MoneyThink Results 1

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Awesome! You’ve got lots of choices. Here’s how to find the best one for you:

 

  1. Fill out your info in the box below (don’t forget your zipcode!)
  2. Uncheck “Include online banks” under Institution type
  3. Check “Free accounts only” under Fees and features
  4. Find your favorite account and click “Sign Up”

 

 

Learn More —

 

 

Why is it important to have a bank account?
Banks (and credit unions, which are very similar to banks – but more on that later) offer tons of different products, features and services to their customers, but all these things can be pretty much summarized in just 3 points:

  1. A bank account keeps your money safe. The money you put in a bank is insured by the federal government for up to $250,000. That means that if the bank goes out of business, is robbed, burns down, or anything else catastrophic, then you won’t lose a single penny of your own money. That also means your money is safer than in your wallet. Just think of the ways in which you might lose your cash if it’s not in the bank:
    • Theft
    • A lost wallet
    • Washing machine (forgot to empty your pockets?)
  2. A bank account helps you save. Bank accounts provide a safe place to store your extra cash and sometimes even earn interest – so your money works for YOU! Even if it’s as little as $5 a week, a bank account helps you reach your goals, whatever they might be:
    • Buying a car
    • Going to college
    • Vacation
  3. A bank account helps pay for stuff. Bank accounts make it easier to make big purchases, or to buy things online.You can use checks, a debit card (like a credit card, but without the interest payments), or in some cases even link your bank account directly to pay a bill. There are also lots of bills that are nearly impossible to cover with cash:
    • Rent
    • Car payments
    • Doctor’s Visits

What are banks and how do they make money?
Banks are companies that offer a bunch of different financial services – that is, they’re in the business of money. To sum it up quickly, banks take the extra money that people have from a job or other sources (called deposits) and lend that money to other people, to buy a car or start a business, for example. Some do other things as well, but that’s their bread-and-butter.

That may sound a bit scarier than it really is. Just because a bank is using your money to help other people buy things doesn’t mean it won’t be available for you to withdraw when you need it. The rules and regulations that banks must follow ensure that your money will always be available when you need it (even if the bank itself isn’t doing so hot…but more on that in the next section).

Of course if banks are a business, that means they have to make money themselves, right? Well, that part can get a little complicated too (just try reading the business section of a newspaper). But again, there are mainly 2 important ways a bank makes money that impact you:

  • Interest – Remember how banks lend out money to people who need help buying big things like a house? Well they charge interest to do that, so the amount of money people end up paying back to the bank is higher than the amount that they originally borrowed. On the other side of things, banks pay interest to the people (like you) who deposit your money for them to lend out. That’s a big part of what allows a savings account to grow over time. The key here is that the interest banks charge people to borrow money is much higher than the interest they pay to people to deposit their extra money. That difference is part of how a bank makes money.
  • Fees – Besides interest, banks also use fees to make a profit or recoup some of their own costs. Fees generally penalize you for things the bank would rather not have you do, like using an ATM the bank doesn’t own or keeping a low balance in your account. We’ll cover these and other fees in a bit more detail later on.

 

What types of bank accounts are available?

Bank accounts can come in many different forms, and be called many different things, but to simplify things, we’ll take a quick look at just the most important two types.

Savings account – This is like the cheese pizza of bank accounts – it gets the job done, but without all the bells and whistles. Savings accounts are great options for your first bank account, and to start putting aside money for a future goal. Here are the basics you need to know.

  • Your money earns interest – the more money you have saved, the more you earn each month.
  • You won’t get checks or a debit card, but some offer an ATM card to make cash withdrawals.
  • Some savings accounts have a monthly fee if you drop below a minimum balance – watch out for these!

Checking account – If a savings account was a cheese pizza, then a checking account is the Meat Lover’s Supreme. Checking accounts are a must if you earn an income and have bills to pay, but even if you don’t, it’s important to understand how they work.

  • You get a debit card, and sometimes paper checks tied to the account – these are used to make payments: in a store or restaurant, for bills, to another person, etc. When you use either one of these, the bank takes that amount out of your account to give to whoever you paid.
  • Checking accounts often have a monthly fee that is waived only if you meet certain balance or activity requirements – but free accounts still exist, so look for ones with no monthly fee or at least understand how to waive it each month.

 

Where can I get a bank account?
This one seems obvious (you get a bank account at a BANK, right?) but there are actually quite a few options to consider when it comes to where to open a bank account.

  • Big banks– These are the banks you might think about first. You may have seen their commercials on TV, or noticed their ATMs on every other street corner. It’s true that these banks tend to have locations all across the country and the latest in new technology, but they can also have some major disadvantages for anyone without a really fat wallet:
    • High fees
    • Low interest rates on savings
    • Poor customer service
  • Online banks– These days, we’re used to doing many things from the comfort of your home and the convenience of your phone or computer. Well, banking could be one of those things too. In fact, some banks exist entirely online when it comes to serving their customers. This can be convenient in many cases, and usually means online banks can offer lower fees and higher interest rates on savings, but it also comes with some big disadvantages:
    • No branches to visit
    • No way to deposit cash
  • Community banks– You may not have heard of them on national TV or all over the news, but a community bank is often located just down the street from where you live. They are smaller, often with just a few branch locations, but can still offer some important advantages over other options.
    • Low fees
    • Better customer service
  • Credit unions– Despite the name, a credit union doesn’t have anything to do with a labor union, and doesn’t necessarily require getting any sort of credit (auto loan, credit card, etc.). The simplest way to put it: credit unions are like not-for-profit banks, so they tend to have the interests of their “members” (banks have customers, credit unions have members) in mind rather than shareholders. However, they still offer all of the same things a bank does:
    • Savings accounts
    • Checking accounts
    • ATMs

 

What should I look for in a bank account?
With so many different options when it comes to a bank account, it can be really confusing to figure out which one is best for you. Luckily, there are few basic rules to follow and things to consider when first searching for a new account:

  • Look for no or low fees – look for not just the amount of a monthly fee, but also how to avoid it. Some banks make it easy, but others require keeping a lot of money in the account, getting direct deposit from an employer, or opening other linked accounts.
  • Check for easy access – How easy will it be for you to get your money when you need it, or even just ask a question about your account? Your best bet is to look for a bank or credit union with a branch location near your home, and with business hours that make sense for your school or work schedule. You’ll also want to ask where the bank has ATMs available. If there aren’t many, or they’re tough to get to, you might want to try another option. When possible, you should always avoid using an ATM that doesn’t belong to your bank – otherwise you could pay up to $5 just to get your own money out!
  • Opt out of overdraft coverage – Have you’ve ever wanted to spend more money than you actually have? Well, overdrafts make that possible…but it’s not without a BIG price. If you opt into overdraft coverage with a bank or credit union, and you accidentally spend more than what’s available in your account, the bank can still send it through, but then charge you a fee of $30 or more. Suddenly that $5 snack turns into a $35 not-so-gourmet meal. Instead, you can opt-OUT of this “service” and your card will just be declined at the register – no fees. It may be a tiny bit embarrassing, but that’s nothing compared to the potential cost.