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How do I choose the right bank, savings and loan or credit union?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Steven E. Richardson, partner with Potomac Financial Private Client Group in Fairfax, Va.

Deciding on a banking relationship is becoming more complex every day.

Foremost, your deposits should be FDIC-insured. Use Bank Find at http://www.fdic.gov to discover whether a bank is covered by the FDIC.

Next, decide on whether you want a national, regional or community bank or an Internet-only bank. Each comes with trade-offs. A national bank may provide extensive ATM access but may lack in personal service. A community bank can provide personal service but may be limited in its online capabilities. An Internet-only bank may offer attractive interest rates but have higher ATM fees.

Finally, when possible, meet the bank manager at the branch where most of your banking will take place. Determine the services you will use most often. Understand the fees associated with each service and work with the manager to establish the accounts most appropriate to your needs.

Annette Simon, principal at Garnet Group in Bethesda, Md.

In view of the recent turmoil in the financial sector, the most important thing to look for is a bank that is fiscally sound. You can look up the ratings for any bank at this Web site:

http://www.bankrate.com/brm/safesound/select.asp?insttype=0. Be certain your deposits are fully insured by the FDIC.

Look for competitive interest rates on checking and savings deposits. A bank with an extensive network of ATMs can save you a significant amount over time. Some banks (especially Internet banks) offer cards that can be used free of charge at any ATM in the country, even worldwide. Compare maintenance and service fees on accounts as well; these small fees can add up.

Banks often waive fees or offer preferential rates to their best customers. So consider consolidating accounts at one bank or using multiple services (e.g. checking account and a home mortgage.)

Terence E. Burns, president and founder of Campion Wealth Management in Vienna, Va.

Before selecting a financial institution, one should evaluate the following criteria:

· Financial soundness. An institution's core capital ratio or net worth ratio (published in its recent financial statements) is an objective indicator of financial soundness.

· Required services and convenience. One should prioritize the services one needs and then analyze their true costs.

· Quality of customer Service. Ask current customers about the simplicity of online transactions, the difficulty involved with speaking with an actual person, or one's actual experience during peak business hours at the local office.

· Or try a credit union. Data, including the health of credit unions' deposit insurance fund, capital levels, low balance sheet risk, competitive rates on loans and deposits, and lower fees, show credit unions to be an appropriate, safe choice among financial institutions.

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