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 INGdirect.com and EverBank.com, 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.
2. FEE-FREE CHECKING & FREE MONEY TRANSFERS
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.
4. DON'T NEGLECT CREDIT UNIONS
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 www.findacreditunion.com and www.creditunion.coop.