Always looking for a better bank...
January 15, 2008 12:50 PM   Subscribe

I used to consider Commerce the 'poor man's bank' because virtually everything was free. Not so anymore, since I just noticed I'm paying $15/month for a checking account. So, hive mind, where am I opening my new checking account? Requirements within...

The reason I am paying a monthly fee for my Commerce account these days is because it often dips below the minimum of $100, and apparently they don't offer 'totally free checking' anymore like they used to. Although I am not a student right now, I live paycheck to paycheck, and sometimes I only have 50 cents in my account. I need this to not be a problem. I am somewhat charmed by Washington Mutual, because there is no minimum for free checking - however, I hear they charge an extra $2 when you use non-wamu ATMs, on top of the ATM fee. That is ridiculous...

To reiterate, what I need is:
No monthly fee, no minimum balance
No extra charges on top of regular ATM fees
Online banking
ATMs/branches in NYC

Is there hope here??
posted by infinityjinx to Work & Money (34 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: As an aside, does anyone know of a way to convince Commerce Bank to *not* charge me a monthly fee with no minimum balance, as per when I first opened my account there several years ago?
posted by infinityjinx at 12:52 PM on January 15, 2008

Have you checked into a credit union? I'm in Boston, so I can't be of specific help, but I don't get hit with ATM fees when I use other credit union ATMs, nor do I have fees for withdrawing money at point of sale. I pay $5 a month and don't have a minimum balance.
posted by jerseygirl at 12:54 PM on January 15, 2008

Bank of America is running a promotion where they're waiving all minimum balance requirements for checking accounts opened online (normally, you need a certain minimum balance OR DD set up to the account). They also meet the rest of your requirements, AFAIK.
posted by phoenixy at 12:55 PM on January 15, 2008

Nearly every bank will ding you for using someone else's ATMs. (Not all! Just... most.)

I've got PNC, where I have totally free checking, no minimum balance, and rather good online banking. Dunno how their NYC coverage is, though - and of course, they ding me for using another bank's machine.
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:56 PM on January 15, 2008

I've been using Bank of America for a while now -- if you get direct deposit, there are no fees (5.95/mo if you don't). However, I'm in the process of switching to Schwab's new high-yield checking account...there are no fees, they refund ATM fees (since they don't own any), your account accrues interest (at a decent rate, too), and there is no minimum balance. It was a little complicated to set up, but I'm looking forward to using it.

But I can say that I had a pretty good relationship with BOA, if that's easier for you (and you're nervous about a weird investor bank).
posted by General Malaise at 12:56 PM on January 15, 2008

check out ING Direct's Electric Orange account - the only drawback is that you have to mail in your checks, but you get ~3% interest, free in-network ATMs, online bill-pay and e-checks, and they'll even mail out checks for you if you need to provide a paper check. It's pretty great.
posted by JRGould at 12:58 PM on January 15, 2008

The Bank Deals blog has good info on different accounts, with a focus on online ones. You can definitely find several that fit your requirements there, and then some. For example, many of the accounts will actually refund the ATM fees charged by other banks.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:03 PM on January 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Ditto checking out the local credit union. Mine has no minimums for checking nor charges.

If you local credit union is a member of Credit Union Service Centers you can use any of the member ATMs or go into the lobby to transact stuff in member credit unions across the country without any extra fees.
posted by asterisk at 1:03 PM on January 15, 2008

Electric Orange's ATM network is Allpoint, so you can check for a nearby ATM before you start an account.
posted by mkb at 1:06 PM on January 15, 2008

As an aside, does anyone know of a way to convince Commerce Bank to *not* charge me a monthly fee with no minimum balance, as per when I first opened my account there several years ago?

Well, one thing I noticed was that all the paperwork I received about this change was regarding the "average daily balance", not daily balance. So if your "average daily balance" is $100 or more, call them and ask for the fee back, since the terms they're using are misleading.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:07 PM on January 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

A credit union is probably a good idea, but I've been really happy with WaMu. They actually changed their policy; they now refund you their 'non-WaMu ATM transaction fee' at the end of each month. Since you keep a low balance, this might kind of suck, but, on the other hand, you'd get a little cash infusion at the end of each month.

It kind of depends where you live. I'm in a major city where WaMu has moved aggressively, so there are always ATMs around.

I will say that their customer service is the best I've ever experienced at a bank. And their online banking is easy and well-designed.
posted by maryn at 1:12 PM on January 15, 2008

TD Banknorth rebates ATM fees, and has free, really free checking. Their web site sucks, the online billpay sucks (slow, slow, slow, and it is impossible to recall a payment) but it's free. And it's a brick and mortar bank, with safety deposit boxes and bank checks and whatnot. The people at my local branch are nice, and they're who I deal with if I have problems with my account.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 1:17 PM on January 15, 2008

I have PNC as well, and I love it. I have an account with them where I not only pay no fees for using another bank's (or convenience store's, or bar's) ATMs, if the stranger's ATM charges me a fee for being out of network, PNC refunds that fee. So I use a random ATM at the coffee shop and pay no ATM fee to PNC, plus receive a $2 credit from PNC as a refund for the fee the coffee shop's ATM charged me.

