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Choose bank account: Research

By Marcie Geffner ·
Monday, August 27, 2012
Posted: 6 am ET

Most consumers can benefit from having a bank checking account to receive income, pay bills and take care of other financial tasks.

But with so many accounts to choose from, how can you find one that meets your needs?

A good way to start is to ask yourself these six questions, suggested by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., or FDIC, a government agency that insures bank deposits so consumers can be made whole if their bank fails.

1. How do you want to make deposits? Direct deposit of your payroll, pension or Social Security payments or unemployment benefits could mean lower fees and quicker receipt of deposited funds, the FDIC says. If you prefer to deposit paper checks, consider whether you want to do that in person, electronically or by mail. If you like to make deposits at a teller's window, find out what hours the banks are open for walk-in business. And if you want to use your smartphone to make deposits, find out which banks offer this service.

2. How do you want to pay bills and make purchases? A debit card can be faster and more convenient than paper checks and also might reduce the risk of account overdrafts, the FDIC says. If you'd rather pay your bills by phone, smartphone or online, find out which banks offer these options and what fees, if any, they charge for those services.

3. How will you monitor your account? Most banks offer monthly statements and telephone and online access to account information. If you want to use a smartphone or tablet computer, find out which banks offer those features. Ask about text and email alert messages, so you can track your spending and avoid overdrafts.

4. How do you want to withdraw cash? Find out which banks have branches or fee-free ATMs close to your home, job site or other locations you frequent.

5. How do you want to add to your savings? Transferring money automatically when you get paid or at other regular intervals is the easiest way to build a rainy-day fund or achieve other savings goals, the FDIC says. Find out whether each bank offers this service.

6. How much are the fees? Find out how much you'll need to open and maintain your account. Ask about monthly fees that will be charged if you don't keep a minimum balance.

This is first of a four-part series. Next: How to decide.

Follow me on Twitter: @marciegeff

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