It is surprising how many people will put their money in just any bank. All banks are not created equal, and let’s just say that some have proven more solvent than others. Besides FDIC insurance, what other characteristics should you seek – and what questions should you consider?
How close is this bank? Is there a branch near where you live and close to where you work? How is the online banking setup? (Yes, you should value convenience, but it shouldn’t be the only factor in mind as you choose a bank.)
How cheap is it to bank there?
You’ve heard of overdraft fees and ATM fees. But how about wire fees, notary fees, and fees on cashier’s checks and money orders? Returned-deposit fees? Stop-payment fees? Fees to check your balance? Fees to talk to a teller? (No kidding, some banks do charge for that.) Is it bad taste to ask a bank to detail its potential fees? No, it’s smart. Some banks offer you a free checking or savings account and a whole lot of potential charges besides. Some have plans that cover a whole range of services, plans that could save you some money.
What else can this bank do for me? Can the bank provide your business with credit card processing? Will your checking account give you any interest? What kind of CDs does the bank offer? How about mortgage and loan types? Could you send money overseas via this bank? Do they do any trust planning?
How friendly is this bank?
When you walk into the bank, what’s the reception? Do people greet you and ask how they may help you? Or are you ignored for a prolonged period? What happens may hint at the level of service coming your way.
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Ask to see a bank officer, if possible. Set down a list of what you want, and see how close your potential new bank comes to providing it. Don’t be afraid to make the bank work for your business – they are working hard than ever for it.
What can you do to make a banking relationship better for you?
If you bring major amounts of cash to a bank, of course you’re going to be treated as a VIP. If you don’t, it may help you to establish a relationship or two. So often, we go to a bank and we look at the tellers – and even the loan officers and mortgage consultants – as mere functionaries instead of human beings.
If you have a lousy experience at the bank or you get dinged with some weird fee all of a sudden, ask someone why – maybe the customer service staff can address the matter and work out a solution. Make yourself known – a good way to do that is to bank when it isn’t “rush hour”. A friendly, recognizable customer who wants the best from his banking relationship can turn into a valued banking client.
Would it be better to bank online?
How often do you need to go inside your bank? If you really don’t require much in the way of in-person services, maybe an online bank is a better option – after all, why should you pay to support your bank’s branches if you never set foot in them? I've even noticed that sometimes online bank have the highest savings account rates. Be sure to shop around and make sure to do some background on the bank itself.
Thinking small may help.
People were leery of small banks in this last economic downturn, but the customer service can be considerably better at such institutions. When a community bank is bought by a bigger one, bigger does not necessarily mean better in terms of attention.