If I recall correctly, in order to qualify for that account, I have to have my paycheck direct deposited into my account and pay at least one bill online per month. I have my cable bill set on auto-pay, and I've never paid a fee of any kind to my bank. I love PNC!
posted by decathecting at 1:24 PM on January 15, 2008

I use two banks. Wachovia and ING direct. Wachoiva was really my student checking account that was my first. I've had Wachovia for a while and ING 1 year. I only still have Wachovia because I use thier ATMs. I also have an ING account because they pay out some interest when the money is just sitting in there between bills. This also helps me budget my money since it's directly deposited into two different accounts and they are linked together.

I pay all my bills online through ING without complaint. I have the option of using their atms as well, which I have never had to use. They are ususally the ones you would see in a drugstore.

Wachovia has had ups and downs, (mostly me going under 0) but I think since I have been a customer for so long now, they go out of thier way to please me which I appreciate. I've been told to switch to Bank of America if they change.

The misc ATM fees do occur with both banks if you don't use theirs. But no minimums.
posted by thetenthstory at 1:30 PM on January 15, 2008

I don't understand the love for INGDirect. You still need a checking account somewhere else in order to have an account with them, unless I really don't understand what I'm reading at their site and in the documents they sent me when they (badly) took over my NetBank account.

Wachovia should have something for you. Avoid ATM fees by getting cash back at the grocery store.

(On preview, mix and match this comment with thetenthstory.)
posted by sageleaf at 1:31 PM on January 15, 2008

WAMU does not have an ATM fee, either from their ATM or foreign ATMs.

They have other problems, but that isn't one of them.
posted by madajb at 1:40 PM on January 15, 2008

Sorry to hear about your Commerce experience, especially because I have yet to find a better banking experience. Mind you, I've been banking with them since they were a small, 5 branch bank in South Jersey in the early 80s.

As for the ATM fees, seconding sageleaf's suggestion that you just get cash back when buying groceries. That works regardless of which bank you use.

posted by JaredSeth at 1:41 PM on January 15, 2008

If I recall correctly, in order to qualify for that account, I have to have my paycheck direct deposited into my account and pay at least one bill online per month. I have my cable bill set on auto-pay, and I've never paid a fee of any kind to my bank. I love PNC!

I believe that the PNC no-fee ATM stuff is only good in the DC area. (At least, that's what I was told at the bank last week.)
posted by inigo2 at 1:41 PM on January 15, 2008

Credit unions are in business to make money for their members (read: you). Banks are in business to make money for banks. Do what you will with your cash, but I've been using my credit union since 1992 and am constantly amazed at the bank commercials touting brand-new "free" services that my CU has provided gratis for years.
posted by caution live frogs at 2:32 PM on January 15, 2008

Wamu will be Chase by summer.
posted by wfc123 at 2:50 PM on January 15, 2008

I've been banking with Commerce for almost 10 years and I am leaving because they will not refund the $15 to me, even though I did have over $100 in the account. Their stupid online support kept telling me I needed to go into the branch even though I live 3000 miles away from the nearest branch. They didn't even notify me about this new fee, just went ahead and took it out of my account. I now bank with .
posted by astruc at 2:57 PM on January 15, 2008

Inigo2, the PNC no-fee ATM stuff is also good in the Philadelphia/South Jersey shore area as well. According to their Web site you get it with a $2,000 average monthly balance.
posted by Airhen at 3:11 PM on January 15, 2008

I have a Chase checking account.

No minimums (heck, I once went -$8 due to the account fees during a particularly lean period ), and for my account level, it's $6 a month.

It would be free if I had Direct Deposit set up, but I do not currently. If you could have your paychecks set up that way, it would make the account free.

However any digital deposit seems to waive that fee - it's happened twice to me when moving eBay sales money from PayPal into my bank account.

I've stuck with them for ten years now in part because they have so many branches (and they have ATMs in Duane Reade stores!) that I think I've paid ATM fees only once or twice in emergencies.

Their online banking is thorough and convenient. Been using it for about 8 years.
posted by cmgonzalez at 3:51 PM on January 15, 2008

I know that a lot of people love their credit unions, but I closed my credit union account last year over a dispute over hundreds of dollars in "returned mail fees." They kept sending mail to an old address, which kept getting returned, and every time it happened, they would charge me a $5 fee. Nonrefundable. As far as I knew, the account was dormant, and since I wasn't receiving mailed statements or the multiple postal mail letters each month informing me that my statements were bouncing, I had no way of knowing that they were charging me the fees (which were charged each time they sent me a letter to tell me about the fees). They didn't ever contact me via my valid phone number or email address; I found out when I called them after more than a year and several dozen $5 fees. So I don't buy that credit unions will always look out for their members rather than their own money. You need to find a banking establishment you like, regardless of what it calls itself.
posted by decathecting at 3:54 PM on January 15, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all your responses! WAMU being bought out by Chase realllllllllly makes me not want to go with them. Chase is the worst bank of all for someone like me, in my experience.

