Things to Look for in a Bank or Credit Union

by David Spader

Introduction

What to look for in a bank or credit unionMillions of Americans move house every year, and that frequently means finding a new bank/credit union. The problem of finding a good bank has been more difficult since the Great Recession started in late 2007. The federal government has shut down hundreds of insolvent banks since that time, and continues to do so. Here are some things to look for when choosing a bank or credit union.

Insured Accounts

The most important thing is FDIC insurance, should the bank become insolvent. The FDIC has always paid insured account holders within 30 days of seizing a bank. State chartered banks and credit unions may or may not be insured. Ask before you open an account.

Bank/Credit Union Fees

Fees can add up to a small fortune very quickly if the bank charges for every little service. Look for banks that offer free checking, free checks, no minimum balance and no fee for using a teller inside the bank. Especially check into their ATM fees. Some banks tack on a surcharge for using an ATM outside of their network, and this is in addition to the fee paid at the ATM. Additionally, some banks charge to mail a paper statement or photocopies of your canceled checks.

Savings Interest Rates

Savings interest rates are at historic lows, hovering at around one percent. Credit unions usually offer a higher interest rate than banks. Find the best interest rate for the amount of money you plan to invest, but make sure that you can do without the money for the required period of time. For example, you may earn two percent higher interest on a five-year certificate of deposit, but there will be significant penalties if you need the money before maturity.

Lending Policies

Lending policies are another thing to look for when choosing a bank or credit union. If you plan to buy a home, then you want a bank that makes the mortgage process easy and without excessive loan origination costs. If you have slightly damaged credit, which is common with the current economy, then choose a bank or credit union that services this type of customer.

Bank/Credit Union Services

Make sure that the bank or credit union offers the services you need, such as a safe deposit box, online banking and bill pay, the ability to transfer money from one account to another over the phone, and overdraft protection. Also, if you are paid through direct deposit, ask the bank if they allow immediate access to the money.

Conclusion

The website, Bankrate.com, lists the health of hundreds of banks and credit unions throughout the country. Use this data to immediately eliminate problem banks and hone in on the healthier ones in your neighborhood.

David Spader is a freelance writer who normally provides savings accounts reviews over at SavingsAccount.Org. He recently wrote about the best savings account rates available right now.

FICO Holiday Survey Findings

(Source:myFICO.com)

According to a recent survey conducted by myFICO.com, almost half of respondents charge an average of $100-$500 more than usual on their credit cards during the holidays, which for some takes up to six months or more to pay off! Nearly 40 percent of these respondents also said that credit card debt was their biggest financial worry going into 2011, so learning to manage already fragile credit, make wise shopping decisions, and be aware of debt will be the key to enjoying a safe and happy holiday season.

Trends in credit card usage:

Maxin’ out: During the holidays, five percent of survey respondents say they spend 75 percent, or more, of their total credit limits.
Charge it!: Nearly 35 percent charge the majority of or ALL of their holiday purchases to their credit cards.
Cash or Credit?: Only 15 percent said they use cash to pay for holiday shopping — while an additional 35 percent stick to using their debit card, only spending what they  have in their account at the time of purchase.

Debt:

In 2009, nearly 40 percent of respondents said that credit card debt was their biggest financial worry going into 2010. This year, the same number said it continues to be their main concern for 2011. As many Americans still face financial challenges, protecting already fragile credit, making wise shopping decisions, and being aware of debt will be the key to enjoying a safe and happy holiday season.
Bah-hum-budget: More than half confessed they do nothing to prepare for the added bills during the holiday season.

Retail credit cards:

0% off now can mean points taken off your credit score later: Although most people do not apply for in-store credit cards, almost 10 percent are lured into obtaining new retail cards with upfront discounts.
Passing on new credit this holiday season?: 91 percent of respondents will NEVER open a new retail credit card during the holidays. Reasons include: You don’t want to ruin your credit, you don’t need more credit cards and/or you don’t shop all that often.

Economic impact:

Tightening the holiday belt: 75 percent admit they will be changing holiday traditions this year due to the economy.

Credit Smart During the Holidays

As many Americans are facing hard times financially, being “credit smart” this holiday season will be more important than ever. FICO’s Holiday Credit Guru, Shon Dellinger, has several tips consumers should keep in mind this holiday season, including:

  • Paying with plastic: Be wary of hidden pitfalls that could damage your credit this holiday season. Before you open a new line of credit at your favorite retail store, remember that besides having sky high interest rates, opening new lines of credit can hurt your credit score, so make sure the card meets your overall needs and not just your desire for quick savings.
  • Don’t shop till you drop into debt: Everyone wants to get their family and friends the best presents this holiday, but you don’t have to compromise your financial health to do it. Just last year, 28 percent of consumers surveyed told us they had recently had at least one of their credit limits lowered.  Reducing your available credit can lead to higher “credit utilization” and lower FICO credit scores.
  • New Year, new policies: In response to changes brought about by the CARD Act that went into effect earlier this year, many credit card issuers have added annual fees, lowered credit limits, and raised interest rates on their cards.  Be aware that many lenders have tightened the amount of credit they are making available since last season and that not all cards have the generous rewards (miles, points, etc.) programs they once had.
  • Get smart about your credit: Utilize the resources available to keep track of your credit reports and scores: go to www.myfico.com or the FICO Forums, where thousands of people have weighed in on every imaginable credit question. You can also download the free iPhone app, answer a short series of questions and get your estimated FICO score range.

Bush Tax Cuts Compromise

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — The compromise on the Bush tax cuts announced Monday night between President Obama and Republicans could cost between $600 billion and $800 billion if ultimately signed into law — no sure thing given opposition from many Democrats.

Bush tax cut deal and surprise stimulus – what they cost – Dec. 7, 2010

This is a good thing. While I didn’t agree with the Bush tax cuts at the outset, I do believe that letting the tax cuts expire will in fact be perceived as a tax increase and I do not believe governments should increase taxes during economic downturns.

It’s like shooting yourself in the foot. Just plain stupid and/or careless.

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US Taxpayers to Make $12 Billion Profit on Citigroup Bailout

WASHINGTON – After all is said and done, taxpayers will make a $12 billion profit on the government’s $45 billion bailout of Citigroup.

The Treasury Department said late Monday that it had struck a deal to sell its remaining holdings in Citigroup common stock, about 2.4 billion shares. With the proceeds of the sale, priced at $4.35 a share, the government will have realized $57 billion on its bailout package for the big bank.

Gov’t: Taxpayers make $12B on Citigroup bailout – Yahoo! News

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