If you're going to shop for a new bank, you need to consider what services are offered and what fees are charged by each contender.

Different banks are best for different people for different reasons. What's best for you depends on what services you need and what your habits are.

Use a worksheet to help you evaluate a few banks that seem like contenders. We'll help you build one below. Cross out any items you don't need, so that you focus only on what's important to you. Add any items relevant to you that aren't on the list. For each item, jot down whether the bank offers it and/or what it charges for it. (If you plan to compare many banks, you might want to make a few photocopies of this list first, or just reproduce it by hand on some note paper.) To make the worksheet, write the following across the top of a sheet of paper:

Bank A Bank B Bank C

___________ ___________ ___________

Then write the following down a column on the left-hand side:

  • Minimum required balances
  • 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 or online banking
  • Direct deposit
  • Personalized checks
  • Other: _____________________
  • Other: _____________________
  • Other: _____________________
  • Other: _____________________

This worksheet will help you explore your options, enabling you to compare a bunch of contenders in one handy place. You'll see that bank charges for different things vary considerably. Prioritize the things that are most important to you (the services you need most often, in the order of their importance) and find the bank that charges the least for those services.

Also, consider other providers for some services. For example, use a discount broker for brokerage services. Buy money orders at a local convenience store rather than using pricey cashier's checks. Use your AAA membership to buy traveler's checks there instead of at the bank. Shop around for the lowest-cost credit card. These are just a few ways to save. (In case you're interested, we're now offering a Fool Credit Card with some attractive features.)

Another option is to do your banking via a brokerage. Today, many brokerages, such as Ameritrade (NASDAQ:AMTD) and TD Waterhouse, a unit of Toronto-Dominion Bank (NYSE:TD), offer services such as money market accounts and checking. Learn more in our Broker Center.

Learn more about how to make smart banking decisions in the Fool's banking area.

Also of interest should be our Savings Center, which is helpful if you're thinking about how to best deploy your short-term moola. It offers Fools some special deals on interest rates.

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