checking

Bankrate.com's checking account survey

Too often people open a checking account with a particular bank simply because of convenience -- the bank is near their home or work. But convenience is just one factor to consider when opening an account that you may end up having for years. We can help you make a smarter decision. By considering fees and minimum balances you'll find an account that's thrifty, one that can save you hundreds, in some cases thousands, of dollars over time. You may find that it's worthwhile to go a little bit out of your way for such an account.

Bankrate.com maintains and routinely updates a database of checking account pricing information from the largest banks and thrifts in the top 25 metropolitan areas of the country. In other words, we look at what it costs the consumer to maintain a particular checking account. The database contains information on nearly 500 accounts at so-called brick-and-mortar institutions, as well as more than two dozen online checking accounts.

How to use the information

From the Bankrate home page, click on "Compare rates" and then on " Checking & Savings." From there select "Checking Accounts," and choose "traditional." Let's select Indiana and then Indianapolis. Now we're given the option of "interest checking" or "noninterest checking." Select interest checking.

The first column on the data chart is the name of the institution. Some institutions provide a link in this column to their respective Web sites. Some entries may list "notes." Click on that and you'll find bits of information, such as "No ATMs."

The second column is the date of the latest survey by Bankrate. All fee and balance information is current as of that date.

The "APY" column refers to the annual percentage yield, which is the total interest you'll receive provided you leave the money in the account for a full year. The yields vary widely. Some accounts pay just 0.25 percent, while another may pay more than 3 percent. The high-yielding accounts are most likely to be high-yield savings accounts.

Next is "Minimum balance to open an account." In a noninterest checking account, the minimum balance to open an account is just that. In an interest-bearing account, it's the minimum balance necessary to open an account and earn interest. Some banks might let you open an account with $100, but they don't pay interest unless you have $1,000. This is the only difference in the data charts between interest-bearing accounts and noninterest accounts.

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