How to use a bank that doesn’t suck

(Hi, I’m Kaitlyn. I was born in 1984, but I have been a grown-up since I got my first checking account in 2002, the year I started college and started signing up for the mountain of student debt I am currently repaying. I haven’t paid any fees or interest to my bank or credit cards since 2010.)

I have transacted with a lot of shitty banks, all so I can tell you they are shitty so you don’t have to find out for yourself. Shitty banks include: Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citi, Chase, Union Bank, and almost every other big bank company (RIP WaMu). Shitty banks charge you fees for almost everything. I prefer not to pay fees to banks, and I also prefer maximum convenience and not having to take time to go to an actual bank, so I have created a Bank System for Grown-Ups that works for me.

My primary bank is USAA, where I have a free checking account and a free savings account. USAA is some sort of special company designed for families with US military affiliations, but their free checking and free savings accounts are available to anyone. You probably don’t live anywhere near a USAA branch, so if you want to bank with them, you’ll have to conduct your business with them online or through the mail. This is totally fine and worthwhile because USAA offers free online bill pay, assesses no fees for their “free checking” and “free savings” accounts (unlike many other banks, where free only equals free if you have direct deposit or fulfill some other fine-print criteria), and reimburses ATM fees for any ATM you use anywhere in the world. I hate paying ATM fees and I hate hunting around for an ATM from “my” bank, so this works really well for me.

"Online Bill Pay" means that you can make payments directly to certain accounts, or you can tell USAA to just mail a check to whoever you need to pay. I use this to save postage and save myself the boring check-writing and letter-writing when I need to mail a check to say, my mom, or my landlord, or whoever else I owe money. I put in my landlady’s address and tell USAA I want the check for my rent to get to her before the 1st every month, so I never have to worry about paying my rent on time. USAA also has the benefit of employing some of the *nicest* customer service people I’ve ever dealt with. 

Just like anything else in the world of being a grown-up, there are drawbacks and nothing is as simple as it seems. USAA’s free non-military-person checking accounts don’t allow you to use their online billpay system. You can mail check deposits, but that takes several days and you have to remember to mail a thing, which is kind of a pain. So, I also use a second bank, which is the Fancy Internet Bank Called Simple. I like Simple, but because of the ATM issue it will never be my primary bank. I link my Simple account with my USAA accounts, use Simple for mobile deposit, and just transfer funds back and forth as needed. I also use Simple as my PayPal-linked account, because my husband and I have a joint checking account which is linked to *his* Paypal account, and any given checking account can only be linked to one PayPal account because PayPal is stupid.

If you think having two banks is complicated enough to make you a real grown-up, think again. You still have to worry about foreign transaction fees if you like buying things from foreign countries over the internet, or better yet, going on lavish international vacations like real grown-ups do. If you’re responsible with money and know how to pay your bills on time (I’m sure we’ll have a post on how to do that someday), you could consider getting a CapitalOne credit card with no foreign transaction fees. Maybe you’d also like another kind of credit card that offers cashback rewards or airline miles too, but that’s a discussion for another day.

I use Mint to keep track of 3 bank accounts, 5 credit cards, 2 student loans, 4 retirement accounts, and 1 brokerage account. I use 1Password to keep track of logins, because smart people don’t use the same password for all their financial stuff and a good password is one you can’t even remember.