Wouldn't you like to earn 3.00 percent on your checking account?
In March of last year, I wrote an article here entitled Move Your Money to a High Interest Checking Account. My goal was to get folks thinking about how the MegaBanks are nickel-and-diming us into poverty. For me, the term "MegaBanks" means the fifty or so very large banks in the country, ten of which control an astonishing 77 percent of all banking assets! MegaBanks now pay virtually nothing in interest. When I looked at BankRate.com earlier today, the interest checking accounts at the four largest banks had paltry rates from 0.01 percent to 0.05 percent. Unfortunately, even the next forty banks don't do much better. Though some internet-only accounts can be higher, you'll be hard pressed to find any banks within the top 100 that will pay as much as 1.00% on a locally-held checking account--and then there are the fees.
The regional bank that I had used for over a decade recently became a MegaBank and just reduced its interest checking account rate to 0.01 percent. To avoid a service charge, I had to keep $1,500 in the account, thus providing the bank with a permanent $1,500 interest-free loan. Last week, I learned that it was upping the ante: keep $5,000 on deposit or pay $20 a month for the privilege of having the account. Some of the perks, such as fee-free ATM transactions, were also taken away.
It doesn't matter. I effectively stopped banking with that one last year when it became clear that my loyalty hadn't made much difference. Instead, I found several small banks in the region that offer great deals: free accounts, free ATM transactions, free online bill payment, and an annual percentage yield of about 3.00 percent for funds on deposit. I have to jump through a couple of hoops by using a debit card and maintaining a direct deposit, but those are easy to do. For the last year, I've been earning a tidy monthly profit on my checking account at a bank that pays me an annual percentage rate of 3.00 percent while charging no fees. And mine is linked to a savings account paying 1.75 percent. Will you find my bank on Bankrate? Not likely.
Lots of folks sniff disdainfully when I say 3.00 percent, but I don't know of any other investment today that is federally insured, has no withdrawal penalty, and is as simple to use as a debit checking account that pays me for using it. I'm not locked in to a low CD rate, and I can move my money again whenever I want. It's really not as hard as most people imagine.
Though it's true that all the banks are changing their terms as a new era of financial regulation takes effect in the coming months, there's more to it now than just interest rates. MegaBanks are increasing fees and decreasing services. Bank of America, for instance, just announced the layoff of 30,000 employees, and, according to the Washington Post, it is trying to figure out how to "wring more profit from the bank's core customer base, which includes about 58 million consumer and small-business accounts." The Post quoted one analyst who believes "the cutbacks could weigh heavily on Bank of America's millions of customers, who would have to deal with fewer branches and longer lines for tellers."
More fees and fewer services? That's not what I expect from a bank, and neither should you. The bank is using my money to make money; therefore, the bank should be providing me with services AND paying me a share of its profit. And there are plenty of banks still willing to do this. They are just not part of the MegaBank Society. You have to look a little harder.
While there are a number of sources for locating good, small, customer-friendly banks and credit unions, I've found two that are quite helpful. One that I mentioned in my earlier article is Kasasa.com, which provides information on a select group of banks that participate in several high-interest programs. For an even more comprehensive source, try DepositAccounts.com, a website with details on virtually every bank you can name. Jump into the meat of this site by looking at the page for High Yield Reward Checking Accounts. Here, you'll be able to screen banks quickly to find a good fit for you. And then spend some time exploring the reviews of the banks. You'll find timely information provided by Ken, the Bank Deals Guy, as well as by real-world users of the banks.
Remember this: you should not be paying fees to banks unless you are seeking special services, or you are irresponsible -- in which case you justifiably incur fees for overdrafts. But if you are a normal customer and maintain your account in good standing, you ought to be able to make a profit on your account every single month.
So, how much is your MegaBank paying you? Are you making a profit? If not, move your money!