ATMs are just one method of banking in today's technology-driven world
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Is your banking strategy building you up or holding you back?

Banking usually isn’t something that people give a lot of thought to on any given day. When it comes to finance, most of us are focused on “bigger” things like eliminating debt and saving for retirement. But how and where you bank can have a big impact on your ability to manage your money effectively.

The articles in this section cover everything related to consumer banking. From new regulations from Washington to the latest banking technology, this is everything you need to know to bank smarter.

Donald Trump has Congress drag Richard Cordray away from big banking regulations (illustrated)

Donald Trump Won’t Let You Sue Banks

November 2, 2017 | Brandon Ballenger

He signed a law undoing consumer protections for class-action lawsuits against financial abuse.

Bank logos

Banks Are Helping Hurricane Harvey And Irma Victims

September 14, 2017 | Nate Mills

If your bank is on this list, you might be eligible for free services.

Generation X Logo

Generation X Is Stuck in a Tight Spot

August 23, 2017 | Michelle Bryan

But their growing debt apathy may have payoffs for all

Banking regulator nominees Joseph Otting and Randy Quarles shake hands with Donald Trump (illustrated)

I Agree With Trump’s Top Banking Regulators

August 10, 2017 | Brandon Ballenger

The biggest risk to the economy is this $1.3 trillion consumer debt — which Trump is doing nothing about

CFPB Director Richard Cordray tips the scales of consumer justice (illustrated)

Thanks to the CFPB, We Can Sue Banks Again

July 13, 2017 | Brandon Ballenger

For years, credit card companies and banks have avoided class-action lawsuits by writing rules prohibiting them. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau just snapped those rules.

How I protect myself from identity theft

Banks Warn Customers About Fraud More Often

May 25, 2017 | Dori Zinn

Whether it’s a text message, phone call, email or letter, your banking institution can let you know when fraudulent activity occurs on your account. Do you get fraud alerts?

Man with his credit card in front of computer takes notes on his financial habits

3 New Polls that Depress Me about Americans and Money

March 20, 2017 | Howard Dvorkin, CPA

How can the greatest country on Earth not be so great with its money?

Money saving resolutions

All the Best Places for Your Money in 2017

January 9, 2017 | Dori Zinn

If you want to make the best investments in 2017, bank at Ally, get a Capital One credit card, and live in Nashville. Those are some of the biggest recommendations from experts as you look to make the best decisions for your money this year.

If laying out an budget that manages debt has you confused and stressed about money, you may need Financial Literacy 101

Is Tying The Knot Easier Than Uniting Finances?

November 24, 2016 | Debt.com

For those who answer yes, there’s good advice and even outside help.

Skimmers allow your bank card information to get hacked just for banking at the wrong ATM

14 Ways to Avoid Paying Irritating Bank Fees

November 15, 2016 | Money Talks News

No. 9 is the easiest, and No. 12 sounds weird but it’s awesome.

Skimmers allow your bank card information to get hacked just for banking at the wrong ATM

Surprising No One, Bank Fees Are Higher Than Ever

October 4, 2016 | Dori Zinn

Just realized you needed some cash? You’re about to pay $25 for that $20 bill. ATM fees are continuing to climb to record highs for the 10th straight year.

You don't have to pay dumb banking fees.

Disgusted by What You’re Forking Over in Bank Fees?

July 19, 2016 | Money Talks News

You are not alone. Millions of Americans are caught in a vicious cycle that benefits the bottom line of the banks.

How to identify fraud in your credit reports

Millennials Will Direct the Future of Fraud Management

June 8, 2016 | Treanna Lawrence

If banks give this generation the tools to bank easier and safer, they’ll earn themselves loyal customers. If not…

online banking is safe and easy

Ask The Expert: Is Online Banking Really Safe?

January 27, 2016 | Howard Dvorkin, CPA

A reader’s online bank account has his mother worried.

You don't have to pay dumb banking fees.

Finding A Bank That Treats You Fairly

November 12, 2015 | Debt.com

Believe it or not, there are great banks, and there’s surely one for you.

pre-nup

Ask The Expert: Which Is Better? Bank Or Credit Union?

