- Finding a good online bank is key to dealing with money in the digital age.
- Online banking can offer all of the services of traditional brick-and-mortar banking, sometimes with even more benefits like higher interest rates for checking and savings.
- This doesn’t mean online banking is perfect, or that every online bank is the same. You’ll want to watch out for fees related to keeping a minimum balance, or to using out-of-network ATMs.
Most traditional banks we use today tend to have robust online services, but online banks did it first: They’re only accessible online.
Because they don’t have the high overhead costs of brick-and-mortar banks, they also tend to offer low or no-fee services with smooth apps and websites.
But what should you look for when selecting an online bank? There are a few things:
- Basic security measures, including a secure website, FDIC insurance, and a high rating
- Convenience, including a simple interface, robust account offerings, and helpful customer service
- Minimal fees, including an extensive ATM network or reimbursement program to cut down on out-of-network fees
And hey: If you find a traditional bank that offers all of the below, that might still be the best fit for you.
Basic security and protection
First things first: You want your bank to be FDIC-insured. The FDIC is a government agency that insures US banks in case something goes wrong and the bank fails. In a bank insured by the FDIC, each customer’s assets are insured up to $250,000. This is standard at traditional banks, and just as necessary for online banks.
You might also be interested in the bank’s rating from Bauer Financial when you’re comparing your options. Bauer Star Ratings are the financial industry standard for evaluating a bank’s policies, competency, and security. Banks and credit unions are rated on a scale of 1 to 5 (you’ll want to look for a 4 or 5-star score). Some financial institutions may not have ratings, such as banking startups that don’t have enough data to be evaluated. You can purchase more comprehensive reports from BauerFinancial, but getting a snapshot just from the star rating should suffice for most consumers.
And while it might seem obvious, take a moment to make sure your online bank’s url starts with HTTPS instead of HTTP. The “S” at the end stands for Secure, meaning that all communications transferred between your browser and the website are encrypted. A secure website will also have a locked lock icon in or near the address bar.
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As a general rule, don’t submit confidential information to a website that does not have HTTPS, particularly financial information — and don’t make a habit of doing your banking over public wireless connections.
Convenience, both online and on your mobile device
According to a study conducted by CitiBank, nearly one-third of Americans use their mobile banking app more than any other app on their smartphone. And taking care of banking business via mobile apps has only increased over the last few years. The same study said that banking mobile app usage increased by almost 50% in 2018 alone.
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Although online banks will almost always have websites that are optimized for mobile browsers, let’s be honest: You probably want to access your banking from your phone. Read reviews of the app on the Apple or Google Play stores, and think about what services you’ll need on the go, whether that’s as simple as checking your account balance or setting up bill payments from your smartphone.
While traditional checking and savings accounts offer no interest, it’s not uncommon to find high-yield checking and savings account options among online banks — and that has the potential to make you money. Ally is probably the best-known option for high-yield online accounts, while some smaller online banks like Chime and Digit also provide functionality to make it easier to automate your savings and keep a steady stream of money going into your accounts.
Savings account offers from our partners:
And finally, there are times when you will need to speak to an actual human, not just be sent through every automated system. Look at what the banks advertise for different levels of customer support. If the bank does not have a 24/7 phone line or guaranteed online chat for emergencies, you might want to consider other options.
Conveniences like being able to temporarily lock your card or report it missing can seem small, but can also make a significant difference regarding fraudulent charges or other misuse, which often occur within minutes of your card being stolen.
Minimal fees, including a strong ATM network
Look for an online bank that provides a high monthly refund for ATM fees, or has an extensive network of fee-free ATMs.
Ally, for instance, charges no fees for ATMs within the Allpoint network, and will reimburse up to $10 for out-of-network fees each month. TIAA Bank will reimburse all ATM fees for accounts that maintain a $5,000 minimum, and up to $15 per month for out-of-network ATMs otherwise. You can also use the site’s ATM locator to find no-fee ATMs.
While you’re on high alert for fees, keep an eye out for added costs such as minimum monthly (or quarterly) deposit requirements, fees for ordering paper checks, membership fees, in addition to their policies on overdrawing your account or having a payment bounce back.
You want your online bank to be secure, convenient, and cost-efficient — and if you find a bank that checks all three boxes, you might have found the bank for you.
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