Bankrate experts: Here’s what we value most in a bank

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With so many banks to choose from, deciding which one to go with can be challenging. Do you want to be able to go to the branch in person or are you fine with banking online? Are you looking for the highest APY or all-around great service?

Once you decide what features you value most, picking a bank that’s the right fit for you becomes much easier.

To give you an idea of features to look for, we asked our team of experts what they value most in their primary bank. Here’s what the team had to say.

What we value most in a bank:

Helps solve my problems quickly

Mary Wisniewski, banking editor and fintech features reporter

Right now, I’d take any bank that could hook me up with quarters so I could do my laundry. It might sound glib, but it points to a bigger feature request I’m always after: a bank that helps solve common customer problems quickly.

Other requests: I want a bank that doesn’t make me wait on hold for hours on a 1-800 number during a crisis (personal or national) — more banks need to add text-a-banker type of functionality. Also always wanted: a mobile banking app that shows me if I’m spending more than normal, including breaking it down by categories (with visuals) and highlighting what recurring subscriptions I have. We give banks so much data. We should expect value in exchange for it that goes well beyond the basics of holding our money. Bonus points for banks that include confetti in the app for when you get cash back or achieve a savings goal.

Convenience is key

Jeff Ostrowski, senior mortgage reporter

I used to look for banks with the lowest fees and the highest rates — big banks tended to offer fewer freebies and less generous rates. Midsized banks competed with free checking or tantalizing deals on savings accounts. These days, though, the calculus has shifted. It seems most banks charge similar fees and offer nearly identical rates. So I’m more interested in convenience — a good mobile app and a robust network of ATMs and branches. I recently closed a longtime account at a small credit union because its technology had fallen way behind.

The ability to go straight to the source

Bill McGuire, senior editor

I like to bank with a company that has branches nearby. Apps are all well and good, but there’s no substitute for an in-person experience for help with an account, to deposit cash, get a cashier’s check or have a document notarized, things you can’t get online. The other plus is when you need cash, you can go to a branch and not be hit with out-of-network ATM charges. If there’s a problem with the account or a question, I want to call or visit someone at my local branch rather than an 800 number with prompts that seem to never lead you to a human.

Low or no fees are a top priority

James Royal, senior investing and wealth management reporter

I look for a range of features, but my key feature is low or no fees. The bank is usually already paying peanuts for holding my money, why should they hit me with more fees and penalties?

Customizable security features

Suzanne De Vita, mortgage editor

I’m big on security. Even if it’s overkill, I like the option of receiving an instant notification for any and every money move, whether it’s a deposit or transfer, or even a charge I made that exceeds a limit I set for myself. Most of the time these aren’t fraud alerts, but confirmation of what I already know — and the peace of mind is priceless.

A wide range of features

Greg McBride, CFA, chief financial analyst

Free checking, sufficient ATM access, mobile deposits, scheduling payments and person-to-person payments via the app are table stakes for a checking account relationship. For savings — which is often at a different bank — a competitive yield, no minimum balance requirement, no monthly fees regardless of balance, and being able to efficiently schedule transfers to and from other financial institutions are must haves. Having branch access at one or more locations comes in handy when you need a cashier’s check, certified check or signature guarantee.

A reliable mobile app

Lindsay DeMunno, social media producer

I like a bank that offers online/mobile services, low fees and high-yield options. Mobile banking is key for me since I always have my phone and can check my accounts whenever I need to. I like having the ability to deposit checks or pay my bill all with the click of a button. There’s also a huge benefit of having a feature that allows me to set a budget, track my spending and see how much money I have coming in.

A competitive rate (and an overall great experience)

Lance Davis, editorial director

If I had to pick one thing, then I want my bank to offer a competitive rate on my savings. I want to know my money is earning some interest, even if it’s not going to make me rich. If I could cheat with my answer, though, I’d say the one thing I want from a bank is an all-around great experience. If a bank offers a good-but-not-great savings yield but also offers a seamless digital experience, useful tools and great customer service, I’m going to bank there. The one thing I don’t want from a bank is it to cause me to worry about things like fees, surprise charges or other inconveniences. Make my life a little easier, help me earn some interest along the way, and I’ll be a happy customer.

A one-stop shop

Matthew Goldberg, consumer banking reporter

As the years pass, you tend to accumulate more and more financial accounts. So I value having multiple products at a single bank. This means fewer apps to log in to, fewer incoming emails and fewer passwords to remember. Odds are you’ll be with this bank that you have multiple accounts at for a long time. That long-term relationship might factor into that bank helping you out in the future. Of course, it’s almost impossible to find a single bank that will meet all of your financial needs. Plus, I like to have funds spread between at least two banks in case of an outage or other circumstances. But the goal is to find a bank where you can do a majority of your banking at, through multiple products.