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Five Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Bank

Matching a bank to your lifestyle can save you money -- and aggravation.

The ideal banking setup is like a thumbprint: unique to each person. Your lifestyle, your income and your preferences will all determine the best way for you to bank. Ask yourself these questions as you assess your banking options.

1. Do you travel a lot?

Yes. A big bank is for you. These financial institutions charge more, but you get more banking services for your money. Giants have branches in most major cities, so you don't have to worry about running out of money when you're out of town, or making all your transactions before leaving home.

No. Then a small, local financial institution may be your best bet. You don't need to pay for a large network of bank branches and ATMs.

2. Do you like to bank in person?

Yes. You may want traditional checking and savings accounts. This way, you can see the person you're handing your life savings to.

No. You may want an express account that allows you to bank by ATM, phone, or computer. But, be aware, you may be charged a couple of bucks when you use a teller.

3. Do you write a lot of checks each month?

Yes. Consider an account with unlimited check writing.

No. Try an economy account, which charges you a lesser fee for writing fewer checks.

4. Do you balance your checkbook to the penny each month?

Yes. Get an account that will save you money if you maintain a minimum balance, and skip overdraft protection.

No. Get overdraft protection and don't open an account that requires a large minimum balance.

5. Do you keep meticulous records?

Yes. Don't pay extra for returned canceled checks or carbon-copy checks.

No. If you make mental notes instead of writing down your check purchases, get carbon-copy checks and have your canceled checks returned.

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