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Though some of the nation's biggest banks make it difficult to do so, you can, and should, change banks if your current provider isn't cutting the mustard. Here are two of the more common reasons for switching banks -- indicating just how important these issues are to consumers. How does your bank stack up?
1. Your bank has a too-skimpy branch network. Despite the increasing popularity of online and mobile banking, most people still want the branch experience, and will actually limit their choices for a primary bank to those with locations within five miles of their home.
Though some of the largest banks have been cutting branch sites in order to trim costs, Bank of America (NYSE: BAC ) , JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC ) are still the only choices for those who need access to a nationwide branch-banking system. If you travel a lot, or are apt to move, one of these banks will serve your needs when you're away from home.
If you tool around primarily in the Northeast, big regional M&T Bank (NYSE: MTB ) might be able to satisfy you, particularly after it adds Hudson City Bancorp (UNKNOWN: HCBK.DL ) to its network. If you're more of a stay-at-home type, requiring a less extensive branch network will give you a wider selection of banks from which to choose.
2. Your bank is charging you too many fees. The hunt for free checking is turning up fewer options these days, and overdraft fees are often brutal on customers who tend to overdraw their accounts on a regular basis. Free checking still exists, though, if you know where to look.
If you don't (or can't) keep an average monthly balance of at least $1,500 in your account, regional bank PNC Financial (NYSE: PNC ) has a Standard Checking account that requires a balance of only $500. Huntington Bancshares (NASDAQ: HBAN ) has an Asterisk-Free Checking account that requires no minimum balance whatever. Huntington also gives customers a 24-hour grace period in case of overdraft, as long as you make a deposit on the next business day.
If you can afford the $1,500 monthly balance, fees will be waived at PNC, and their Performance Checking account will give you a few perks, like reimbursed ATM fees, too. Bank of America and Wells Fargo will waive fees for the same balance amount -- though a direct deposit each month of $250 at B of A and $500 for the Wells account will have the same effect, without the need for the bigger monthly balance.
Smaller banks may do the job just fine
Of course, community banks are another option, and may be more apt to offer free checking and other benefits, such as refunds on other banks' ATM networks. But, if you want lots of branches and free checking, you might have to step up to a regional bank, at minimum. Decide what's most important to you, then shop around. Chances are excellent that you will be able to switch to a new bank that offers the services your current bank isn't providing.
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