Banks and credit unions give you access to paper checks, debit cards, credit cards, and even bill pay services.

Choosing a Bank or Credit Union

When choosing a bank or credit union, it’s important to be sure to compare services, interest rates and fees. Typical fees would include monthly maintenance fees, overdraft fees, check fees, and debit card fees. For most banks, several of these fees can be avoided by maintaining a minimum balance, establishing direct deposit, and making sure that you don’t overdraft your account.

Keep your personal needs in mind. If you prefer to bank in person, it might make sense to go with a bank that has convenient locations to where you work, study, and play. If you prefer to bank online, make sure that your bank offers services, such as electronic check deposit.

It is imperative that you keep track of your available cash on hand. If you overdraft your account, there may be costly fees charged to you by the bank.

Some things to consider:

  • Online banks often offer lower fee structures and better interest rates, but lack many of the conveniences of a physical location. If you often deposit cash, online banks may not be a very good option for you. You also aren’t limited to working with a single bank, but that will be another account to keep track of.
  • Most banks may allow you to use their ATMs for free, but may charge for using the ATM at another institution. The other institution will likely have a fee for this service as well. 

Types of Accounts and Services

Checking Account

The majority of your financial transactions will be made with your checking account. You can access these funds with checks, ATM cards, or your debit card. Checking accounts don’t typically offer interest, but that will vary by bank.

Savings Account

Savings accounts offer interest. The funds in these accounts are not typically as accessible as that of a checking account. You are also limited to 6 withdrawals per month as per federal guidelines. Avoid penalties for withdrawing too many times by only withdrawing for emergencies or when you saved up for a particular goal.

Debit Card

Debit cards are cards used to electronically pay for goods and to access cash at an automatic teller machine (ATM) directly from your checking account. You will often use your PIN number to authorize the purchase. Be careful using a debit card. If you don’t have enough funds to pay, the bank may still authorize the charge, but then charge you a costly overdraft fee.

ATM Card

ATM cards are similar to debit cards, except they can only be used at an ATM.


Checks are essentially the paper version of a debit card. In lieu of a PIN, you will sign your name to authorize the purchase. Most merchants will require a photo ID before you write them a check.