When choosing a banking institution, people often consider a surprisingly long list of non-financial factors. For instance, the location of branches or ATMs. Or good customer service. Even whether family or friends use that bank or credit union affects decisions more than things like account fees and interest rates.
And while these all can be valid reasons to pick one institution over another, you may want to watch out for that last one. If you inherited your bank from your parents, you may find that it fits their needs better than your own. Thankfully, it's easier than ever to compare banks and credit unions to find the right one for you. Here's a plan to help you go from research to signing up.
Crunch The Numbers
The internet is a pretty amazing research tool, but navigating every bank and credit union's website can be a serious challenge. Soon enough, you'll find yourself lost in the 73 tabs you have open, trying to compare the subtleties in what each institution has to offer. At this point, close your browser, open a new window, and head straight to a website like Bankrate.com or FindABetterBank.com.
These websites are the property of third party organizations, and Salt® does not officially endorse the information they provide. Both of them make it easy to compare up-to-date information on all the banks in your area. Just type in your ZIP code, and you can compare checking and savings account options, credit card offers, and interest rates on loans.
These websites have fairly comprehensive lists of services and requirements for individual banks, too. For instance, for checking accounts, you can see how much money you'll need to open an account, what the monthly fees for having an account are, and what kind of surcharges you can expect from using an out-of-network ATM.
Of course, while these websites are a great resource, and will save you loads of time narrowing down the competition, it's best to use them as a guide only. Go with the bank or credit union's official website for the most complete information on the products and services they offer.
Do A Background Check
The Better Business Bureau and Consumer Finance Protection Bureau can help you identify common complaints about your potential banking institutions. You can also check out sites like Yelp.com to see what people say about your specific bank or credit union branch. OK, you're now well versed on every bank and credit union that ever existed, and you know exactly which banking services you'd like to sign up for. It's time to get the inside scoop.
It may seem obvious, but this kind of perspective can be really valuable—after all, these businesses will be your first port of call if you have any banking issues that need to be solved in person. It can be worth paying a little extra for good customer service. Just remember, as with any user review-based website, don't weigh what one person has to say too heavily. Some reviewers will have nothing but good things to say, while others will simply want to vent about their experiences. Try and look for the most objective opinions or those that show up consistently from multiple people.
Be Prepared For A Sales Pitch
When you're ready to sign up for your account, you may have the option to do so online or in person at your local branch. If you decide to do the latter, keep in mind that these organizations will say and do things to get your business—whether they’re for profit (like a bank) or nonprofit (like a credit union).
Sometimes, this works in your favor with things like sign-up bonuses. Other times, customer service reps may try to sell you a product or service you don't really need (potentially to get additional benefits). Most likely, they're not out to swindle you. Just politely decline their offer or ask for some information to take home with you.
Focus on what you came in for, and don't feel pressured to sign up for anything else. And of course, remember that unless you're signing a contract, you're not locking yourself into anything. If you're unhappy with the services your bank or credit union provides, take the time to look into other options—it will be worth it.