Gather Records, Create a Checklist


We don't want to accuse you of anything, but in all likelihood, your bank is sending you a detailed record of each month's activities, and you're not looking very carefully at what's inside the envelope. So, step one in figuring out how to improve your banking is to get all those monthly statements together. With records in hand, you can see what types of fees you're being charged, what your average account balance is, and what your typical low balance figure is. Since virtually all checking and/or savings accounts are going to inflict low balance fees on you, you need to know how much money you'll be able to keep in an account to know which account is right for you.

Try using this checklist to see just how much you've spent over the last three months, and just where the money is going:

ItemMonth #1Month #2Month #3TOTAL
ATM surcharges
"Foreign" ATM fees
Other ATM fees
Monthly maintenance fees
Check printing
Deposit/other slips
Call center charges
Debit card fees
Low-balance penalty
Per-check charges
Return check/NSF fees
Money orders fee
Traveler's checks
Other bank fees

Compute your fees, Fool. This will give you a real idea of where your money has been going, and what you need to change in either yourself or your bank to keep your money in your own pocket.

Checklist of Features That You're Looking For

If you're looking to upgrade your bank, you may not need all the services that banks are capable of offering, but there are a lot that you do normally use. Given the wide range of choices available, you need to write down what a bank account must offer you before you get seduced by various introductory rates.

Here's a brief list of some services you may be looking for in your bank.

  • High-Interest Checking Accounts
  • Online Bill Payment
  • ATMs
  • Debit and Credit Cards
  • Money Market Accounts
  • CDs
  • Brokerage Services
  • Mortgage Loans
  • Convenience
  • Overdraft Protection
  • Express Checking Accounts
  • FDIC Insured
  • Other Insurance Products
  • Credit Cards
  • Loan Products
  • Telephone Banking
  • Direct Deposit
  • Personalized Checks
Action Items!
  1. Review these choices and determine your banking habits.
  2. Set goals for keeping your fees to a minimum.
  3. Resolve to discover the highest interest rates paid for the dollars that you aren't committing to the market.
  4. Move on to our take on Foolish Checking.
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