checking

Choosing the right checking account

a pen and a check
Highlights
  • Many banks offer an array of checking account options.
  • Knowing your spending habits can help you zero in on the best choices.
  • Many accounts are free for customers who agree to specific terms.

Want to open a checking account? There is a dizzying array of options from which to choose.

Sorting through bank and checking account options can be daunting and confusing. Some accounts charge monthly maintenance fees, while others limit check writing. One account may offer free overdraft protection, while another dangles the promise of free checks.

When choosing a checking account, consider your banking habits and preferences and try to match them with an account's features, financial experts say.

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"Keep in mind how you tend to manage your money," says Todd Barnhart, senior vice president of retail banking at Pittsburgh-based PNC Financial Services Group, operator of PNC Bank.

Selecting a bank

Before choosing a specific type of checking account, you'll need to select a bank. It's important to think about your lifestyle when making this choice.

For example, Adam Isler, client services director with PNT Marketing Services in New York, says convenience of access to the bank's branches or ATMs is an important feature to consider.

If you travel frequently outside your hometown for work or leisure, it may be essential to open a checking account at a bank with an extensive ATM network you can tap both within and outside your hometown.

Mike McGervey, a Certified Financial Planner and president of McGervey Wealth Management in Canton, Ohio, says it could be valuable to have your checking account with a bank that has ATM partnerships with retailers or gas stations. This will give you more places to make no-fee withdrawals.

"Little things like that can go a long way, whether you have much money or not," say McGervey.

Choosing an account

Once you've narrowed your options down to a few banks, consider the checking account options these prospective banks offer. Match the account options against a list of features most important to you.

This process may be especially daunting for some customers. A surprising percentage of people lack basic skills to maintain a checking account, says Ryan Pinney, a Chartered Senior Financial Planner in Roseville, Calif., with Pinney Insurance, a financial services and insurance brokerage.

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As part of the FDIC's "Money Smart" national financial education program, Pinney teaches adults and high school youths how to pick a checking account and properly manage it.

"You have to understand how to balance a checking ledger," Pinney says. "You have to know how much is going in and coming out so you don't bounce a check."

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