Switching Banks? How to Find the One Ideal for Your Situation

Recently I went with my son to open checking and savings accounts at a bank branch near our home. He's heading off to college in just over a month and wanted to move his accounts to a bank that would be more convenient for him.

In this case, making a bank decision was easy: There was only one bank that had a branch on his college campus. But switching banks isn't always so clear-cut. Here are several questions to ask yourself when you're getting ready to make the move.

Online or offline?

There was a day not too long ago when choosing an online-only bank (one without a bricks-and-mortar location) would have been unthinkable. But as people have become accustomed to viewing accounts, paying bills, and transferring money online, a physical location has become less of an issue in many cases.

In the last several years, it's even become commonplace to be able to deposit a check from your cell phone or other mobile device. That was the last reason many had to visit a bank branch.

If that describes you, then by all means throw the online only banks into the mix when making comparisons. But if you still feel more comfortable being able to walk into or drive through a physical location and talk to someone face to face, then be sure to choose a bank that offers both a local branch and an online interface.

How are rates and fees?

Interest rates on savings accounts and certificates of deposits aren't anything to get excited about these days. Interest rates are pretty paltry, which is great for borrowers, but less so for savers. Still, interest is still income, so don't ignore rates entirely. And the larger your balance, the greater your attention should be. Continue to compare your bank to others when interest rates begin to rise, which they no doubt will eventually.

On the flipside of earning interest is paying fees, and banks are increasingly turning to fees as a way to add to their bottom lines. Request a fee schedule from any bank you're considering and pay special attention to monthly maintenance fees, overdraft fees, and ATM fees. Comparison shop for these so you don't get nickeled and dimed to death.

What services do you need?

All bank customers are not created equal, so spend sometime thinking about how you'll use your bank. Is all you need is a free checking account and a basic savings account (as was the case with my son)? Or will you require a full menu of services to choose from, including a mortgage, a car loan, and investment accounts? Or, quite possibly, you'll find yourself somewhere in between those two.

Whatever your situation, the more services you can see yourself using - either now or in the future - the more you need to make sure the bank you choose can provide them. Taking the time to figure this out will ensure that you end up with a bank that's a good fit for you.

Julie Mayfield is a freelance writer and blogger specializing in personal finance and lifestyle topics. She is the creator of two blogs: The Family CEO and Creating This Life.