When’s the last time you took a good look at your chequing account?
Not the transactions and balance, but the account itself. When’s the last time you reviewed the features of your account to make sure you’re still getting everything you need from your bank, for the lowest cost?
If you’re like most Canadians, it’s been a while. In fact, Ratehub.ca’s 2017 Digital Money Trends Report recently revealed that over half of Canadians age 55 and over have had the same primary bank account for 21 years or longer.
Personal spending habits and banking offers change over time, so it’s a good idea to compare chequing accounts every once in a while to make sure you still have the best account for you. When you’re checking out your bank’s competition, here are some benefits to keep in mind:
Branches and ATM access
If access to services is important to you, you’ll want a chequing account that allows you easy access to ATMs and in-person service if you need it. But not all banks are created equal. Compare RBC Royal Bank’s 1,355 Canadian locations to BMO Bank of Montreal’s 939, to Laurentian Bank’s 158.
Even if you prefer to do most of your banking online, ATM access is crucial if you need to withdraw or deposit cash. Most of the big banks have vast ATM networks, and some digital banks allow you to access partner bank ATMs for free. For example, if you have a Tangerine chequing account or Simplii Financial chequing account (formerly PC Financial), you can get free access to Scotiabank (Tangerine) and CIBC (Simplii) ATMs.
Online and mobile banking
I can’t think of a chequing account provider that doesn’t offer online banking, but there’s a wide range in the features available at different banks.
A key benefit to look for in a chequing account is a good mobile app. The best apps have all the same features as regular online banking, easily accessible anywhere using your phone. Many now offer added conveniences like mobile cheque cashing, which allow you to deposit a cheque by taking a picture, rather than having to deposit it in person.
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Sending money to friends and family has never been easier since the advent of Interac e-Transfers, but you might pay a lot more for them depending which chequing account you choose.
Four out of the Big Five banks offer at least one chequing account option with unlimited Interac e-Transfers included (Scotiabank is the lone holdout), and a few even include this feature on their basic accounts. But some accounts include only a limited number of Interac e-Transfers (or none at all), and charge between $1 and $1.50 every time you send money.
Instead of Interac e-Transfers, some chequing accounts instead offer free email money transfers. The most notable example is Tangerine. The main distinction is that the money isn’t sent instantly, but instead is deposited in the recipient’s account a few days after they accept the transfer, just like if you had written them a cheque.
It’s hard to convince Canadians to move chequing accounts, so banks sometimes dangle big offers to make it more worthwhile. The offers are always changing, but you can sometimes score deals like a new TV or tablet for opening a new account.
The catch is these offers are rarely made available to banks’ existing customers, so you’ll need to do a complete switch to take advantage.
But the good news is you don’t have to do all of your banking with the financial institution where you keep your chequing account. And with online banking, the argument that keeping all of your accounts at one bank is more convenient holds little weight. You’re free to have your chequing account with one bank, your mortgage with another, and other loans, credit cards and investments with any financial institution you please. And many banks offer services to automatically move over your pre-authorized payments to your new account, making it more convenient than ever to move your chequing account to a new bank.
If you love to collect rewards points, you might enjoy a chequing account that offers you a chance to earn points for making the daily transactions you would have anyway. For example, the Bank of Montreal Air Miles Account lets you earn Air Miles reward miles, while Scotiabank chequing accounts let you earn SCENE points for free movies or Scotia Rewards points, redeemable toward travel.
Contrary to my argument above that you don’t need to keep all of your accounts in the same bank, you might find it worthwhile if you can save money on fees by keeping certain products together such as your chequing account, savings account, and a credit card. The typical offer available is the bank will waive your annual fee on a particular credit card if you have a chequing account to which you make regular payroll deposits.
However, you will probably find that the bundle isn’t worth it. You will probably find that the credit card on offer doesn’t offer much in the way of points, and you might actually get a better net reward by choosing a different credit card and paying its annual fee. And the monthly fees for premium chequing accounts usually add up to way more over the course of a year than the annual fee for a credit card.
Compare accounts to get the best features for the lowest cost
If you’ve been using the same bank account for the last 20 or more years, it predates most of the benefits listed here (not to mention it’s old enough to be in university). And since your spending habits change over time, there’s a good chance there’s another chequing account out there that is a better fit for your needs.
If your chequing account doesn’t offer the benefits you need — or if it’s just been a while since you’ve taken a look at your account — take some time to compare chequing accounts and see if you can get a better deal and better features.