Choosing the right checking account

Once you're up to speed on checking account basics, zero in on the right type of account. It might help to ask yourself certain questions, such as:

  • Do I want to walk into a branch for service or do I prefer to handle my checking account and bill paying online?
  • Do I travel enough to require ATMs spread across the state or several states?
  • Will I actively manage my account?
  • Do I want to have my paycheck deposited directly into the checking account?

"Keep in mind how you tend to manage your money," Barnhart says.

For example, people who are less organized might place a higher premium on overdraft protection.

"If you are in danger of overdrafting your account on a consistent basis, it's smart to consider an account that offers overdraft protection options," Barnhart says.

Getting free services

Once you've found a bank with the right checking account options, determine how much the bank will charge you for the account you want.

Your goal should be to try to get the checking account free of monthly maintenance fees and surcharges. The banking climate is extremely competitive, and that can work in your favor, Isler says.

There are many ways to nab a free account. One common way to get a free checking account is to have your paycheck directly deposited into the account.

Customers who sign up for direct deposit signal that they intend to become a loyal customer with consistent deposits and several monthly bill-pay transactions, Isler says.

Other ways to secure free checking include agreeing to keep a minimum balance in the account, or agreeing to open a companion savings account, money market account or a certificate of deposit at the same bank.

"If you have enough money on deposit in the bank, you can probably have a free checking account at many banks," Isler says.

From the customer's perspective, Pinney says it all comes down to: "How much are you willing to pay for the ability to write checks and access your money?"

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