Where should you put your money? There are several options to choose from. Banks or credit unions, online or on-site, checking or savings or both, where you decide to stash your cash depends on what factors are most important to you.
A national or regional bank is usually a for-profit institution with physical, brick-and-mortar branch offices. The pros: Large banks offer a variety of services, and most have online and mobile banking as well as bill paying features, in addition to a debit card and access to an ATM network. You can set alerts to be notified when a deposit clears the account, or if your balance drops below a certain amount. Many banks also provide notary services for their customers at no charge. The cons: Most banks charge fees for their services, including maintaining your account, and require you to keep a minimum balance to avoid being charged the monthly maintenance fee. You also want to make sure that ATMs within the bank’s network are in locations that are convenient for you.
Credit unions are nonprofit financial institutions that are owned by their members, and serve members of a community (such as the military or people who work for a university) or a specific geographic area. The pros: Credit unions typically have better customer service, higher interest rates, and lower fees, since they exist to serve their members. They may also be more willing to make a loan to those with less-than- stellar credit scores. The cons: Credit unions may offer fewer services, have limited online banking options, and have comparatively few locations, reducing their convenience.
Online banks have grown in popularity, in no small part because they usually offer the highest interest rates. They have no physical locations and provide all services through a web portal. The pros: Better rates for deposits and lower fees for most services, plus 24/7 access. The cons: Potentially higher ATM fees, since these banks do not have their own networks. However, some online banks will reimburse ATM fees, although the amount may be limited.
Types of Accounts
A checking account is where you’ll stash the money you use to pay your monthly expenses. Have your employer set up a direct deposit to save the hassle of physically making a deposit. Most institutions will also give you an optional debit card for everyday expenses. Be sure to keep a minimum balance in the account to avoid any maintenance fees.
A savings account is a good way to keep the money you want to hold on to—for your emergency fund, holiday shopping, a vacation or down payment, or other long-term expenses—separate from the money you’ll use for monthly expenses. While some people can keep money for everything in a checking account without spending the money they’re trying to save, many people find it psychologically easier to avoid spending by keeping that money in a separate account. Savings accounts are liquid, meaning that you can withdraw or transfer the money if you need to, while also paying more interest than a checking account. A savings account can also provide overdraft protection—some banks will automatically transfer money from your savings to your checking account if your checking account balance is insufficient to cover a withdrawal, avoiding bounced check fees.
Other things to consider
Wherever you decide to stash your cash, make sure it’s insured. Financial institutions should be backed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) or National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), so that if a bank or credit union closes or goes bankrupt, your money is guaranteed to be returned to you. Do some research to determine if the institution charges a fee for opening an account, covering an overdraft, or requires a minimum balance; these can really add up. Having a positive relationship with your bank is an important part of financial wellness.