Retirement, movie theater discounts, kicking youngsters out of seats at the front of a bus — who says getting older isn’t fun? But some perks of seniority can become pains if you don’t fully understand them. For example: Say your bank offers a senior checking account. Should you get it?
The quick answer: not necessarily.
Features designed for older customers
A senior checking account is essentially a regular checking account that offers features specifically designed for older customers. Requirements and perks vary by bank, but the minimum age to qualify usually is between 50 and 65, and fee waivers and free checks tend to be the top selling points.
These accounts aren’t everywhere. Of the eight biggest retail banks in the U.S., only two offer perks for seniors. But if the senior checking option at your bank or credit union has you curious, here are some things to consider before you open an account.
Perks of a senior checking account
The features of a senior checking account vary from institution to institution, but they can include:
- Free checks
- Free paper statements
- No fees for using ATMs not affiliated with your bank
- No fees on money orders
- Higher interest rates than regular checking accounts
- Discounts on safe-deposit boxes
Banks and credit unions may offer different combinations of these features or have other perks.
Downsides of a senior checking account
Some senior checking accounts can save you money, but others can end up costing you more than a regular checking account would. Some of the most common downsides include:
- Higher monthly maintenance fees. One bank might offer a senior account with a $10 maintenance fee, while its standard checking account charges only $5. You might be able to avoid that fee if you have a minimum or average balance of $1,000, but you might end up paying double if your balance regularly dips below the threshold.
- A minimum balance to qualify for interest rates. Some banks offer dividends for balances as low as $500; others will wait until you have at least $1,500. Depending on how much you plan to keep, you might be better off stowing your money in a savings account or a certificate of deposit.
- Waivers on fees that are seldom incurred to begin with, such as sending a cashier’s check or requesting reports beyond your monthly statement, are unlikely to benefit you much.
You’ve worked for a long time and, hopefully, have saved and built a cushion. If so, you may be able to keep a higher balance in your account. But once you’ve retired, your account might run lower than it did when you were earning a paycheck. If you can’t keep above the balance requirement on a senior account, you could lose hundreds of dollars a year in fees.
Read, ask questions and thoroughly understand the fine print of any account before you sign up.
Deciding whether to get an account
So how should you determine whether a senior checking account is a good option, something worth moving your money into?
- Research and compare nearby credit unions and banks, and assess whether their perks will ultimately save you money. Keep your eyes especially peeled for minimum balance requirements and monthly fees.
- Consider if the benefits will realistically save you money. If they will, great. If they won’t really apply to you, skip it.
- Make sure to compare senior checking accounts with regular checking accounts. You may find that the latter is still the better deal. Many banks offer free checking accounts, with perks such as free checks, higher interest rates or ATM fee reimbursements.
Senior checking accounts and their features vary from bank to bank and credit union to credit union. Assess each option, read the fine print and see whether such an account makes sense for you. And if you find none of them really suits you, stick with the one you’ve got.
Amber Murakami-Fester is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: email@example.com.
Updated March 20, 2017.