The Color of Money / Home & Consumer

Color of Money: Does Your Bank Need a Checkup?

WASHINGTON -- Here's how I selected my first bank, the one I've now been with for decades. A branch was a few blocks from where I had my first job after college and on the way to the bus stop.

Over the years, I've gotten frustrated with the customer service and the fees that kept adding up. I've threatened on numerous occasions to kick this big bank to the curb. But I haven't yet (service got better, fees dropped because of how my husband and I bank). But if I ever do feel we need to change, it won't be because I was put off by the inconvenience of switching banks.

There are so many banking choices available that you don't have to feel as if you're being held hostage by a banking institution that has begun to get on your nerves. Banking is such a basic function of personal finance that you should consider conducting a checkup. Are you getting what you need from your financial institution?

If not, maybe you need some help in how to select the most cost-effective option for your banking needs. If you do, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the agency that specifically insures deposits at the nation's 7,309 banks and savings associations, has put together useful tips in selecting a bank.

The summer issue of its newsletter, FDIC Consumer News, offers a 10-question self-exam to figure out the best way to handle your banking needs at any financial institution, including a credit union. The test would be particularly beneficial if you're still in the process of helping a teen or young adult open an account.

I'll get you started by walking through a few of the questions the FDIC recommends you consider. Top of the list is: How do you want to deposit money into an account?

Technology has opened up a lot more options for getting checks cashed. There is the tried and true direct deposit. But perhaps you're old-fashioned and still like to see a teller. Or maybe you want the ability to deposit checks using your smartphone or other mobile devices.

The bank where my 17-year-old daughter has her account just launched a new mobile check deposit feature. The bank promises she can deposit her checks securely without ever having to go to an ATM or bank branch.

She downloaded the bank's free mobile banking app onto her iPhone. She was shrieking with excitement. I was cringing. She took a picture of her last summer job check -- front and back. But soon her glee turned into frustration. She couldn't get a good enough image and had to go to the ATM after all. But she vowed to try the new mobile application again with her next check. Me, I'm sticking to direct deposit and the ATM. By the way, to save on checking fees, my daughter has an ATM-only checking and savings account.

Next, it may be time to revisit the way you bank. Ask yourself: How do you want to pay bills or purchase goods? Have you become completely comfortable with using a debit card? The FDIC says that results from a recent pilot program at nine institutions offering electronic, card-based accounts found that "checkless checking" can reduce the risk of overdrawing accounts.


Copyright 2012 Washington Post Writers Group


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