Deciding where to bank isn't easy. Drive down any busy street, and you are likely to spot several banks. Fire up your computer, and you'll see even more options.
All that choice can be overwhelming — but it also provides you with a great opportunity. By asking the right questions, you can find the bank that is just right for you. While we all have different banking needs, there are some common things that every consumer should look for when choosing a bank.
Following are 10 expert tips that can help you pick the right bank for you.
Consider Banks That Are Technologically Savvy
Look for a bank that has a high-quality technological infrastructure, said Joseph Holberg, founder and CEO of Holberg Financial, a Chicago-based company focused on helping millennials become financially informed and successful.
Search for banks with strong apps and technology features, such as electronic funds transfers and mobile check deposit. Such features should be free, Holberg said.
Chase Quick Pay — which allows you to "send payment to virtually anyone, anywhere," according to Chase — is a great example of a feature that "delivers tons of value to customers," Holberg said.
When considering a specific bank, Holberg said to think about how often you might need to actually visit the bank in person. "If you see having to visit the bank infrequently, it's likely it's one that's actually keeping up with the pace of technological advancement and building in new features that will be beneficial for customers," Holberg said.
Vet any bank you're considering along more "traditional" metrics as well. These include making sure the bank's checking and savings accounts are free or ultra-low cost, and that its savings, money market and CD rates are nationally competitive, Holberg said.
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Establish a Personal Relationship at a Bank
Some experts also recommend looking for a bank where you can form personal relationships. One advocate of this approach is Tal Frank, the Atlanta-based president of PhysicianLoans, a company focused on providing doctors with home loans.
"I don't mean that the tellers know you by name when you walk in," Frank said. "I mean you should have one bank representative who knows you by name and can solve problems when they come up. That might be someone in the branch or even a remote location."
Frank said this is true even if you generally don't walk into a branch. Have a contact, not just a banking app. Problems arise, mistakes happen, checks get lost and erroneous fees show up, he said.
"My advice is to select a bank where you can develop a relationship with a 'go to' person when a banking challenge of any kind arises," Frank said. "It can not only save you money, it can save you hours of solving issues on your own and getting the call center runaround you might get by relying on a bank's toll-free number."
Make Sure a Bank Fits Your Exact Needs
Everyone has slightly different reasons for needing a bank, said Joshua Wilson, Fort Worth, Texas-based partner and chief investment officer at WorthPointe Wealth Management. Figure out which services you really use — such as ATMs, paper checks, bill pay and branch location transactions, Wilson said.
Remember to weigh every aspect of a bank account. Fees can easily offset a great interest rate on a savings account, for example.
"I met one consumer who told me she chose her bank based on its CD rates," Wilson said. "Turns out this was pretty arbitrary, since she no longer invested in CDs." said Wilson. By listing the things you actually need from a bank, you'll have a better basis for comparing banks, he said.
Ask For What You Want — Even If You Don’t See It
Many banks have a "don't ask, don't tell" policy, according to Ted Jenkin, co-CEO and founder of oXYGen Financial in Alpharetta, Ga. If you are considering an account but don't see a feature that's important to you, ask someone at the financial institution about it, Jenkin said.
For example, Jenkin said that if you ask, your bank will likely give you the same interest rate on your checking account that they pay on your savings account. But, he added, you have to ask in the first place to get the best interest rate.
Beware of Advertised Specials
Sometimes banks offer what appear to be great deals online, such as very low loan interest rates. But look before you leap at these deals, said Anthony Piccone, president and CEO of 7th Level Mortgage in Cherry Hill, N.J.
"Published interest rates online are designed to get you to pick up the phone and take you out of the shopping mode," he said. However, there is almost always catch when an institution offers something like unbelievably low loan rates, Piccone said. "The lowest bidder is the lowest for a reason, and it usually isn't in your best interest," he said.
Don't choose a bank based solely on an advertised rate. Investigate thoroughly and make sure there isn't a catch that could come back to bite you later.
Make Sure Your Bank Offers Multiple Lending Options
When you need a loan, you want a bank that provides multiple lending options. Look for a bank that has an array of lending capabilities — not just conventional loans, but also loans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Federal Housing Administration, the Department of Veterans Affairs and other options.
That way, you can be sure you're getting the best deal for your situation, said Kelly Borich, senior loan originator for Florida Capital Bank, a Jacksonville, Fla.-based bank with national lending capabilities
Your needs can change throughout the loan process. If a bank offers multiple lending options, you likely can switch to a different type of loan and stay with the bank, rather than starting the process completely from scratch with a new bank, Borich said.
Find a Bank That Works With Account Aggregation Services
Select a bank that permits outside account aggregation services to access your bank account information. These types of services use software to gather account information from any online financial portal where you have an account.
The service then delivers the information to third-party accounting systems — in this case, your bank, said Steven Fox, founder and CEO of Next Gen Financial Planning, a fee-only financial planning firm in San Diego.
Choosing a bank that allows outside account aggregation is important because it allows you to use a wider variety of personal finance tools than what the bank might offer on its own, Fox said.
Budgeting software, tax preparation software and financial planning software are more effective, efficient and accurate when data is imported and updated automatically, he said. "Aggregation can also remove the need to log in to multiple places to review your account transactions or your investments," Fox said.
To find out whether a bank allows external tools to access account information, ask someone at the bank directly or search through the list of financial institutions supported by the tool you're using, such as Mint or Personal Capital. "Most large institutions, and a growing number of small ones, allow account aggregation," Fox said.
Consider the Leap to an Online Bank
You might think you need a traditional brick-and-mortar bank, but don't overlook the benefits of other options. Online-only banks don't have the overhead that brick-and-mortar banks do, so you can typically find the best interest rates available by considering online institutions. And don't worry about customer service. For example, online bank Ally Bank provides live customer support for customers 24/7.
"What online banks might lack in ATM access — compared to traditional banks — they make up in big savings for their customers," said Michael Banks, founder of The Fortunate Investor, an investing and personal finance website.
He noted that many internet banks offer around 1 percent interest on a money market or savings account. That compares to 0.01 percent to 0.05 percent from the major banks, he said. "Consider your banking goals and find a bank that aligns with your current and long-term financial needs," Banks said.
Find a Bank That Cares About Customer Service
Customer service is a major consideration when choosing a bank. In fact, the recent Wells Fargo scandal — in which bank employees opened accounts in customers' names without getting proper authorization — means 2017 is likely to be the year when consumers "become truly discerning in how they choose their financial institution," said David Mooney, president and CEO of Alliant Credit Union.
"I encourage consumers to evaluate a financial institution based on their rates, fees and their ethical treatment of customers, which all serve to protect and enhance one's finances," Mooney said.
Look for Knowledgeable Loan Officers
Make sure your bank has knowledgeable, accessible loan officers, Borich said. "Dealing with someone who knows his bank and what it can do is key," she said. Ask questions, and expect answers: "If a bank or loan originator cannot answer your questions or is not willing to find out the answer, then that is not someone you want to deal with," Borich said.
In fact, a poor initial response to your questions and requests can be an indicator that it's time to look for another bank. "Your best bet is to find a bank with employees who want to work with you," Borich said. "Because if you're not getting a response in the beginning, it could be a sign of how things will go throughout the whole process."
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