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Have You Ever Opened a Checking Account?

Maybe some of you are saving it in your trusty piggy bank, under your mattress or way back in a sock drawer. Although I'm glad that you are saving, your money is not doing anything for you locked up in your house. Consider a checking account where you can make some interest on your money. And for those of you who already have a checking account, after reading this article you may want to change banks.

Checking accounts are the most popular accounts banks hold. People use them to pay bills and expenses but did you know that there is more than one type of checking account? To name a few there is the basic checking, free checking, interest-bearing, joint checking, express, lifeline, senior/student checking and money market. For a summary of them, go here (http://www.bankrate.com/brm/green/chk/basics1-1a.asp).

Choosing a checking account

You should put more thought into getting a checking account. Why you ask? Because some charge you for an in person transaction or have a high insufficient fee, or ATM fee, even when you use one of their ATMs, etc. When selecting the right account for your needs, you have to take all your banking habits into consideration. Think about whether you bounce checks on a regular, how many checks you write a month, if you prefer to get your statements in the mail or view them online, if you prefer to do your banking online, by phone, at ATMs or work with a bank teller in person, how much money you usually keep in your account, etc.? Knowing all these things beforehand will make it easier for you to pick the right bank and checking account to keep your money in your account and not in the bank's greedy hands.

Free checking really free?

Some banks say they offer free checking but there are all these stipulations, such as if you don't maintain a certain balance then you will get charged X dollars a month until you meet the minimum. Other banks charge a fee for using the account. According to the Federal Truth in Savings Act, free checking means that there are no minimum balance requirements and no monthly activity and maintenance fees. But that doesn't mean you won't get charged for bouncing a check, stopping a payment or writing more checks than you are allotted for the month.

For those of you who still write checks, you can no longer count on having a couple of days before the money actually comes out your account. I just found out there is a law that took effect in October 2004 called Check Clearing for the 21st Century Act (Check 21). This law was designed to speed up the payment of bills. If you write a check to the light company, they can convert it into an electronic check and e-mail it to their bank without having to send the actual check through the mail. This may not concern those twentysomethings who manage to keep money in their account but for those of you who are living paycheck to paycheck, this might be a problem for you.

Bouncing Checks

Banks want to pretend that they are on your side. Look at this example taken from Bankrate.com.

"Say you had $300 in your checking account and you wrote six checks totaling $375. The six checks are for $200, $12, $50, $60, $23 and $30. If they all came back to the bank on the same day, the bank will clear the $200 check and the $60 check and bounce the rest since the next largest check ($50) won't clear." You would have to pay four separate insufficient fees. At my bank the insufficient fee is $30. That would be $120! Although the bank could have cleared the smaller checks first, their stand is that the larger checks could be for something more important such as a mortgage or car loan.

To avoid getting those pesky insufficient charges, consider getting overdraft protection. In order to get it you have to have another account with the bank, whether it's a savings account, credit card or some other line of credit. So if you overdraw your checking account, the bank will pay the remaining balance and take the money out of your account. As long as you keep money in your other accounts, the bank guarantees the check(s) will be paid. You will still get charged a fee but it will be dramatically less than the insufficient fee. But the trick is you have to request the overdraft protection. The bank will not automatically cover your checks because you have other accounts with them.

Okay, I have just given you a summary to get you started on choosing the right bank to hold your money. The rest is up to you. In fact, I'm thinking of changing banks myself, in researching for this article I just realized I am getting ripped off. For more on checking accounts go to bankrate.com.

ChaChanna Simpson is the publisher and editor of Twentity.com, the free ezine for twentysomethings, featuring cheap and free events every Wednesday. Subscribe at http://www.twentity.com

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