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How to Choose a Bank

Banking, Banking Basics
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The options are endless when it comes to financial institutions and the variety of products and services that they offer. So how do you choose among national banks, credit unions, community banks and digital-only banks

You have to consider the services and features that you value. Here are some important items to add to your checklist when you choose a bank.

Types of accounts offered

Some people prefer to keep all their accounts — checking, savings, money market, certificates of deposit, credit cards, loans and other products — at a single bank. Others spread out their money to get the best deal on rates and fees.

There’s no limit on the number of accounts you can have at different banks or credit unions, so feel free to personalize your finances according to your needs.

Where to look: A big national bank is more apt to have a full suite of accounts, but the ability to mix and match products across institutions is greater than ever.

Fees and rates

An institution might charge fees for monthly maintenance, ATM use, overdrafts, transferring money between accounts and sending you paper statements — the list can be long at some places.

If you’re looking for a one-stop shop, find out the interest rates you would pay on credit cards and loans and the rates you would earn on deposit accounts. An annual percentage yield of 1% for a savings account may not seem like much, but it’s one of the better rates available. Banks and credit unions publish their rates and fee schedules on their websites. If you can’t find them, ask.

Where to look: Credit unions, as not-for-profit, member-owned institutions, tend to have higher APYs on deposit accounts and lower fees than traditional banks. Online-only banks often have even better terms because they don’t have the cost of keeping physical branches.

» MORE: NerdWallet’s best high-yield savings accounts

ATMs and branches

Think about your lifestyle and your preferences in conducting your financial business. Do you want to talk with a person face to face, or are you more comfortable on the computer or by phone? Do you travel a lot and need to be able to withdraw cash wherever you are? After determining your needs, look at the number and location of ATMs and branches that an institution offers. If your transactions are strictly digital and you rarely use cash, consider an online or mobile-only bank.

Where to look: National banks have more branches and ATMs across the country. Credit unions that are part of networks such as Allpoint and Star have the greatest ATM coverage.

» MORE: NerdWallet’s best free checking accounts 

Must-have technology

Does your bank account need a boost? Good technology can help you stay on track with your money. If you don’t want to step into a branch, you’ll need a bank with a mobile app that offers remote check deposits. Determining must-have features — such as the ability to transfer money easily to friends or loved ones, budgeting tools, automated savings plans or security measures — can help you narrow down the list of suitable institutions.

Where to look: Some credit unions and community banks may offer basic versions of some of these features. If you want the latest technology though, pick a national bank, online-only bank or mobile-only bank.

» MORE: Pros and cons of online-only banking

Your money’s safety

You have insurance to protect your health, your car, your home — and you should have insurance for your cash, too. Look for banks whose deposits are backed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. or credit unions whose deposits are secured by the National Credit Union Administration. Both federal agencies insure balances of up to $250,000 if the bank or credit union fails.

Where to look: Most banks or credit unions are insured. You can check the websites of the FDIC or NCUA to see if your institution is covered.

Next steps

Choosing the right bank is a personal decision, and it won’t be the only one that you have to make. Once you pick a bank, you have to choose the accounts to go with it.

Decide on what matters to you and examine your options. If you do business elsewhere, you can switch banks. Browse the bank or credit union website, visit a branch and ask family or friends for recommendations to help narrow your choices.

Melissa Lambarena is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: mlambarena@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @LissaLambarena.

Updated March 1, 2017.