4 must-have features for checking accounts

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@TatianaMara/Twenty20

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When choosing a bank, you want the best possible options for all of your accounts. Here’s a look at four must-have features when looking for a new checking account. 

1. No (or low) fees

None of us like paying fees, especially for keeping our money in a bank account. That’s why finding a checking account that doesn’t charge monthly maintenance fees is a must. 

“With interest rates so low, the most important feature when searching for a new checking account is the checking account’s fee structure,” says R.J. Weiss, a certified financial planner and founder of the blog The Ways to Wealth. 

There are plenty of traditional and online banks that don’t charge monthly fees. Discover Bank, for example, doesn’t charge a monthly fee. Ditto for Ally Bank. Other banks allow you to waive monthly fees by meeting specific criteria, like depositing your paycheck into the account each month.

Monthly maintenance fees are just the start, though. Look beyond monthly fees to determine what else the bank charges for using its checking account. Other common checking account fees include: 

  • Overdraft fee
  • Nonsufficient funds fee
  • Paper statement fee
  • Account closure fee
  • Card replacement fee 

Many of these fees are avoidable. For example, many banks let you opt out of receiving paper statements in favor of e-statements. 

“When you’re considering a new bank, it’s important to look at the fees you’ve been charged with in the past, and compare what those fees would be with your new bank,” Weiss says. “From there, look for a bank that would decrease the amount of fees you pay.” 

2. Large ATM network

Whether you bank locally or through an online bank, having access to cash when you need it is important. However, some banks charge fees if you use ATMs that aren’t affiliated with the bank. You can expect to pay two fees if you use an out-of-network ATM: a fee from your bank and a surcharge from the ATM owner.  

Fees can add up quickly if your checking account isn’t through a bank with its own ATM network. According to Bankrate’s 2020 checking account and ATM fee study, the average cost of out-of-network ATM withdrawals was $4.64. The average surcharge from an ATM owner in 2020 was $3.08, while the average bank charge was $1.56. 

If you plan to use ATMs often, find a checking account with access to a large no-fee ATM network. While online banks don’t have bank branches like traditional banks, many of them partner with larger ATM networks, like Allpoint, to provide fee-free ATM access nationwide.

3. Mobile banking apps

Having access to a local bank with in-person customer service is great. But mobile banking gives you the ability to access your checking account and perform transactions at any time from almost anywhere in the world. Many banking apps come with support features built in. 

“Every checking account needs mobile capabilities for every person,” says Walter Russell, financial planner and president of Russell and Associates. “We are living in a faster-paced world. Who really has time to stop at the bank?”

A popular feature among banking apps is mobile check deposits. Mobile deposits allow you to take a photo of a check using your phone’s camera and deposit it directly into your checking account. 

Mobile check deposit isn’t the only feature that makes mobile banking attractive. Many mobile banking apps allow customers to:

  • Manage checking and other bank accounts
  • View transaction history 
  • Transfer money electronically
  • Set up automated savings rules
  • Set travel alerts 
  • Pay bills 
  • Pay your friends back with Zelle 

Some banks even offer mobile virtual assistants to help monitor account activity and perform banking functions. Examples include Capital One 360’s Eno and Ally Bank’s Ally Assist. Virtual assistants let you text or use your voice to perform transactions or get banking questions answered. 

4. Online bill pay and transfers

Checking features like online bill pay and electronic transfers are a convenient way for customers to pay their bills or people they know while logged into their bank accounts.  

Checking accounts with a bill pay option give customers one spot online to pay all of their bills. Instead of logging into multiple vendor accounts, customers can set up payments online through their bank’s website. Online bill pay also saves you from having to write checks or pay postage. 

Many banks allow you to set up recurring payments and transfers. Some banks, like Wells Fargo, go one step further and show you all of your recurring payments in one spot online so you can stay on top of who you are paying.

Bottom line

If you’re in the market for a new checking account, do your homework on what features are included. The best checking accounts typically offer most of the features above, but it’s also important to find one that’s the right fit for you. Determine what’s important to you, and then find a checking account to match your needs. Other checking features to think about include the account’s APY, relationship benefits for having multiple accounts at the same bank and bank bonus offers.

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