Seniors playing dominos
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Seniors don’t represent a niche in the banking market, they are the market.

Three-in-five depositors were born before 1964, according to a recent report by the American Bankers’ Association Foundation, which accounts for 70 percent of bank balances. Millennials, the nation’s largest generation with a similar population to France, only account for one out of every 11 dollars in checking and savings accounts.

That’s why you see banks promote products that they believe will match seniors’ needs. This marketing should be seen for what it is, since the products may lead to higher fees or worse terms.

A senior ticket can save you money your local theater. The calculus isn’t as straightforward for senior checking accounts.

Getting what you want

Before you can decide which checking account is best, figure out what you want. Do you need to visit a physical branch? Do you write a lot of checks? Do you receive a chunk of cash every month, from your job or Social Security?

While the momentum to digitize most of what we consider banking—from depositing checks to repaying your friends—can be done with the lightweight computer in your pocket, many Americans, especially those with a few gray hairs, want to stay mostly in the bricks-and-mortar world.

For instance, 45 percent of Americans visited a bank branch in the past month, according to a 2015 Bankrate survey, and nearly six-in-ten did so in the past half year.

The more money you made, the more likely you were to seek out human help, and older Americans make much more than younger ones.

Demand for in-person help spikes, according to Dan Geller, Ph.D., behavioral finance scientist at Analyticom, a behavioral economics and finance firm, when something goes wrong. An important consideration given that 5 percent of seniors are the victims of elder financial fraud.

“When the level of financial anxiety increases, people tend to make more instinctive financial decisions, rather than analytical,” says Geller. “This, for many people, means to physically be in the place where the money is. It gives them comfort seeing the place.”

Seniors also like the comfort of their checkbooks, and are the most immune to peer-to-peer payments, according to a recent Bank of America survey. Only 20 percent of baby boomers, and 10 percent of their parents, used one such service in 2017. (Although half of boomers, and a quarter of seniors, plan on doing so this year.)

Getting what you need

If you’re a typical senior, you want a brick-and-mortar location to visit just in case of emergency, access to checks, and a low requirement amount that you need to keep in your account to avoid a maintenance fee.

You probably don’t have to worry about other goodies or handouts banks may offer to gain your business. Discounted safe deposit boxes, movie tickets, or free cashier’s checks shouldn’t lead you to an otherwise uncompetitive account. Avoid interest considerations, too, since you should park the money you don’t need in a savings account.

Action plan

Let’s look at one popular offering from TD Bank, the TD Plus 60, and compare it to a similar account, the TD Convenience Checking. (The age eligibility of senior accounts varies by financial institution, but generally run 55 and above.)

You’ll have a harder time avoiding the monthly maintenance fee with the senior account (a minimum daily balance of $250 vs. $100), but the actual charge is higher with the traditional account ($15 vs. $10).

You receive free checks with the senior account, while the traditional one charges a fee. The senior account also comes with free money orders and official bank checks, which you’d likely use infrequently.

If you know you’re going to keep at least $250 in your account, you’re probably better off with the senior account. You’ll have free checks, and the maintenance fee is lower.

Of course, you might want to bank with another institution.

Pick one that has nearby branches, and compare the senior product to the traditional account it most closely resembles. Determine which features you’re actually going to use, and pay close attention to fees.