Time to think harder about your checking account

(BPT) - When we imagine “financial literacy,” we often think about credit cards, loans and debt. But these building blocks of our financial infrastructures tend to cloud our perspective, pushing important details, like checking accounts, to the sidelines.

Checking accounts are often overlooked but are actually the backbone of personal finance and money management. Routinely using a well-kept checking account allows people to responsibly spend their money. For many, checking accounts are often children, teens and young adults’ first financial accounts, and serve as an introduction to money management and responsible spending.

Because checking accounts are so important, it’s critical that individuals find options that work with their lifestyle and are accessible anywhere. To make the most of your money, here’s what you should look for in a checking account:

1. Read the small print and avoid fees

Opening a checking account feels like a fairly standard practice, so it’s tempting to overlook the fine print. But that’s where hidden fees and charges often linger. The onus is generally on consumers to assess which options work best for them. When reading the fine print, focus on how much — and how often — charges will arise. If a financial institution claims to charge no fee on an account, confirm that there aren’t hidden fees that kick in after a certain amount of time. You don’t want to be surprised later on.

“Look for accounts that are ‘fee-free’ or boast ‘no monthly fees’ so that you ensure your money stays yours,” says Katie Miller, senior vice president of savings products at Navy Federal Credit Union. “It’s worth the time on the front end to save money on needless expenses in the long run.”

2. Access cash anywhere

Take a look at a checking account with a financial institution whose ATMs are scattered around your work, grocery stores and other favorite places that you frequent often. Many checking accounts offer solutions that make your cash even more accessible like ATM fee rebates. Sometimes, your bank of choice will charge you a fee to use an unaffiliated ATM; other times, the ATM itself will charge you a fee to access your money. Rather than pay extra to extract your own cash, some accounts allow you to use any ATM, fee-free. Offers like Navy Federal Credit Union’s Free eChecking account pay up to $120 a year in ATM fee rebates. Use any ATM, anywhere, regardless of fees, and receive up to $10 per statement period to cover those expenses.

3. Accomplish your goals with ease

Free eChecking is a great option for people who are always on the go. Being able to access your money with a few touches of your smartphone makes it easy to budget, plan and manage your money.

“You should bank the way you live,” continues Miller. “Look for offers that allow you to transfer money between accounts, for when you file away a percentage of your paycheck into your savings account. Select a checking account that takes the work out of managing your budget.”

4. Make your money work for you

Find an account that earns you monthly dividends to reward your loyalty and use. “Choosing a checking account that allows your money to earn dividends lets you make money without thinking about it,” says Miller. Some accounts even offer built-in money management tools that let you look at your spending to inform future budgeting endeavors.

Checking accounts teach us the basics of money management: They show us how much money we have and how much we’ve spent in real time. With the right checking account, you can take ownership over your money in a way that can be both impactful and instructive. And when one has the proper insights to avoid unnecessary fees and obstacles, this tool can be the perfect foundation for a healthy financial path.

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