How do you decide on a bank?
November 3, 2014 9:32 AM   Subscribe

Now that we're married we're finally getting around to opening joint bank accounts. I figured it would be pretty simple to just pick any random local bank and open a free checking account to pay our joint bills, but there seem to be a lot of options and it's getting overwhelming. I'm also considering moving my personal accounts if we find a particularly good bank, so maybe that's a mitigating factor?

Between the two of us, we currently have two checking accounts, two savings accounts, a mortgage, and three credit cards, all at different institutions. Now we're going to open a joint checking account (and keep our personal accounts), but I'd like to do this a little more systematically than I have in the past. (I was fresh out of college when I opened my checking account, and the decision process involved walking down the street and straight in to the first bank I ran into.)

We have a ton of options where we live, including most of the major (inter-)national bank chains, several local mutual savings banks and private banks/trust companies, and two credit unions (one available through where we live, one available through my job). How do we decide between all of these? I'd like to be able to compare which ones offer free ATM access or surcharge reimbursement, online check deposit, and other ancillary benefits; we don't care too much about interest-bearing checking accounts and we don't plan to refi the mortgage, but I'll probably be buying a car in a couple years so might want a bank that offers discounts on auto loans for existing members. We can maintain any minimum balances required to avoid monthly fees, and we can add direct deposit if we have to. It would be nice to be able to link this account to our personal accounts so we can move money in easily. We don't do in-person banking often, but would probably need to deposit checks occasionally.

How do we go about comparing all of these options? Is there anything inherently better with a credit union vs. small local bank vs. national bank? If we go with the credit union and I change jobs or we move, do we have to close those accounts? Do you have any personal experience with the local banks in the Boston area?
posted by backseatpilot to Work & Money (23 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Find a Better Bank will list a number of banks in your area, and compare their fees, features, and interest rates side by side.
posted by tckma at 9:38 AM on November 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

Is there anything inherently better with a credit union vs. small local bank vs. national bank?

Typically, CU's tend to not do the nickel-and-dime fees and penalties that banks do, though that's not a hard and fast rule. For instance, I'm going in to my CU today to tell them to stop dinging me $5/month for some identity service they've attached to all their checking accounts.

Also, I've always been able to get better loan rates through my CU than I could at a bank. Also, if you are a frequent user of ATMs, a CU may not be the best fit for you. Typically, CUs have far fewer ATMs (usually at the branches). Most of them do belong to one network or another, though.

If we go with the credit union and I change jobs or we move, do we have to close those accounts?

Nope. Once you're a member, you're always a member. Though, if you move far away, it's probably a better idea to just move your account to a CU in the area you moved to, just to be able to go in and do business, and to use an ATM without incurring a charge.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:42 AM on November 3, 2014

I had Cambridge Savings Bank when I lived in Boston and I loved them. They have good customer service, online check deposit with your phone, a good interest rate on their checking account, and reimbursement of ATM fees. I was very sad to leave them when I moved to CA.
posted by Aizkolari at 9:50 AM on November 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I like my CU just for a moral standpoint. I see no reason to give any more of my money to the 1%-ers than I have to.
posted by cjorgensen at 9:53 AM on November 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I can tell you that Wells Fargo has check deposit from the mobile app whereas Capitol One does not. The mobile app for my credit union stopped working completely and they don't seem to have the resources to fix it. These are all on Android FWIW.

Regarding transferring money, to move money between different banks I use my online-only savings account as an intermediary. Takes a few days but works fine for I think up to five transfers a month.
posted by exogenous at 9:57 AM on November 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm in the Boston area! I currently have my primary checking with Santander, because they pay me $20 a month. I'm not crazy about their service, though.

I used to have an account with Citizens, who I loved. In addition to their regular branches they also have branches in most Stop & Shops, and those are usually open relatively late (maybe not the the full supermarket hours but usually later than bankers' hours).

I also used to have an account with People's United Bank, but I don't like them very much (inconvenient, nickel-and-dimey).

Also used to bank with the Medical Area FCU, which was OK but inconvenient and there were no rewards like at the bigger (inter)national banks.

I also have a Capitol One 360 (formerly ING) account that *does* have mobile deposit through the Capitol One app. Happy with that, but there are not a lot of convenient ATMs/branches, which is why I have the Santander.
posted by mskyle at 10:01 AM on November 3, 2014

I love Chase Bank. I can pay all my bills online and I can deposit checks using an app on my phone. I have a checking account, a savings account, and a student account for my son. I can move money between the three accounts super easy and I signed up to get text messages when my accounts drop below a certain amount.

I've used a local credit union before and it was awful. The one that I used was not very professional looking and there were mistakes made. I did not keep them for long.
posted by myselfasme at 10:18 AM on November 3, 2014

I used to have an ING account, and recommended them to everyone. I was very, very skeptical when they were bought out and became Capital One 360, but I have to say I'm pleasantly surprised. All the changes they've made have been for the better, and I use them as my primary account for all sorts of bill payment and day-to-day banking.

They pay for the stamps on my mailed bills in exchange for the check float - so far, it's consistently a better deal for me. They also issue paper check books now. I don't understand how they can do both, but it works very well for me!

