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ShoppingforaBankAt present, I have four savings accounts at three different banks.  At times I do feel a bit overbanked, but each institution – from my online bank to my credit union to my big box bank – has its benefits. As you search for the perfect bank or banks this year here is a checklist of important criteria to consider, especially in 2011’s new era of banking:

Low Fees. You’ll have to search a little harder for a bank with little to no fees. After an estimated $11 billion blow to revenue from the CARD Act’s fee restrictions, it’s no secret that banks are actively raising fees in 2011. Wells Fargo and JP Morgan will begin to phase out their “fee-free” checking accounts, which previously boasted no minimum balance requirement and no monthly service or activation fee. Meantime other banks are flirting with the idea of adding annual fees to debit cards. Credit unions and online banks, which have relatively less overhead than traditional big banks, tend to offer the lowest fees, but they, too, may need to increase charges in the New Year. “Preferred” customers that save big and have other accounts (mortgages, loans, credit cards) with one bank might be spared from rising checking account fees.

Proximity. Speaking of fees, choose a bank that has nearby ATMs to both your home and office where you can both withdraw cash and deposit checks. Charges for using an ATM that doesn’t belong to your bank have gone up nine cents from $1.32 to $1.42, based on Bankrate’s 2010 Checking Study.

Quality of Service. Bigger isn’t always better in this category. In fact
 the annual American Customer Satisfaction Survey released last month found that we prefer smaller banks – particularly credit unions – over bigger banks, mainly due to individualized services and personalized customer relationships. You can find a local credit union at findacreditunion.com.

Savings Rate. It’s not exactly a saver’s market today, given today’s 0.5% average interest earned in a checking account, but you are generally better off finding the best rates at online banks like SmartyPig, HSBC and AllyBank, and credit unions.

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