First, prioritize what’s important to you. Here are some common features:
* Overdraft protection
* Online access
* Maintenance fees waived with direct deposit
* Internet bill pay
* Rewards program with debit card use
* Fee-free withdrawals at any ATM
* Low balance requirement
* Interest bearing
Make a list of the top four or five things you absolutely have to have.
Second, do your research. Not every bank will offer every option. You may have to get an account with some useless features in order to get the ones you really want. Look not only at large banks like Bank of America, US Bank, Wells Fargo, but also look at smaller ones. Check out each bank’s website to gather information quickly.
Don’t forget about credit unions. If proximity to the branch isn’t a priority, they can often provide more bang for the buck since they are generally not-for-profit and exist to provide their members with services at affordable prices. Membership is usually restricted to a certain segment of the population (employer, neighborhood, church, etc.) but there are so many around that you likely qualify for membership in at least one.
Consider non-traditional money management accounts. Fidelity offers a “cash-flow” account that functions like a checking account but can be tied to a standard brokerage account for ease of investing. A bonus feature of their account is that they waive and/or reimburse you for all ATM withdrawals, regardless of the bank.
If you need only to occasionally withdraw money or write checks, a money market account will provide superior interest. Many banks require a large initial deposit and/or high minimum balance, but some, like GMAC, have low deposit and balance requirements.
Finally, consider the bank’s reputation and financial condition. Some provide great customer service while others seem to exist only to suck in people’s money. Too, although the federal reserve insures deposits up to certain limits, they can be tied up indefinitely if a bank goes belly up.