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Don’t Bail on Your Checking Account Yet

by . (Posted in: Banking / Personal Finance News)


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For months, we’ve told readers about the growing number of consumers turning to prepaid debit card products for their lower fee structures and often, better conveniences. More consumers these days are unbanked or underbanked than ever before. Others are thinking their checking accounts have lost the convenience factor, but there are reasons to keep a checking account, even with the growing bank fees. A prepaid debit card certainly has its advantages – and for many, those advantages far outweigh the classic checking account, but here are a few reasons to hold off on closing that bank account.

Most checking accounts offer their own debit cards, so unless you’re under or unbanked, it could be your checking account offers all of the advantages anyway of those nifty prepaid products.

There’s a familiarity too when dealing with your bank. Most consumers have long and established relationships with their banks; often those banks hold their mortgages, car loans and other financial products.

Often, it works to the consumer’s advantage since he can better negotiate the occasional transfer fee or late payment.

Many are also preferring cash these days, too. That’s not entirely surprising with all of the economic upheaval of the past few years. Many simply no longer trust banking institutions, especially if it’s one of the bigger banks that have reputations of “take, take, take”.

The problem with cash, though, is you’re on your own with it. If you lose cash, it’s gone. If someone steals your debit card or if you lose it, the banks or other financial institutions usually have safeguards in place that will ensure you’re not out your money. It’s insured by FDIC.

And don’t assume if your cash is tucked neatly away in a safety deposit box in your bank’s vault that it’s insured. Remember, the bank employees don’t know what it’s those boxes, so there’s no way for you to prove how much – if any – cash you have stashed.

Granted, those pesky bank fees are taking a toll on the American consumer. Not only that, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find a free checking account. Often, though, consumers pay monthly fees when they might not have to.

If you’ve not contacted your bank to see if you qualify for a free account, you should. Often, a bank will waive those monthly fees if the customer has another account, such as a savings, retirement or mortgage account with the bank.

It can’t hurt to ask. Also, if your payroll check is direct deposited, you may find your bank willing to waive the monthly fees.

Erin Constantine, senior vice president of Wells Fargo Bank, encourages customers to not forget about the convenience factors,

There’s so much convenience and so many tools built into that checking account that there’s tremendous value even if you do pay the monthly service fee,

she says.

Prepaid cards have grown by leaps and bounds and these days, the fees are competitive with bank fees – and sometimes even better than what some banks offer. But they might not come with online bill-pay and electronic alerts that consumers can use to help manage their money.

Writing checks isn’t an option with a prepaid product, either. As most companies have long since converted to direct deposit, there are still many that issue the traditional paper paycheck.

Small businesses are typically the ones that issue these paper payroll checks. Again, prepaid products are improving, but there are still many that don’t offer monthly statements, which can be difficult if you’re in a dispute with a company.

Same thing goes for tax season – bank accounts provide, or at least provide access, to all of the financial transactions you’ve had over the past year, making it much easier to coordinate and file your annual tax returns.

If you’re young or are starting over, a prepaid debit card can certainly serve a purpose; however, if you’re a bit more settled in your life, complete with mortgage and college savings, a prepaid card just isn’t going to be enough.

You need to build a solid financial foundation. Prepaid cards do not offer that kind of security. A bank account does. Remember, too, prepaid debit cards were never intended to be a way to improve credit scores.

Unlike a secured credit card, which does report to the credit bureaus, prepaid products have no foundation for that since you’re using your own money.

Finally, if you feel like you can’t open a checking account because of less than perfect credit or if you’ve had an account in the past that was mismanaged, you should know there are still options available.

We’re beginning to see many more second chance checking accounts. There are a few more restrictions, but they are the first best move to make if you’re looking to rebuild a relationship with a bank.

Once a consumer has met certain thresholds, they’re often offered the more traditional account with fewer restrictions.

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