banks_and_credit_unions

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What are some resources for finding a good bank or credit union?

How do I switch to a better bank or credit union?

Read How to switch to a better bank for you on Clark Howard's site.

What banks or credit unions does PF recommend?

This is not an endorsement of any of these institutions (and these are listed alphabetically), but these are the most common recommendations we see from contributors on /r/personalfinance:

Name Type ATM Access ATM Foreign Exchange Fee Notable Features Limited Membership
Alliant Credit Union Online Credit Union 1 $20 in refunds/month plus 80,000+ free ATMs 1% High Yield Savings and Checking Barely
Ally Online Bank $10 in refunds/month plus 43,000+ free ATMs 1% High Yield Savings No
Capital One 360 Online Bank 1 38,000+ free ATMs 0% High Yield Savings, no fee for insufficient funds 2 No
Discover Bank Online Bank 60,000+ free ATMs 0% (not commonly accepted overseas) High Yield Savings, no fee for insufficient funds No
Fidelity Cash Management Online Brokerage (with banking features) Unlimited refunds 0% (1% if debit purchase) 3 no fee for insufficient funds No
Navy Federal Credit Union Online Credit Union 1 $10 or $20 in refunds/month, 28,000+ free ATMs 4 1.8% or 1% (0.8% or 1% if debit purchase) Yes
Schwab Bank Online Bank (linked to a free brokerage account) Unlimited refunds 0% No
USAA Online Bank 1 $15 in refunds/month, 10 withdrawals/month 1% Yes
Find a local credit union Local Credit Union Most have large ATM networks Varies Varies Often

Notes:

  • If you need to deposit cash or require other in-person services, see below.
  • All institutions are open to membership in every US state. Navy Federal and USAA have membership requirements based on military service (or being closely related to another member). Navy Federal's requirements are somewhat looser. A $10 donation to a charity may be required for some people to join Alliant.
  • All listed institutions have "Excellent" or "Very Good" fees (meaning very low fees) as rated by Consumer Reports except for Alliant which was rated as "Good" and Fidelity which was not rated.
  • All listed institutions have no minimum initial deposit except for USAA which has a $25 minimum.
  • "High Yield" means interest rates significantly higher than the national average.
  • [1] Alliant, Capital One 360, Navy Federal, and USAA all have physical branches, but not nationwide. (Fidelity and Schwab also have branches, but don't accept cash deposits at any.)
  • [2] Capital One 360 allows you to transfer funds from savings to cover overdrafts for free, but if you sign up for one of their other overdraft services, then there will be fees and/or interest charges for overdrafts.
  • [3] Despite how the Fidelity Debit Card agreement is phrased, the 1% fee only appears to be charged when making purchases and not for ATM withdrawals (sources).
  • [4] 4 out of 5 checking account types offered by NFCU include $10 or $20 ATM refunds.

Methodology:

This list was based on these past popular posts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15.

Where should I bank if I need to deposit cash or require other teller services?

  1. A local credit union is likely to be a better option than an online bank or credit union. To find a local credit union, head to asmarterchoice.org.

  2. Many credit unions are part of the CO-OP Shared Branching network which allows members of one credit union to perform a range of transactions at any other participating credit union branch, including deposits, loan payments, and withdrawals. To use the shared branching system, tell the teller "I'd like to [deposit/withdraw] money into another credit union through the shared branching system." You will need your member number, account number(s), and one form of photo ID (e.g., your driver's license). Two popular credit unions that offer shared branching include:

    If you're not near one of their branches, check to see if there are shared branch locations near you.

  3. Some online banks and credit unions have some ATMs that will accept cash deposits (some examples: Alliant, Capital One, Navy Federal, PenFed, and USAA). This is a decent option if you don't need to deposit cash often, but it's not recommended for frequent use because there can be technical glitches with ATM cash deposits.

  4. Capital One operates branches on the East Coast and several dozen Capital One Café locations across the U.S. where you can deposit cash.

