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10 Essential Banking Terms You Need to Know

Sept. 25, 2018
Banking, Banking Basics
People waiting in line at an ATM
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Understanding basic banking and finance — and the terminology people use to talk about them — can make a big difference in your bank balance.

Here are 10 banking terms you should know to manage your money better.

» Skip ahead to compare three of NerdWallet’s favorite banks

1. Routing number

A nine-digit number that identifies your financial institution. Larger banks may have multiple routing numbers that are based on the geographic location where the account was opened.


The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. A government-run organization that insures customers’ bank deposits up to $250,000 if the bank fails. The National Credit Union Administration is the equivalent for credit unions.

3. Certificate of deposit

Commonly known as a CD, an account into which you deposit a sum of money and agree to keep it there for a specified length of time. The account typically pays higher interest rates than standard savings and checking accounts.

» Check out this month’s best CD rates

4. APY

Annual percentage yield. The amount of interest you gain from keeping money in an account in a year, including compound interest. (Want additional details? Read more about APY.)

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5. APR

Annual percentage rate. The amount of interest you gain from keeping money in an account in a year, not including compound interest.

6. Compound interest

Interest that applies to the original deposit as well as any newly earned interest. For example, if you put $100 in an account that earns compound interest at 5% a year, in the next year you will earn 5% on $105. Noncompounding interest would continue to earn 5% on $100.

» See how your savings could pile up with our compound interest calculator

7. Savings account

Typically, an interest-bearing account used to hold money for short- or long-term goals or emergencies. You can add to this account at any time, but certain types of withdrawals may be limited to six per month.

» Want to earn the highest rates? Check out NerdWallet’s best high-yield online savings accounts

There’s a wide range of interest rates available for savings accounts, and online banks tend to have higher rates than national banks, as seen on this chart:

at CIT Bank
Member, FDIC

at Synchrony
Member, FDIC

Learn more
at Chase
Member, FDIC



Monthly fee


Minimum opening deposit




Monthly fee


Minimum opening deposit




Monthly fee


Minimum opening deposit


Compare high-yield savings accounts
*Effective 6/14/19; rates are variable and subject to change

8. Returned item fee

A bounced-check fee charged to the person trying to deposit the check. It can be charged if there are insufficient funds in the check writer’s account or if the account is closed.

9. Overdraft fee

A fee incurred when your checking account doesn’t have enough funds to cover a payment that is requested. The financial institution will pay what your account lacks, after which your account may have a negative balance.

» Learn how much your bank will charge you for an overdraft

10. Checking account

An account at a financial institution into which you can deposit money and from which you can write checks for purchases. Most people use checking accounts to receive their wages and pay their bills.

» Level up your day-to-day banking with our best checking accounts

Financial institutions may be awash in jargon, but this glossary of banking terms should help you understand even the most confusing of concepts.

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