Capital One also offers fee-free access to the entire AllPoint ATM network, if that's a concern.

I also have a local credit union account where my paycheck goes to direct deposit (before getting sucked out to 360) and I use that for walk-in services.
posted by RedOrGreen at 10:20 AM on November 3, 2014

Adding personal experience:

I used to live in the Boston area as well. Avoid Citizen's Bank -- I couldn't stand them. They even charged me a fee to close my account when I moved to Virginia (where they have no branches). BankBoston (which became Fleet Bank) wasn't much better.

I loved my credit union -- it was my then-employer's employee credit union -- but then I moved and their branches were no longer convenient.
posted by tckma at 10:25 AM on November 3, 2014

While you're comparing, don't forget to add USAA to the list! Used to be you could only become a member if you or someone in your family had served in the military but I think they have relaxed their rules. I have just about every damn thing with USAA, including lines of credit, bank accounts, insurance policies. Their customer service is great, their phone hours are long, you can deposit from your mobile phone, and they give a (very small) rebate on ATM transactions since there is no actual physical bank to go to.
posted by lyssabee at 10:25 AM on November 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm going to assume that when you're talking about opening joint accounts at a local bank you mean checking accounts. I haven't found a bank that will offer consistently good services or rates for all of the various types (checking, saving, investment, mortgage, credit) of accounts my wife and I share, and I don't think many people will.

The assumption from your post is also that you and your partner will continue to have both personal accounts and a joint account, which is how we do it as well. However, that brings with it a few wrinkles, as some banks make it much easier to manage multiple accounts than others, and often don't advertise what abilities you will have online when using both joint and personal accounts at the same bank. I would ask the banks about:

* The ability to access both a personal checking account and the joint checking account via a single web login - and the ability for your partner to access their own personal accounts and the joint checking account via a different web login.

* The ability to transfer money from your checking account to the joint checking account (or vice versa) via the web on the same day. This comes in much more handy than you would ever believe.

* The ability to pay bills online via the same online interface through either the personal checking account or joint checking account.

* The ability to withdraw cash from (or manually deposit a check in) an ATM from either joint or personal accounts using a single card that prompts you for which account you want to perform the operation on.

In short, I've found it extraordinarily convenient having personal and joint checking at the same bank and then being able to manage all bills/checking functions/ATM functions via a single web login and ATM card, while also giving my wife and I the ability to maintain some privacy regarding our personal spending accounts (for gifts, discretionary purchases only one person will use, etc.)

I would also look for the obvious things:

* Free checking with direct deposits
* Free Visa/MC debit card
* Convenient ATM locations with no surcharges
* A small number of free ATM transactions at other banks
* Lots of people like mobile check deposit these days

Good luck!
posted by eschatfische at 10:38 AM on November 3, 2014

I picked our bank because they were the closest to our house. I'm still with them because they have free checking and good service. (SunTrust.)

I have a credit union account too, and that's where our savings account is. It's not convenient. At all. But when I worked at the phone company and they were in the lobby...they were convenient.

Ask your employers if they have a deal with a bank. Some places will offer employees free checking or other discounts.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:46 AM on November 3, 2014

I love my credit union from a philosophical perspective.
I love Chase Bank. I can pay all my bills online and I can deposit checks using an app on my phone. I have a checking account, a savings account, and a student account for my son. I can move money between the three accounts super easy and I signed up to get text messages when my accounts drop below a certain amount.
My CU does these well. Plus I have my business accounts there too.
posted by Brian Puccio at 11:06 AM on November 3, 2014

I switched from giant bank (Chase) where I felt like I got mediocre customer service and lots of security warnings that my card was compromised to a local credit union and I couldn't be happier. I get all the tech bells and whistles (great website interface, mobile interface, paying bills online, chat customer service, notifications, and mobile check deposit), plus I get to use any ATM I want and the ATM fees charged get refunded to me. They also have much better international services (fee refunds, great exchange rates without add-on fees, etc.). All my accounts are free and the loan rates are also very, very competitive.

The customer service is unparalleled and I love that the credit union is active in my community, doing good things.
posted by quince at 11:21 AM on November 3, 2014

You're aware of the major things to look out for:
  • monthly fees
  • minimum deposits
  • transactions fees
  • ease of branch/ATM access
  • direct deposit requirements
And if you're considering moving your personal accounts, you need to evaluate if your old accounts would start accumulating fees from lack of use, lack of direct deposit, etc.

I think credit unions are a great choice for most people. They generally aren't set up to make money off of fees, and generally actually put money back into your community. Credit union federations give you broader ATM/branch access that is similar to national banks.

Past that, I'd also consider some more "comfort" issues. The state of their website/online banking. Ask for personal recommendations about phone support. That sort of thing.

While it is probably easier to have all accounts at one bank, it's not a bad idea to keep a few eggs in other baskets. Of course everything under $250k is FDIC insured, but cards being compromised, IT systems going down, might be nice to have other options. You can transfer money between banks by writing yourself a check, though it might take a few days to post.
posted by fontophilic at 11:23 AM on November 3, 2014

There's one more thing you need to watch out for.

