April 25, 2008
By: Jim Oosterman
"Which bank should I choose?" This is a commonly asked question in everyone's life at some point. To find the right bank, think about what matters most to you and your financial well-being. The first step is to take inventory of what your needs are, and then prioritize. Finally, gather information and form a list of possible financial institutions. Ultimately, you should end up with a banking relationship at an institution that is a good match for you and your needs.
Establishing and Evaluating Your Needs
What types of services do you need from your financial institution now and in the future? With regard to everyday banking, consider ATM locations and network participation, branch offices and online options for your accessibility and convenience like drive-thru windows and extended hours. ATM fees can be costly if you find yourself limited to using one that is outside of the financial institution's network. Some banks are members of a network, where you can do business at other financial institution's locations without an added fee, should you find yourself outside of your banks immediate region. Online availability of account information, bill paying options and other services may be something for you to consider. It has become standard for most banks to have websites that will allow you to conduct much of your banking safely and conveniently over the Internet. Online options can save time and hassles if you prefer the power of being able to access and check your accounts frequently and outside of standard business hours. Some banks offer online services, including online bill paying, for free!
As your life evolves, you will need a bank that will be able to support you through times of transition. Most people need assistance at some point in their life financing a home, an automobile or even an education. Consider also other special financial situations, such as home improvements or a dream vacation. Which of the financial institutions you are considering can help in those circumstances. If you would prefer to stick with one financial institution for everything, then make sure you consider all of your immediate and long-term possible scenarios prior to making a choice.
Once you have determined what your needs are, you should prioritize and then look at more than one financial institution, in order to compare what they offer. Make sure their services support what your needs are for the present and the future.
Gathering Information from Credible Sources
Consider at least a few financial institutions, but most importantly, make sure you are limiting your list to only those where your funds are fully insured. This would mean that the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) would protect your deposits for up to $100,000. Some institutions have additional deposit insurances as well, such as cooperative banks' Share Insurance Fund (SIF) or DIF (Depositors Insurance Fund).
Fortunately, if you are planning to do business within Massachusetts, you have a great resource in the state government's Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation, found online at http://db.state.ma.us/dob/banksmain2.asp. Their website offers information related to consumer checking accounts with low minimum balance requirements. This tool allows you to compare checking accounts, services and fees among small and large financial institutions that serve Massachusetts's communities.
Another convenient and reliable source for your list of candidates could be through your everyday acquaintances. Consider opinions from people whom might have similar financial situations to yours. Such people could be friends, family, and colleagues.
Making an Informed Choice!
Once you have a list of candidates then make it a point to contact a representative from each institution and be prepared to take notes. The customer service department is a great place to start. Be sure that the person you speak with is knowledgeable and makes an effort to make you feel valued for your potential business. Ask yourself whether or not they will be accountable to you when it matters most.
In the end you want to end up with a financial institution that is worthy of your patronage and your trust.