October 7, 2015 | Howard Dvorkin, CPA

A reader’s relationship might hinge on the answer.

high-yield checking accounts

Where To Get A Bank Account That Actually Earns You Money

May 14, 2015 | Jess Miller

Switching to one of these high-yield checking accounts could earn you hundreds in interest per year.

low income banking

Low-Income Americans May Have More Financial Options Soon

April 2, 2015 | Jess Miller

Banks and credit unions are marketing to a whole other demographic. Here’s why that’s good news.

Today's debt report

Here Is The Best Bank Account For You Right Now

March 23, 2015 | Jess Miller

Savings rates aren’t that high, but banking shouldn’t be costing you money.

You don't have to pay dumb banking fees.

6 ways to beat dumb banking fees

March 17, 2015 | Brandon Ballenger

Why pay a bank to use your money? Avoiding fees involves some simple tech and even simpler questions.

credit unions safer than banks

Credit Unions Are Dropping Free Checking Too — But Millennials Don’t Care

March 10, 2015 | Jess Miller

Still store your money in a national bank? Here are five reasons that will change your mind.

Hide money

How To Hide Money From Your Spouse: A Sneaky, Step-By-Step Guide

February 24, 2015 | Jess Miller

If you’re going to do something immoral, at least do it the right way.

America Saves Week

America Saves Week: How To Save Money AND Time

February 23, 2015 | Howard Dvorkin, CPA

Give me 20 minutes, I’ll give you a guarantee: You’ll learn how to save big bucks on just about everything.

A dancing newlywed couple shows the secret to a happy marriage is keeping money separate

The Secret To A Successful Marriage: Separate But Equal Cash

February 10, 2015 | Michael Koretzky

5 marital problems you’ll never face by keeping your money a mystery.

millennials and money

Quiz: Are You a Millennial When It Comes to Money?

January 27, 2015 | Jess Miller

They might not have all the answers, but some of millennials’ money habits may surprise you.

High interest savings accounts

Ask The Expert: Where Can I Find High Interest Savings Accounts?

December 31, 2014 | Howard Dvorkin, CPA

A reader is disgusted at the painfully low rates his bank is offering.

Debt.com's founder and CPA Howard Dvorkin

Why You Need To Be Careful About Moving Bank Accounts

October 20, 2014 | Howard Dvorkin, CPA

Banks are running promotions to get you to switch. Here’s how to make some money and not lose any.

group of people at a wine tasting event

How you think about money can make you rich — or broke

October 2, 2014 | Brandon Ballenger

A new PBS documentary about the psychology of spending translates neuroeconomics into plain English

Skimmers allow your bank card information to get hacked just for banking at the wrong ATM

ATM fees rise to all-time high

September 30, 2014 | Jess Miller

It’s getting expensive to withdraw your own money.

spider in dollar bill colors on top of a dollar bill

The 5 easiest tech tricks for overcoming your fear of money

September 15, 2014 | Jess Miller

Think managing money is scary? Technology can give you courage — or at least peace of mind.

Around the web

Around the Web: Guaranteed Jobs

September 12, 2014 | Brandon Ballenger

Guaranteed jobs, money that saves itself, and the best banks around. Welcome to easy street.

How I finally beat the bank.

I finally beat the bank that took all my money!

May 21, 2014 | Angela Colley

My bank suddenly closed my checking account and didn’t return my money. I got it all back. Here’s how.

Banking apps may be better than you think.

4 Things Banking Apps Are Good For

April 10, 2014 | Brandon Ballenger

Banking apps don’t always do what we want, but when they do it saves time and money.

HSBC closed my checking account without telling me.

Yup, your bank can close your checking account without telling you!

March 14, 2014 | Angela Colley

After seven years, my bank suddenly closed my checking account and didn’t return my money. Here’s what I learned.

6 things to consider when developing your personal banking strategy

#1: Bank vs. credit union

The first decision you make in developing a solid banking strategy is where you bank. You have a few options, each with different benefits and drawbacks.

