12 Questions to Ask Before Opening a Checking Account


Navigating the choice of a checking account can be a maze of terms and conditions. The key to finding the best fit for your wallet is in the details. Here we distill the essential questions to ask when opening a checking account, aimed at unraveling fees, benefits, and essentials, helping you make an informed decision without the fluff.

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Key Takeaways

  • A range of checking accounts cater to different needs, such as traditional, student, senior, business, and rewards accounts, each with varying features and benefits like waived fees or the ability to earn interest or rewards.
  • It’s essential to understand the fee structures and minimum balance requirements of checking accounts to avoid penalties and optimize benefits like waived maintenance or ATM fees, and overdraft protection options.
  • Choosing the right checking account involves considering factors like interest rates, online banking features, ATM network accessibility, direct deposit options, FDIC insurance, customer service quality, and additional services that align with future financial goals.

1. What type of checking account do I need?

The first step in selecting the right checking account is understanding the various types available, from traditional to premium, student to senior, and business to rewards. Traditional checking accounts, with their standard features like checks, a debit card, and online bill pay, offer a sense of familiarity and stability. These accounts may also offer an escape from monthly maintenance fees if you maintain a certain balance.

Premium checking accounts up the ante with enhanced benefits such as free checks, money orders, and the use of safe deposit boxes, although these usually come with a higher minimum balance requirement. On the other hand, specialty checking accounts address the unique needs of various demographics. Student checking accounts often waive maintenance fees and come with added benefits, while senior checking accounts offer perks like waived fees. Those rebuilding their financial history can benefit from second-chance checking accounts.

Interest-bearing and rewards checking accounts add a touch of excitement to the mix. While the former allows holders to earn interest on their account balances, the latter provides rewards such as points or cash back on purchases, subject to certain conditions. For business owners, business checking accounts cater to their specific financial needs, with features like transaction limits and fees for large cash deposits.

See also: Best Checking Accounts of May 2024

2. What are the fees associated with this account?

Once you have a grasp on the types of checking accounts, it’s time to discuss the less glamorous but equally important aspect – the fee structure. Banks often charge maintenance fees, ATM fees, and overdraft fees for checking accounts. However, these fees are not inevitable. By setting up direct deposits or maintaining a minimum balance, customers can potentially evade maintenance fees.

Some banks offer waived checking account fees to customers with multiple account types at the same bank or those with a good banking record. Online banks, due to reduced overhead from not having physical branches, tend to have a lower fee structure compared to traditional banks where banks charge fees.

By choosing the right bank, you can even waive monthly maintenance fees. ATM fees, which vary between banks, include charges for using out-of-network ATMs. However, some banks offer ATM fee rebates or reimbursement.

There are also various overdraft protection options, such as automatic transaction decline, linking to another account, or no-fee overdraft for specific transactions.

3. Is there a minimum balance requirement?

Minimum balance requirements are a key consideration when opening a checking account. To avoid monthly account fees, it is important to adhere to them. Falling short of the required minimum balance may result in penalties such as a fee or a denied interest payment.

With interest-bearing checking accounts, maintaining the minimum balance might be required to offset fees and take advantage of the account’s liquidity benefits. However, not all financial institutions impose these requirements. Credit unions and online banks often do not set minimum balance requirements, providing more flexibility for account holders.

4. Does this account earn interest?

The potential to earn interest is a key differentiator among checking accounts. Here are some key points to consider:

  • Online banks typically offer more competitive interest rates compared to national brick-and-mortar banks.
  • Credit unions, as nonprofit entities, provide benefits to members such as improved interest rates and reduced fees.
  • However, it’s worth noting that checking accounts are traditionally associated with lower interest rates compared to savings accounts.

Interest rates are commonly represented by the annual percentage yield (APY). This figure indicates how much you can earn or owe over a year. With high-yield checking accounts, interest typically compounds monthly, accruing based on the principal and the accumulated interest. Thus, a higher APY means more earnings for you.

5. What are the online and mobile banking options?

In today’s digital age, the convenience and capabilities of online banking and mobile apps significantly influence the appeal of a checking account. User-friendly mobile apps with features like virtual assistants can greatly enhance the management of checking accounts.

These mobile banking apps provide practical tools for:

  • Monitoring accounts
  • Avoiding fees
  • Handling multiple accounts
  • Conducting electronic transfers

The convenience of mobile check deposit, which allows customers to deposit checks using their smartphone’s camera, cannot be overstated.

Online bill payment features further simplify financial management by enabling timely payments and assisting users in adhering to their budgets.

6. What is the ATM network like?

The accessibility and reach of a bank’s ATM network is a key consideration when choosing a checking account. Banks with a broader reach typically offer the convenience of more branches and ATMs. Credit unions, while having fewer branches, often compensate through the CO-OP Shared Branch network providing shared branches and surcharge-free ATMs.

To avoid incurring fees, it’s important to select a checking account with a wide network of ATMs, as using ATMs outside of this network often results in charges from both the ATM operator and the customer’s bank. If you’re a globe-trotter, consider the availability of ATMs and any potential fees for accessing money in different locations.

7. What overdraft protection options are available?

Overdraft protection is another important factor to consider when selecting a checking account. Options can include automatic transfer from a savings account and granting a grace period to cover the overdraft. Some banks are now offering overdraft protection without any additional fees, reducing the financial burden on consumers who use these services.

