Choosing Your Next Bank

In the last five years or so, the banking industry has seen some major changes.  Interest rates have plummeted. We’ve had at least one recession, and a recovery of sorts.  The stock market has dropped like a rock and soared like an eagle.  We’ve also seen the rise of online banks become a new-fangled curiosity to something that most of us accept as a standard.

Online banks have made it normal to have services like bill-pay, electronic deposit, and easy to use online account management.  They’ve also put the pressure on traditional brick and mortar institutions to revamp their services, lower their fees, and offer more for their users.  But, they’ve also made it more difficult to decide on a bank.  No longer do we just pick the best one of a handful in our town, or the one that mom and dad used to use.  They’ve increased our selection, and made the decision a tad bit more difficult.  So, how do we go about selecting our next bank?

Bank Location

Choosing Your Next BankEven in our super digital world, where our physical locations are becoming less and less likely to matter, the location of your bank might make a difference to you.  You might like the ability to walk into a branch of your bank and make a deposit, or talk to someone face to face.  You might just like the security of knowing that you have that ability should you really need it.

When you’re choosing your next bank, you really need to decide if having a local branch available to you is something that is important, or if it’s just something that might be nice.  If it’s important, you’ll want to take most of the online banks off the list of eligible institutions right away.  If it just might be nice, you can leave them on the list.

Bank Fees

There’s been a lot of talk about bank fees, hidden fees, and transaction fees lately.  After the most recent housing market crash, and the new legislation on credit card transaction fees, many banks are trying to find new innovative ways of recouping the costs.  They’re getting creative with their fees, and their fee structures.  It should go without saying that you can have the best bank in the world, with all the shiny services, but if they’re adding on fees all over the place, they just aren’t that great.

When you’re choosing your next bank, take a close look at their fees and fees structure.  Does their checking/savings account have a monthly fee if you’re inactive?  Does it have other monthly fees for services?  Are the fees they have significantly higher than what other institutions charge?  Fees that you don’t, or won’t, end up being charged might not seem all that important, but they can be an indicator of the future of the institutions fee structure.  Be sure to make note of, or cross off entirely, any bank that has a difficult to understand fee schedule, or higher than average fees.

Bank Services

Here’s where you can usually weed the really bad ones out.  Maybe they have all the right locations, a huge ATM network, and better than average fees.  All of that will be somewhat useless if they don’t have all the services that you want.  Find out what services they offer.

When choosing your next bank, be sure to check to make sure what services they offer.  Make a list of services that you must have.  Bill-Pay would be top of that list for me.  If it’s an online bank, having some way of depositing checks electronically through an app on your phone might be high up on the list.  Does their debit card offer cash back?  Do they offer any rewards?  What other perks does the account have?  What perks would you like it to have?  The truly analytically minded out there, like me, might just choose to use a spreadsheet to tick off what each candidate has, and use it to compare.

There are plenty of choices out there.  Decide on what it is that you want in a bank, and then go about finding one that offers it all.  Chances are that you’ll find it.  For me, I’m still using the Capital One 360 (used to be ING Direct) account I opened up years ago.  I like that it’s easy to use, super simple to create sub accounts for categorization, and has very few fees.  I’m also a fan of Ally bank, but their login process seems to lock me out about every third or fourth time I try and login.  That’s not very convenient for me. :(  But, their rates are usually up there with the highest and their customer service is top notch.  If you’re better at remembering your password than I am, they’re a good option as well.  I’ve also heard good things about Perkstreet (2% cash back debit), and USAA, but haven’t used either to verify.

Here are some banks offering some great rates for online savings (rates are accurate as of 9/23/2013):

I know there are plenty of other options that others rave about all the time. What is your favorite bank?  What qualifications do you look for in a bank?

This post was first published in June 2013, but is being republished today, with updates (Perkstreet is closing, and rates updates)


5 Ways to Handle Debt When Laid Off

Getting laid off can be a shock for anyone. Sometimes they come as a surprise and on some occasions layoffs are expected. When you’re presented with a layoff, you may feel that your life is crumbling before your eyes. With no job and debt, how will you pay your bills?

