Monday, October 03, 2011

Get the most from your personal finance and checking accounts

More and more consumers use the Internet to handle their personal finance and checking accounts. Aurora Bank checking account rates, for instance, attract new customers daily because of competitive rates. Typically, proponents of online banking are also attracted to other products, notably CDs (certificates of deposit), money market accounts, savings accounts, and home loans.

For any full service bank, checking remains one of the most popular products. If you're considering an online account, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) provides several tips on safe banking:

  • Verify that an online bank is authentic and that your deposits are FDIC- protected.
  • Learn what you can about the bank from its website. The "About Us" section is a good place to start.
  • Protect your personal information, and beware of fraudulent websites.
  • To verify that accounts are FDIC-protected, check Bank Find, the agency's online database of FDIC-insured institutions. Don't guess or assume when it comes to insurance.
  • Know your rights as a bank customer. The FDIC website is an excellent resource on these issues.
When searching for an institution that offers checking accounts and online banking, make sure the services are secure and convenient. Smart consumers also check for competitive interest rates, and a nationwide network for ATM withdrawals. According to the Associated Press:

The average total cost for using an out-of-network ATM rose slightly to $3.81, from $3.74, the year before, the study found. That's including the fees charged by the customer's own bank and the ATM operator. The average overdraft fee also rose slightly to $30.83, from $30.47.

Other services you'll need are self-explanatory:
  • check writing
  • check card purchases
  • electronic transfers
  • direct deposit
You may even want to ask customer service if newer banking features are available. Among the newer offerings: online check deposit, debit card rewards, and ATM fee reimbursement. (Online banks tend to be more generous with the latter.) These products are particularly popular with consumers.

Many observers believe that free checking is quickly becoming a thing of the past. A study released by last week found that free checking accounts with no strings attached are getting harder to find.

The good news is that you may be able to avoid the fees. Many banks will waive the charge is you establish a recurring direct deposit. You can also avoid a fee if you maintain a certain balance. Before opening a new account, check with the bank to learn all terms of agreement.

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