I've been doing lots of sleuthing based on your leads and I think I might be going the Bank of America route. I had a chat with an online representative and they guaranteed me free checking with no minimum balance for as long as I have the account open, an additional free savings account as long as I put in $25/month, and I found a code online that will supposedly get me an extra $75. They do charge on top of non-BofA ATM fees, but I'm going to try to be a lot more disciplined about that (and hope perhaps they change that policy in the future...)
posted by infinityjinx at 3:58 PM on January 15, 2008

Really? BoA? I've had terrible customer service with BoA (after they bought out MBNA, my old card issuer), as have others I know.

Might want to read some of this before opening an account with them:
posted by cmgonzalez at 4:12 PM on January 15, 2008

And I find it kind of funny that you find Chase to be the worst (really? With all their branches and free/low-cost checking?) since when I opened my Chase account, I was a high school student with little money and never kept much of a balance. They've always served me well.
posted by cmgonzalez at 4:14 PM on January 15, 2008

WaMu used to not charge ATM fees to non-customers, but that changed a while back. And they're not bought by Chase, just tanking really bad. And as always, YMMV even with financial institutions that have a stellar reputation.

I would not go with ING, however. The Electric Orange account is designed such that if you have them mail out a paper check to, say, your landlord, the money is deducted from your account when the check is mailed, not when it's cashed, which screws you out of interest and gets quite hairy if you get paid the last business day of the month and you factor in mailing time. Also, every time I called the reps up they were all morons. I found a high-yield checking and savings account at my local credit union and never looked back.
posted by calistasm at 4:42 PM on January 15, 2008

Capital One just acquired North Fork Bancorp in New York, so they should soon have a few hundred branches in New York. Presumable they will offer similar products as in Texas and Louisiana which includes Free Checking with refunded fees for using other ATMs. They have online banking, and there Direct online savings accounts have been not bad for when you get to that point. You may need to have direct deposit for the free checking.

When I opened an account at my bank there were no fees. The account type changed to include a $10/month fee. I asked them if there was another type of account and they changed mine to where there were no fees, but the account paid less interest. So basically they had me paying $10/month to make $0.73 interest instead of $0.23. If you're happy with your bank except for this fee, talk to them about an alternate account.

I looked into the Electric Orange account a few months ago, mostly for their ATM network. I sometimes work in places where the closest bank is an hour away and it's usually not yours. The Allpoint network seemed to include a lot of the ATMs at gas stations and stores in these places. Check your location, your mileage may vary.
posted by Yorrick at 10:47 PM on January 15, 2008

as to your second question about getting commerce to not charge you for going under $100: i'm in the same situation as you and often go under $100. i asked them what i could do to get REALLY free checking, and the short answer is nothing.

i hate banks. and credit card companies.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 7:12 AM on January 16, 2008

City National Bank of Taylor. (Assuming you can do direct deposit. No minimum balance or fees.) Get Reward Checking. They automatically refund all foreign ATM fees (so you can use an ATM anywhere) and they give you 4.03% interest on your checking account. Customer service is great; they're small so you don't feel like a cog in the machine.

I switched from Bank of America a while back and couldn't be happier. Bank of America is BULLSHIT. Now I happily extol the virtues of my bank to anyone who'll listen :)
posted by jcruelty at 11:35 AM on January 16, 2008

Of course YMMV, but I've had a great experience with BOA. Their customer service was always helpful and pleasant. I switched from Wachovia, which had, from what I could tell, the worst customer service I've ever experienced in any field. Once, I was trying to complain about a mis-placed overdraft fee (when I had a ton of money in the account), and the fee kept triggering for no good reason. I was on hold for about 3 hours, and got switched around to about 7 people. And that's just one story out of a lot. I ended up switching, and only because Schwab seems to be giving a better deal (interest on checking? awesome!), am I switching to them.

(Awkwardly enough, after I closed my Wachovia account, they pulled the same overdraft fee stunt on me, and my account apparently closed in the negative as a result. They sent it to collections. I complained to them, but they said they wouldn't talk to me because I wasn't a customer anymore. A letter from an attorney later, and they finally relented.)
posted by General Malaise at 7:09 AM on January 17, 2008

But, one nice thing about BOA – ubiquitous ATMs all around the U.S.
posted by General Malaise at 7:09 AM on January 17, 2008

Electric Orange's ATM network is Allpoint, so you can check for a nearby ATM before you start an account.

Pretty much every Duane Reade has an Allpoint ATM.

I'm not sure why there's so much hate for ING. Sure, you need a bank that lets you write real checks, but you should be able to find a bank or credit union that will let you do just that, and then leave most of the rest of your money in an online bank.
posted by oaf at 11:27 AM on January 17, 2008

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