  • National retail bank – these are the large banking institutions that market their services heavily with TV and radio ads.
    • Advantages: Anywhere you go, your bank is there. This offers advantages, like fee-free ATM withdrawals when you travel
    • Disadvantages: Big banks are largely held responsible for the crash and they make headlines about major customer service issues, like the Wells Fargo credit scandal
  • Local bank – this is a state or municipal bank that only exists where you live. They’re independent, which means they’re smaller, but they offer that hometown feel.
    • Advantages: Independent banks tend to focus on personalized service, offering a banking experience where you feel like a team is supporting your goals
    • Disadvantages: Since these banks are smaller, they may not get new banking technology and tools as fast as big banks; you may also face ATM fees when you travel
  • Credit union – this is a financial institution that’s owed by the members who keep their money there; in many cases, you must be referred to open an account
    • Advantages: Credit unions tend to be extremely focused on customer service and often offer financing products at better rates
    • Disadvantages: Credit unions don’t operate for profit, which means they don’t have capital to get new tools; they also have very limited locations

If you haven’t done it lately (or ever) look around at the financial institutions in your local area. See what’s available that’s closely accessible, then head online to start checking websites and reviews. Find an institution that fits your lifestyle and goals, with the right accounts for your needs.

#2: Are you using the right accounts?

Most people don’t pay nearly enough attention to their checking account. These days, there are a variety of checking accounts that fit different banking styles. If you have trouble keeping money in your account, then you should have one that doesn’t have a minimum balance requirement; otherwise, you could pay fees.

By the same token, if you don’t struggle to keep cash in your account, find one that waives monthly maintenance fees for maintaining a certain balance. Your goal should always be to bank fee-free. That way, you’re not spending money to keep your money.

#3: You could be underbanked

If the only account you have is your checking account, that means you’re underbanked. This refers to a condition where you underutilize banking products; as a result, it’s harder to manage your money. It’s basically one account away from being “unbanked.” This is what happens when you have no accounts, whether by choice out of mistrust for banks or because your account was closed due to misuse.

Having the right accounts is the first step in establishing an effective financial plan. Stuffing money under your mattress doesn’t exactly help your money grow. Paying fees to pay bills with money orders through a check cash store doesn’t make sense either.

If you don’t trust your financial institution, the solution is not to avoid them as much as possible. Instead, you should choose a better institution that works for your needs.

#4: Checking accounts can actually grow

Your checking account doesn’t have to just be a place where you deposit and keep your money. Some checking accounts offer small interest rate growth; it’s usually pretty tiny, but at least it’s something. Keep in mind that most growth checking accounts require a pretty hefty minimum balance, so this definitely isn’t a starter account.

Instead, develop your banking plan so you get good at maintaining a sizeable balance. Once you see that you’re not struggling to keep it up, consider switching to a growth account.

#5: Cash equivalents offer better ways to save

Checking and savings accounts both technically count as cash equivalents, but they’re definitely not the most effective. With such low interest rates, it’s impossible for your money to grow quickly. Many basic savings accounts only offer less than 1% growth.

In order for your money to grow effectively, you need to invest it in more effective savings tools. No, this is not us telling you to play the stock market. But without getting over the intimidation and fear of risk that keeps most people from investing, you can use cash equivalents to help your funds grow.

Cash equivalents are any investment that can easily and readily be converted to cash. In includes checking and savings, but also extends to Money Market Accounts (MMAs) and Certificates of Deposit (CDs).

  • MMAs are tiered savings accounts with variable interest rates. The more you save, the higher your interest rate tier, so the faster your money grows.
  • CDs offer even better growth at a fixed rate. You buy a CD and let it mature for a period of time, from less than a year to 30 years.

Financial institutions offer these tools, so check with yours to see how you can start saving smarter. Also, be aware that you don’t always need to go to your bank for these. If you see a better rate advertised with a different institution, grab it.

#6: Look here first for financing

On any kind of financing, from mortgages to auto loans, your bank can be an invaluable resource. Always check rates and see what products your financial institution offers first. Also, see if they offer incentives for customers, such as money off closing costs on a mortgage. In some cases, you may be able to waive fees on your checking account if you have set up Direct Deposit on a loan from the same bank.

When car buying, you also want to check with your bank first. This will help you know how much car you can afford and give you a loan to compare any dealership offers against. And, they can be a good source of credit help, too. You can get credit cards that are only offered to customers and get debt consolidation loans to pay off existing debt efficiently.

The point is, talk to your financial institution first, because they may have a product you need. And again, if you don’t trust your bank to help you, it’s time to find a different financial institution you can actually trust.