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Checking Out Checking Accounts

Checking accounts are a convenient way to access and manage your money. Using features like a debit card, online banking, bill-pay services, and mobile banking allow access from just about anywhere. But not all checking accounts are the same, so when shopping around for a checking account, it’s important to find what features you would find most valuable.

So what should you look for in a checking account? Here are a few things to consider.

Free Checks vs. Free Checking

Some institutions offer free checks to their customers as a benefit. Many consumers have favored this over the years, especially before they had the ability to pay electronically. So if you are the type of person who prefers to write out checks, an account that offers free or discounted checks could save you money in the long run.

A “free checking account”, on the other hand, is different. This refers to maintenance or usage fees on an account. These fees are a cost to the consumer which they pay in order to have the conveniences of the account; benefits like no ATM fees, better loan rates or savings rates. Sometimes institutions will allow customers to waive these fees by using their debit card a certain number of times per month, or by setting up direct deposit.

Debit Card Rewards

Some institutions offer perks depending on how you use your account. For example, people who use their debit card frequently might be interested in rewards programs, where you can earn points when you use it. The points could then be redeemed for gift cards or other great items.


E-checking accounts don’t actually use checks, they are completely electronic. Many institutions have the capability of online and mobile banking for your smartphone, with mobile deposit, meaning you can deposit a check using the camera on your phone. You can transfer money, pay bills, or pay other people right from your phone or tablet, so you can bank anytime, anywhere.

Overdraft Privileges

Sometimes it happens, you made an adding mistake in the checkbook, or a bill was paid sooner than you expected. Some institutions will allow you to overdraw your account in some cases, paying the item you authorized or check you had written. Other options could be a line of credit which would charge you interest in the overdrawn balance, or what’s called a sweep account, which might transfer the funds from a savings account balance.

Funds Availability

Finally, institutions have different policies on when the funds from checks you deposit would be available for withdrawal. Are the funds available the same day? In three days? Or five? This may seem like an inconvenience, but holds are often in place to protect you and the bank, in case a deposited check comes back. Though the duration of these holds are often far less than they used to be, with the speed of check processing nowadays.

So which type of account is right for you? Which services best fit your needs?

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