My SO and I both have individual checking at BofA. We thought it would be easiest to open a joint account at BofA. The instant money transfer, and logging in to the same interface is a good start.

But the problem is this: when I log in and go to our joint account, 1) I cannot see outgoing payments he's set up; and worse, 2) we do not have joint payees. As nonsensical as that sounds, it is true: I cannot see the payee accounts he set up from the joint account. I cannot click "pay the mortgage". So I had to set up my "own" version of duplicate payees from that account.

Together, these two really greatly reduce the utility of the joint account.

I'm not sure how you'd ask about this from the outset, because I'm sure they'd just say "it's a joint account! Of course you both have access to it!" and while we do both have access to the same pool of money, the left hand can't see what the right hand is doing. We'll probably end up closing it soon, and just going with a joint credit card for expenses.
posted by Dashy at 11:52 AM on November 3, 2014

Used to be you could only become a member if you or someone in your family had served in the military but I think they have relaxed their rules.

Anyone can open a bank account with USAA. They still have some restrictions on the insurance side of the house. I use them and they are very good; no-fee checking, online bill pay, well-designed website, connectivity with Quicken, mobile app with photo check deposit capabilities, and they reimburse ATM fees up to $3 per transaction and $10/month.

A credit union may still be preferable for practical or philosophical reasons (although USAA is not really profit-driven in the aggressive out-to-screw-you way of the major banks; they are basically a mutual company) but I'd certainly recommend considering them.

The only thing they don't get you is a local branch, unless you happen to live near their headquarters in Texas or one of their "financial centers". But rarely have I missed that.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:31 PM on November 3, 2014

I chose my bank based on the following criteria, in order:

1. Moral warm-fuzzies. My credit union offers financial literacy workshops (and if you go you can earn points to knock off your interest rate on loans!), 0% loans to buy a bike or get a CSA, and they do manual underwriting so if you have an unusual credit history you can still get a loan. Some of the smaller local banks do these things, but none of them are cooperatives, and I like to support cooperatives from a theoretical standpoint. I would not do business with any institution that was implicated in predatory lending or redlining mortgages, even if it wasn't in my state.

2. Competitive interest rates. All else being equal (it isn't--see #1 above) then the bank with the better rates wins.

3. Location of ATMs, mobile banking, etc. This is pretty low down my priority list but it is a factor.

4. Service. Obviously you can't assess this until you're a customer, but I would switch banks pretty quickly if the customer service reps were rude or they consistently messed up transactions.

I imagine these are the criteria that everyone uses, they just prioritize them differently sometimes.
posted by epanalepsis at 1:40 PM on November 3, 2014

I really vote for USAA. I had both Citizens (which over the years ate a series of previous banks I used) and Bank of America (again, ate some of my previous banks, including Fleet) and they were just... annoying. Yeah, lots of branches (but how often do you need a branch?) and lots of ATMs, but their service is crap, they don't give a shit about you, they got me with all sorts of fees and stuff... ugh.

USAA, on the other hand, has been a pleasure to bank with, and they reimburse up to $10 in ATM fees each month so you can just go wherever and get your money out. If you get their credit card, you can deposit checks from your phone. Their customer service is fantastic. My joint accounts with my husband are straightforward. I'd really look into them if I were you. (And congrats, by the way!)
posted by olinerd at 1:53 PM on November 3, 2014

Regarding USAA, no not anyone can open a bank account with them. That used to be the case, but over a year ago they changed their policy are no longer allowing non-military/affiliated to open a bank account with them. I know this because I opened an account with them back when they were allowing this, and my account is still open to this day because I already had my account open. If I were to close my account, I would not be able to re-join them as a customer.
posted by signondiego at 3:19 PM on November 3, 2014

Credit Union for the win.
posted by tacodave at 4:26 PM on November 3, 2014

Nthing USAA if you can qualify. My dad was a Navy ROTC, put in the minimum years to complete his ROTC commitment, and then never did anything military again. That was enough to qualify me and my husband. It is definitely worth looking into.

Moving money within USAA and from USAA to other banks is painless and fast. Online services are great, and the mobile app is good as well.

I have had my debit card hacked twice in the past year, and they spotted the problem before I did, called me to let me know and help me get my card canceled, overnighted a new card to me, and immediately put the stolen money back in my account.

I also have a mortgage with a local credit union, and that has been good as well. I avoid the big banks entirely.
posted by jeoc at 5:24 PM on November 3, 2014

The thing that drive me crazy about local banks is that they never seem to stay local. That Peoples United account I used to have... I only had it because they bought my previous (local) bank. Peoples United is only regional and could yet merge with something else. One of the things I like about banking with the big national banks because you at least know what you're getting.

One thing I liked about Citizens specifically was that they didn't force me to get a Visa/MC-branded debit card. After having my debit card compromised a few years ago I strongly, strongly prefer to have a PIN-only debit card, and a lot of banks require you to have the Visa/MC kind to quailfy for free checking.

Reading over your question again, though, I think you should probably just get a Capital One 360 account, they're super easy to use in concert with other checking/savings accounts.
posted by mskyle at 6:36 AM on November 4, 2014

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