Banks like Alliant Credit Union and Ally Bank provide options where funds can be transferred from a linked savings account to cover any overdrafts. Ally Bank takes it a step further with its CoverDraft Service, a form of overdraft protection that doesn’t incur fees and allows customers to resolve the negative balance within an established time frame.

8. How are direct deposits and money transfers handled?

Direct deposit and money transfer options are key features to consider when choosing a checking account. Direct deposit allows paychecks to be received more quickly, as the funds are electronically transferred and available for use on payday. This method is also environmentally friendly as it reduces paper waste from printed checks and decreases fuel consumption used for mail delivery.

Opting for direct deposit offers several benefits:

  • Enhanced safety and security of receiving payments, reducing the risks associated with paper checks such as loss, damage, or theft.
  • Improved budgeting by ensuring that funds are consistently available on time for bill payments and other expenses.
  • Straightforward setup process, typically requiring personal and banking information like Social Security number, bank routing number, and account number.

9. Is this account insured by the FDIC or NCUA?

When choosing a checking account, it’s essential to determine whether the account is insured, as this provides a significant safeguard for your funds. Insured accounts are protected up to certain limits in the event of a financial institution’s failure, whereas accounts at non-insured institutions do not offer this security.

There are two primary types of federal insurance for deposit accounts: FDIC insurance for banks and NCUA insurance for credit unions.

  • FDIC insurance, offered by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, covers bank depositors for up to $250,000 per depositor, per FDIC-insured bank, across each account ownership category. Established in 1933, the FDIC has a long history of stability, ensuring that no insured depositor has lost money due to a bank failure.
  • NCUA insurance is provided by the National Credit Union Administration through the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund (NCUSIF). It similarly protects members of federally insured credit unions up to $250,000 per depositor, per insured credit union, for each category of account ownership.

Both the FDIC and NCUSIF are backed by the full faith and credit of the United States government, ensuring depositor confidence by safeguarding funds in the event of institutional failures. To maximize your coverage, consider diversifying your deposits across different ownership categories and insured institutions.

10. How is customer service handled?

Customer service and support may seem less significant compared to other factors, but their importance should not be underestimated. Exceptional customer service in banks directly impacts customer engagement and overall impression. A responsive customer service is imperative for banks to adapt to changes in the financial services industry and to deliver the best customer experience.

To evaluate a bank’s customer service, consider:

  • Asking trusted individuals for their opinions on the bank
  • Checking online reviews for feedback from other customers
  • Regularly soliciting customer feedback to identify areas for improvement in service delivery

These steps can help you assess the quality of a bank’s customer service.

11. Should I choose a bank or credit union?

The choice between a bank or credit union can be a pivotal one. Banks tend to offer a broader array of financial products, including options for international banking services, which are not as common in credit unions. Credit unions, on the other hand, are generally more restricted in their ability to provide investing, lending, and commercial banking services due to regulatory limitations.

However, credit unions bring their unique offerings to the table. For instance, institutions like Navy Federal offer a Checking Line of Credit (CLOC) as an overdraft protection option, which can incur interest on the overdrafted amount. This innovative solution provides a safety net for customers, ensuring they have access to funds when they need them most.

12. What additional services and features are available to help meet my future financial goals?

Beyond the basic services, some banks offer additional features that can aid in achieving long-term financial stability and goals. Private bank checking accounts, designed for high net worth individuals, often offer additional services like higher withdrawal limits and free wire transfers. Mobile banking applications might offer additional functionalities such as automatic savings rules and setting travel alerts, enabling users to manage their finances more easily and work toward their financial goals.

Direct deposit allows individuals to effortlessly save by automatically splitting paychecks into different accounts, such as savings or emergency funds, helping achieve saving objectives efficiently. By opening a bank account, customers can access these benefits and banks can also act as trusted advisors by offering educational resources that promote financial literacy.

This may help customers make informed financial decisions, leading to more sound credit use and savings behaviors. Especially for small business customers, banks that serve as holistic service providers by offering comprehensive financial services can become an integral part of their customers’ growth and success.


Choosing the right checking account is an essential step towards financial stability and achieving your financial goals. It involves understanding various account types, evaluating fee structures, assessing minimum balance requirements, and considering interest rates. The convenience of online banking and mobile apps, the accessibility and reach of the ATM network, and overdraft protection options also play a key role.

Lastly, don’t forget to consider the additional services offered by banks and credit unions, their customer service, and the security provided by FDIC insurance. With careful consideration and thorough research, you can find the checking account that best suits your needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I open a checking account online?

Yes, most banks and credit unions offer the option to open a checking account online. This process typically involves filling out an application form on the institution’s website and providing necessary identification and financial information.

What should I do if I encounter issues with my checking account?

If you encounter any issues with your checking account, such as unauthorized transactions or discrepancies, you should contact your bank’s customer service immediately. They can assist you in resolving the issue and provide guidance on how to protect your account.

Are there any checking accounts that offer rewards or cash back?

Some checking accounts offer rewards or cash back on purchases. These accounts may have specific requirements, such as maintaining a minimum balance or making a certain number of transactions each month, to qualify for the rewards.

How do I switch my checking account to another bank?

To switch your checking account to another bank, you’ll need to open a new account with the new bank, transfer your funds from the old account, and update any automatic payments or direct deposits to the new account. Some banks offer switch kits to help streamline this process.

What are the advantages of using a mobile banking app for my checking account?

Mobile banking apps offer several advantages, such as the ability to check your balance, deposit checks remotely, transfer funds, and pay bills anytime and anywhere. They also often provide additional security features, such as alerts for suspicious activity.

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