Whether you’re switching financial institutions or just opening a new account, it’s important to know exactly what you’re getting into with a new bank or credit union. Here are ten questions we recommend asking before you sign up with a new organization.
What are the membership requirements?
This is a question you’ll specifically want to ask credit unions, as they all have a specific field of membership they serve. This may be people who live in a specific area or people who have a specific type of job. PenFed, for example, offers many ways to become a member; including our nation’s military community, and numerous employee groups and association affiliations. However, most credit unions offer ways to join even if you don’t think you qualify—like making a donation to a related charitable organization.
If you’re thinking of opening an account with PenFed, read up on how to join.
What kinds of accounts and services are available?
It doesn’t matter how great a particular financial institution seems—if it doesn’t have the types of accounts or services you’re looking for, it’s not going to be a good fit. Start your search by considering what you want out of your account (or accounts) and comparing your list of must-haves to what the institution offers.
What are the fees?
You’ll want to be careful to review any fees associated with accounts or services you’re considering before you sign up to be sure this new account is something you can afford. Is there a fee for having a checking or savings account? Are there fees for using ATMs? Are there fees for using online banking or bill-pay? If a service you’re considering does have fees, is there a way to avoid them?
Is there a minimum balance requirement for accounts?
Some accounts may require you to keep a minimum balance in them—and pay a fee if you don’t. Be sure you know what the minimum balance is and whether you can meet it before you sign on the dotted line.
Where are your ATMs or branches located? What are their hours?
If you want to do your banking at ATMs or branch offices, it’s important to know where they are — and be sure they’re convenient for you to access. For ATMs, you should also ask what it costs to use an out-of-network ATM—even if you don’t plan on using them, you’ll want to know the costs in case you need to.
Is online banking or bill-pay available?
Online banking can be a big convenience—especially if you aren’t near a branch office. Find out just what kinds of online services are available and whether they cost additional fees.
Are you insured by the FDIC (for a bank) or NCUA (for a credit union)?
Though investment accounts won’t be insured, a checking or savings account should be. If the financial institution you’re talking to isn’t insured by the FDIC or NCUA (National Credit Union Association), you should ask how your money is protected.
How soon is my money available after I deposit it?
Though you may expect your money to be available immediately after depositing it, this isn’t always the case. Check to see when your money will come through.
What happens if I overdraw my account?
It doesn’t take more than a simple math error to accidentally overdraw your bank account—and if you do, you’ll want to know what happens next. There may be an overdraft fee in addition to the need to pay for charges that go beyond your bank account. Some banks will offer overdraft protection services, often for an additional fee.
Is there a limit on the number of withdrawals or other transactions I can make each month?
Savings or no-frills checking accounts may impose strict limits on what you can do with your money, including limiting monthly transactions. Limiting the number of withdrawals on a savings account isn’t uncommon, but you’ll want to check what kind of restrictions your account will have—and be sure you can live with them.
If the restrictions seem too onerous, ask if there are accounts with fewer restrictions—though be sure to go back through this list of questions when you do, checking fees and minimum deposit requirements.
Looking for easier access to your money? Then learn more about PenFed’s Access America checking—an innovative approach to checking.