn't be the only place to stash your money. They tend to offer more competitive savings rates, but should be used in conjunction with a traditional brick and mortar bank.

Often "free checking" means you aren't forced to keep a minimum balance in your account and can write as many checks a month as you like. Just because you don't see "free checking" doesn't mean it doesn't exist. This isn't exactly a perk banks boldly advertise, so call up and speak with a representative to verify.

ATM transactions, on average, cost about $3 in fees, including your bank's fee and the ATM's surcharge. But if you visit ATMs belonging to your bank you can avoid the surcharge. Make sure there is one close to your work and home for those regular visits.

Credit unions are not-for-profit institutions that may offer better rates because they don't spend as much on advertising and marketing. The one caveat to credit unions is they typically have fewer physical branches and ATMs than major bank networks, so make sure the credit union offers online banking services and a round-the-clock customer service phone line. You can search specifically for credit unions in your area at and

From overdraft protection to FDIC insurance, you want to make sure your cash is in good hands. Overdraft protection rules are key, considering fees average close to $30 for each bounced transaction. Meantime, FDIC insurance is up to $100,000 per individual per account.

As always, you want to shop around for the most competitive savings rates. Visit to comparison search banks in your zip code.

Catch more of Farnoosh’s advice on Real Simple. Real Life. on TLC, Friday nights at 8 p.m.

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