The thought of having no job and debt can keep even the most financially stable person up at night. It’s every ones worst nightmare. So if you’re not going into unemployment with a large amount of savings then how do you handle debt while laid off? There’s no simple answer to this question and every situation is unique but here are five tips to help you handle debt when laid off from your job.

Know what funds you have available

Make a list of all of the monetary assets that you have. You should know exactly the amount of money you have in your checking and savings account. As for credit cards, know your available credit. If you have any investments or retirement accounts, you should know the cash value for those as well. Desperate times call for desperate measures and you will probably need these funds in order to get by.

Prioritize your expenses

You always want to pay secured debt first. Secured debt means that the asset can be claimed by the lender if the borrower falls short of payments. Examples of secured debt are your house and car. Your mortgage, utilities and food expenses should be the first expenses that you pay before anything else.

It may get frustrating getting creditor calls from your credit card companies but credit bills are the last thing that you pay in these kind of situation. So don’t be pressured to pay the bill unless you can afford it. Also, don’t allow creditors to harass you. Know your rights and find out what laws in your area protect you from creditor harassment.

5 ways to handle debt when laid offSeverance package

When laid off ask your employer about a severance package. Severance package are pay and benefits given to an employee when they have been laid off. The amount given is based on the length of employment. It can include a payment for unused sick and vacation days. Severance pay should be rationed towards your bills until you find new employment.

Contact creditors

Call each creditor and make them aware of your situation. Let them know that you have been laid off. Most credit card companies will be willing to work with you due to the simple fact that they want their money. In most cases there is a good chance that you will be able to negotiate a payment plan. Also, ask your bank about a hardship plan or forbearance program. These programs can involve lowering minimum payment, temporarily lowering the interest rate, or the cancellation of late fees and penalties.

Get a job

It’s important to get a job as soon as possible. When you’ve been laid off and you have debt, you are not in a position to be choosy about where you work. It’s important to get a job, any job. Of course you would like to do something related to your experience and your training but you must face the fact that you may not got the job you desire. Finding a job takes time and patience, so if you know of any places that are hiring immediately, just take it.

If you can’t find a job, then get creative and find ways to make money. Sale your car or rent out a room in your house. If you have a skill start contracting out work as a way to supplement income. Start a business from home using resources that you already have.

In conclusion, unemployment doesn’t have to ruin your finances. Although, being laid off from a job can be one of the hardest times of your life, good money management skills and determination can help you manage your debt effectively.

Embrace Abundance

One of the tried and true tenets of personal finance is frugality.  Either through penny-pinching and coupon clipping, or through budgets and smart spending, we aim for frugality.  We choose to be frugal either because we have high debt loads, or because we just want to save some money for some purchase.  In short, we’re reacting to a scarcity of some resource.  In the case of many of us, that resource is money.

Through scarcity, we find ways to make things last longer, or stretch further.  We find ways to turn something raw into something useful.  Scarcity teaches us to be resourceful; not only with our money, but with our food, clothing, supplies, our whole world.

But, sometimes we get so wrapped up in embracing scarcity, and learning from it, that we forget to also embrace abundance.

Sometimes we even participate in abundance, but only because we claim that it’s the scarcity that’s the driving force of our action.

Today, forget scarcity.  Embrace abundance.

Embrace Abundance

Just for a day.  (I think you’ll want to do so longer, but start with a day.)

Embrace the things in your life that are abundant.  Embrace the abundant opportunity to partake in the last few days of summer and go to the park.  Swing.  Play with your children.  Or pets.  Or friends.

Embrace the abundant knowledge that you have in your local library, or through services like PaperbackSwap, and learn something.  Read a book. (Even if it’s strictly for pleasure.)

Embrace the abundant joy that you have in your family.  Break out the cards or board games and enjoy their company.  (Even the one who’s ruthless at Monopoly. )

It doesn’t matter what it is.  But, don’t do it because of scarcity.  Do it because there’s something in abundance that you want to enjoy.

What do you have in your life that is overflowing in abundance?  Embrace it.