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My parents helped me set up checking and savings accounts through Wells Fargo when I was a teenager and got my first job. Only now, ten years later, I’m realizing that the Wells Fargo accounts aren’t making good use of my money and I’m looking to switch.

I’ve been drawn to online bank accounts because of the high interest rates they offer. I’ve heard, however, that a person still needs a checking account at a brick and mortar bank. Why is that? I’m assuming:

  1. To make cash deposits
  2. For checks (possible with online banks)
  3. For ATM access (possible with online banks)

So what’s the deal? Do I need an online savings account and a physical checking account?

  • 1
    "Marcus", for instance, does not offer ATM use but "Synchrony" does. Neither offer checking accounts but Synchrony offers check-writing on money-market accounts. Online-savings-banks don't seem to require external bank accounts anymore and so they can accept a payment to the customer as through a bank. Obviously they don't accept cash or money orders for deposits but require funds through a bank. Also, take a look at a Treasury Direct account. – S Spring Apr 7 at 19:44
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    I have an 'online only' checking account with Fidelity. They mailed me checks just like any other bank, and I'm able to deposit checks by taking pictures of them. I'm also able to use any ATM machine (Fidelity even pays any transaction fee). But your #1 seems to be correct, I don't have any direct way to deposit cash. – Rob P. Apr 7 at 20:52
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Do I need an online savings account and a physical checking account?

You don't need one, but you might find it convenient to have one. Cash deposits are still an issue with online banking, some allow ATM deposits but otherwise you'll typically be looking to turn the cash into a check to deposit online.

I have a couple local credit union accounts that were opened just because I get mortgages through credit unions. I like knowing that I can get things notarized, cash a check, or get a cashier's check same day if needed without much hassle. However, I've set foot in a credit union twice in the last 3+ years. I'm confident that I would be fine without a local bank account, but I would keep one open just in case. An issue with any account can leave you without access for a period of time, so a separate local bank account can still be helpful. There is no cost for me to keep these accounts open, if there were I'd likely close them.

5

I think it's appropriate to have an account at a local brick and mortar bank. It could be a savings or a checking account.

I have a free checking account (and online bill pay) as well as my safe deposit box at Wells Fargo. I don't keep much in the account. A monthly direct deposit check goes in and it almost covers my periodic cash withdrawals for everyday living expenses and payment of monthly bills. For large infrequent bills (car and home insurance, property tax, etc.), I transfer some additional money in. The rest of my cash sits in a few high yield online savings accounts because local banks like Wells Fargo pay next to nothing.

Other than an occasional notary, Wells Fargo is just for the basics and local convenience.

  • I didnt know Wells Fargo had any free checking accounts. Did this change lately? – Vality Apr 8 at 17:21
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    I've been with them for a long time. Back then, free checking was commonplace and now, new accounts pay fees. – Bob Baerker Apr 8 at 17:31
  • -1. You say it's "appropriate" and "convenient" to have an additional account with a brick and mortar bank, but don't explain why. You also don't mention that those accounts often are not free unless you direct deposit or keep a minimum balance (thereby losing interest). – wide.writing.immediately Apr 10 at 22:16
  • @wide.writing.immediately: -1 to you for failing to understand what I wrote which was "I have a FREE checking account (and online bill pay) as well as my safe deposit box at Wells Fargo. I don't keep much in the account." Not keeping much in the account means no minimum balance. My knowing what happens at all of the banks in the US is irrelevant to my Answer. – Bob Baerker Apr 10 at 22:36
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Just an online account is usually just fine

I have had accounts only at online banks for several years (Schwab Bank if interested). Before that I had an account at Wells Fargo myself but that is now closed due to poor service and high fees I ended up paying. (This answer is based on my own experiences but should apply equally to anyone in a similar circumstance.)

Most services are available remotely

The bank sends me checks, pre-paid envelopes to mail in deposits or other written correspondence, a debit card (which is free to use at any ATM worldwide, fees are refunded) and I can deposit most checks over the phone, with very large checks needing to be mailed in.

Cash Deposits

The only caveat as you say is depositing cash. This is significantly more awkward. Personally when I have received cash, I stockpile it for a few months, then buy a money-gram (available at most large grocery stores), or cashiers-check written out to myself, and then deposit it as usual. This does cost a few cents to a dollar or two depending where you go, but at least for myself, this is greatly preferable to an account which charges fees, which all banks with a significant physical presence seem to do.

tldr

Overall I would say most consumers could do fine with only an online checking account and no accounts from a physical bank, unless you very frequently handle cash (such as having a cash / tip paying job). If you do it is likely worth having a bank account at a physical bank simply to avoid the fees that come with cash handling.

Do you actually want to invest?

This does not directly answer the question but I would add as an aside, even if you find an account with exceptionally good interest rates, if you plan to keep your money there for any length of time, it may be worth instead investing it. Even with very safe investments one can comfortably earn 5% a year, as opposed to around 2% from the best bank account rates. I wont go into details here as it was not what was asked, but you should consider platforms other than banks if you want money to grow for you.

(The one caveat I will add, is Schwab Bank does actually have a few branches, which one can use in case of emergency, but are usually hundreds of miles away. I have had to go to one once ever. They do not offer normal bank services but are only for exceptional use.)

  • Thanks for the tip. Though slightly off topic, I’d be happy to hear what sort of “safe investments” would yield 5% (though I really only have an emergency fund and a small savings other than retirement and HSA) – taylorpalmer Apr 8 at 23:42
  • I used to have a Schwab checking account, but found it difficult to deposit cash. I would give it to a friend and have them write a check for me. I've since moved to a credit union with no nearby branches, but they give me access to an ATM network that accepts cash deposits. – wide.writing.immediately Apr 10 at 22:23
  • @taylorpalmer I wont give a long answer here, but many municipal bonds offer 5% (technically more as the interest is tax free), as well as various very high grade corporate bonds. If you consider stocks that becomes more risky but increases potential yield to 7-11% – Vality Apr 10 at 22:25
  • @wide.writing.immediately Agreed. I have never tried a credit union, or a cash depositing ATM (at least in the USA). But I agree it is inconvenient. I only handle cash a few times a year so it isnt a big deal for me but if it is the math is different. The other option I didn't mention but can also work is to buy a prepaid or reloadable card which can be attached to paypal to send the money to yourself. But such hacks are for another question really. – Vality Apr 10 at 22:27
  • Depositing large checks via mobile app is pretty much impossible. Most banks have pretty low limits ($2000, $5000, etc.) Ally has a $50,000 limit, but I just received a larger check. The only way to deposit it into an online bank is by mail. – RonJohn Jul 11 at 16:56

protected by JoeTaxpayer Apr 7 at 20:53

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