As a CPA and financial counselor, I peruse personal finance blogs just for fun — and I’m sometimes disappointed because I wish those blogs will dive deeper and be more thorough. However, I was seriously impressed when a venerable blog called Money Crashers recently released its list of Top Bank Account Promotions for October.
I’ve never seen a more complete and consumer-friendly list, but I feel compelled to offer a warning.
Those “pretty sweet deals” will surely sour if customers don’t maintain minimum balances or worse, bounce a check. Sometimes, we get caught up on the feel-good bonuses and don’t look below the surface.
The devil – and deals – are in the details
For instance, the first promotion on the Money Crasher’s list is Capital One’s 360 Checking. While it offers only a $50 bonus — lowest on the list — it also offers some of the best terms in the industry for overdraft fees. It even lets you play with this helpful overdraft calculator.
So while some of Money Crashers readers may skip this deal because of the low bonus, they should think twice if they usually have trouble maintaining a minimum balance.
On the other side, PNC Bank has a generous $300 bonus — the highest cash bonus on the list — but also comes with a heap of terms. If you meet them, you’re in great shape. But one condition is to open a PNC Virtual Wallet account, which is an online personal finance manager similar to my favorite such program, PowerWallet (but, in my humble opinion, not nearly as robust). What if you don’t want PNC Virtual Wallet’s? Then no bonus. There are also 467 words of fine print to study.
Getting old school about banks
When I wrote a financial guide called Power Up, I thought the most controversial part would be this: “Learning to live without credit cards is an integral part of financial empowerment.” In this era of credit rewards that easily eclipse bank bonuses, that’s heresy.
However, I was also called a fuddy-duddy (even though I’m not yet 60 and have all my hair, in its original color) because I wrote this: “Visit the banks you are interested in doing business with.”
What? Visit a bank when I can do nearly all my business online? In March, Bankrate polled bank customers and found, “Three in 10 Americans haven’t visited a bank or credit union branch in at least six months.”
Yet I insist the savviest bank customers will take the time and make the drive. If you value customer service when your cable or satellite TV goes out, it’s even more important when something happens that affects your money.
So I’d suggest the Money Crashers list is really just a starting point — and a darn good one — but it’s not the only criteria you should use when moving bank accounts.