Checking and savings accounts: A wise choice

How can you keep your money safe and manage your money wisely? Easy! Just open a checking and/or savings account in a federally insured bank or credit union. NCPW partner Consumer Action offers a brochure to help people understand that banks and credit unions generally offer their account holders free or low-cost services, such as free check cashing or low-cost money wiring. This can save you money because a checking account can be a less costly alternative to using check cashers or prepaid cards.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), an agency of the federal government, insures account balances in banks. Your coverage depends on the size of your balance—up to $250,000 per person at the same bank is covered. But you may have more than $250,000 insurance coverage even at the same bank if you also have different kinds of accounts, such as a joint account with another person or an individual retirement account (IRA). 

Similarly, federally chartered credit unions are regulated by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) and insured by the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund (NCUSIF). The coverage levels are generally the same as those provided by FDIC-insured banks.

Before opening an account, make sure the bank or credit union is federally insured by looking for the FDIC or NCUSIF notice at the branch or website.

When choosing an account look for:

  • Free checking or an account with a low monthly maintenance fee.
  • Direct deposit of your paycheck or benefits payment.
  • A debit card with a network brand (MasterCard or Visa). You can use your card to make purchases, pay bills online, withdraw cash or get “cash back” with purchases.
  • Free online access and bill pay.
  • An ATM network that is convenient to where you live and work.

You can open an account on the phone, online, or in person at a bank or credit union branch.

For more tips on finding and opening an account, as well as a few cautions, see Consumer Action’s Checking & Savings Account module.

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