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Checking account ratings methodology
How we rate checking accounts
A checking account is a core component of money management: It’s where your paycheck is likely deposited and where your bills are paid from. Our editorial team objectively compares and ranks these instrumental accounts to provide you an overall rating of how useful each can be to your overall money management strategy.
Our ratings are designed to help you compare the overall performance of a checking account or related spending-focused app and debit card — and not just the numbers. We analyze and weigh evenly six distinct factors of checking: monthly fees, the ease at which monthly fees can be waived, the breadth of ATM networks, ATM fees, overdraft fees and customer service.
Our ratings are designed to provide you with a starting point. But what’s good for one person might not be best for your needs. Read our comprehensive reviews before signing up for a checking account, app or debit card.
We rate saving accounts using a system of one to five stars.
★★★★★ — Excellent
★★★★★ — Good
★★★★★ — Average
★★★★★ — Subpar
★★★★★ — Poor
How we rate monthly fees
Monthly maintenance fees on checking or spending accounts are becoming a sticking point within the industry, so our first two ratings scores focus on how easy it is to avoid paying a regular fee.
We reserve excellent ratings for accounts that forgo monthly fees. And the higher the potential fees on a checking account or the harder it is to get that fee waived, the lower its score.
Monthly fees can add up quickly, eating into your hard-earned income. While many banks offer to waive monthly fees on checking accounts, the balance some of them require you to keep up in order to avoid paying can be steep. And it often doesn’t earn you much interest, if at all. That money would grow more more quickly stored away in a savings account.
How we rate ATM access and fees
Behind avoiding fees, accessing your money is often high on the list of important checking features. We reserve excellent ratings for accounts with banks that offer or partner with others to offer fee-free access to the largest number of ATMs. Those with small networks or limited affiliations with ATM networks earn lower ratings.
ATM fees can also be a drain or hinder access to your money, so accounts with free ATM access, fee rebates or low ATM transaction fees fare better in our ratings.
How we rate overdraft fees
Checking accounts are designed for the constant inflow and outflow of money, but it means that your balance may run low before payday. We understand that banks need to protect themselves from losing money, but we also recognize that overdraft fees are a major source of pain for account holders. Many fees are excessive, given the advancements in technology and alternatives available to help you cover temporary shortages. For our ratings, the higher the fee, the lower the score.
How we rate customer support
We base our customer review rating on a combination of three factors:
- The breadth of a financial institution’s communication options.
- Its hours of availability or speed of responsiveness.
- The institution’s Better Business Bureau rating.
When weighing options, we consider how you can communicate with the bank about your account. Higher ratings go to banks that offer phone support beyond traditional business hours, along with email, live chat and social media options.
For customer support, we consider its overall ratings and customer complaints with the Better Business Bureau. We also consider complaints with the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau.
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