Back in the day, choosing which bank to put your money in was relatively simple. The closest one to your home or job, or the one that offered the biggest toaster, was the one that got your business. Ah, the days of simplicity.

Today, there are so many choices in banks that your head could spin. Local banks, regional banks, national banks…even international banks are all vying for your dollars. How do you decide which one is right for you? There are several factors that you should consider when shopping for a new home for your money.

One of the very first things that you should do is to verify any prospective bank’s FDIC-membership status. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation is the government entity that insures your on-deposit funds up to $100,000. In other words, if the bank goes belly-up, you don’t lose your money. If the bank isn’t an FDIC-insured, move on. Nothing else matters. You can check any member bank’s status on the FDIC’s website.

Needless to say, banks are extremely profitable businesses. A major source of their profitability is the fees that they charge. One very important fee, but largely overlooked by consumers on a daily basis, is the ATM surcharge. On average across the country, the fee for using an ATM which your home bank doesn’t own is $1.50. Use it twice a week for a year, and you’ve paid the owner of that ATM $156 just so you could use your own money. The point is, if you are a heavy ATM user and you don’t really pay attention to which one you go to, you might consider putting your money into one of the larger banks. They have the most extensive network of ATMs, which could save you quite a bit of money over time.

But the number of automated teller machines that a particular bank owns is only one factor that you should regard when choosing a bank. True, a large bank has a great network of ATMs. But is their service above par? If, for instance, you’re a small business owner and you need a loan, you might be better served by going to the small local bank where the owner or manager knows who you are and what you do.

If you’re looking for the lowest fees around, a credit union may be the best financial institution for you. Their loan interest rates may also be slightly below regular bank rates. And because of their not-for-profit nature they tend to pay, on average, a little more on their interest-bearing accounts.

Alternatively, if convenience is Number One in your book, you might even consider an online bank. Direct deposit and online bill pay. No teller lines to contend with; as a matter of fact, no going to the bank at all because these organizations have no local branches. Lower overhead means lower operating costs, which should translate to lower fees you. But, as always, check to be sure. Compare.

You should also inquire about relationship rates. These are special rates that banks sometimes give to their customers so that they’ll open new accounts or use additional bank products. For example, Mr. Smith has a loan with Bank A. If he’ll agree to open a checking account with them, they’ll upgrade it to their Premium interest-bearing checking and waive all the standard fees. Ask if the bank that you’re considering has any such programs. You may be surprised at what you can get just for already doing business there.

Look carefully at every bank’s check-hold policy. Find out how long they will hold on to your money when you deposit it, and under what circumstances. Many banks are particularly stringent on new accounts, say, for the first thirty days. So be careful.

Does the bank offer overdraft protection, and how much does it cost? Bounced check fees are quite profitable for the bank, but very expensive for us. You should know the bank’s policy and programs that they offer to help avoid these fees. Some banks will even reverse one or two non-sufficient funds (NSF) fees a year to keep your business. But you must ask; they’re not going to volunteer that kind of information to you.

Don’t make a random decision when choosing a bank. Too much money is at stake, and all of it’s yours. The winner should be the bank that offers the things that are most important to you, whether it be convenience, low costs, or great customer care.

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