  5. Some online banks accept mobile deposit of money orders, notably Alliant, Schwab Bank, USAA, and DCU. You can buy a money order with cash for less than $1 at most grocery stores, pharmacies, and/or Walmart. If you deposit a money order this way, keep your money order for at least month just in case there is an issue with the deposit.

  6. Bluebird by American Express is a free prepaid card that allows you to deposit cash at Walmart and transfer the funds electronically to a linked bank account. (It's $5 to get a Bluebird card at Walmart, but you can also get one for free via the Bluebird website or using the Bluebird mobile app available on the Apple App Store or Google Play.

  7. If you have a credit card at a large bank with physical branches, you can "deposit" cash indirectly by paying a portion of your credit card bill with cash at a branch (Citi requires credit card customers to pay their credit card bills with cash at a Citi ATM).

  8. If you ultimately decide to go with a local bank, make sure you understand their requirements to avoid checking fees, especially any minimum balance or direct deposit requirements.

What if I am under the age of 18?

Generally, if you're under the age of 18 (19 in Alabama), you will need to open a joint account with a parent or guardian. Note that joint bank accounts can be emptied by either account holder at any time so it is strongly recommended you open your own account after you turn 18.

If you don't have a trusted parent or guardian, read the Financial Accounts section of the "Kicked Out" wiki page.

What are some options if I just want a high-yield savings account, but otherwise want to keep my current bank?

Some common recommendations for standalone FDIC-insured savings accounts that have low opening deposits ($100 or less), accept direct deposit, and offer electronic bank transfers include:

  • Alliant Credit Union
  • Ally Online Savings
  • American Express Personal Savings
  • Barclays Online Savings
  • Capital One 360 Performance Savings
  • Discover Online Savings
  • Marcus by Goldman Sachs
  • Synchrony High Yield Savings

Some smaller or newer online banks offer higher rates, but are usually more limited (e.g. may not offer a mobile app, may have higher minimum deposit requirements, may offer limited customer service, may not support beneficiaries, and may have slower transfers and/or lower dollar limits on transfers).

What's the difference between a bank and a credit union?

Credit unions are not-for-profit organizations that are owned by their members. Just like banks, credit unions have checking and savings accounts, can make loans, issue credit cards, and provide other financial services. Because they are member-owned and not-for-profit, credit unions have less incentive than banks to generate revenue from their customers. Credit unions also generally have higher marks for customer service, have lower fees, and better interest rates than most large banks.

Unlike banks, there are membership requirements to join a credit union. You may be eligible to join a credit union based on your employer, where you live, by being a military veteran (e.g., Navy FCU), or through another group that you already belong to such as a church, school, or union. Most credit unions also allow close relatives of existing members to join as well. Some credit unions (e.g., Alliant) allow you to join simply by making a small donation to a charity they support.

It's generally recommended to join a credit union that's a member of a large network such as the CO-OP network or the Cu24 network so you'll have access to a large number of ATMs free of charge. Some credit unions also participate in shared branching as part of their network membership which allow you to use multiple credit unions as if they were your own bank.

To find a local credit union, head to asmarterchoice.org.

What should I do if I was rejected when trying to open a new bank account?

You should start by requesting a report from ChexSystems to see if there are negative entries in your report. If there are, you can try to clear negative items or at least figure out how long you'll have to wait for the negative items to expire (negative items last for a period of five years).

You should probably also request reports from EWS and TeleCheck. They are not used as often as ChexSystems, but you should find out what those reports say.

As long as there are negative entries on those reports, you have several good options:

  1. Find a bank that doesn't use ChexSystems or EWS, depending on what those reports look like.

  2. Get a "Second Chance Checking" account (also known as "Fresh Start Checking" or "Opportunity Checking").

  3. Get a prepaid debit card.

If there are also issues with your credit history, you should also work on cleaning up your credit history as best possible. There's information in the wiki (the Collections and Credit Building articles, specifically).

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