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The thought of spending hours doing online searches and on phone calls asking probing and relevant questions while comparing financial services simply turns me to jelly. But today I did it! My goal was to divine the name of the financial institution that will provide us with the most advantageous pot in which to place our pennies. I want to share this with you but first, you must read my disclaimer: I am in no way advising anyone about what they should or should not do with their finances. I know next to nothing about it and following my advice could lead you to swift and certain financial ruin with only yourself to blame.
My Sources: I have been compiling information from the following sources, literally for MONTHS leading up to this day.
* Facebook (OK calm down! I am a member of several relevant FB groups, namely Women Who Sail and SSCA, where I have participated in real life threads concerning Cruising and finance. Real cruisers provided up to date information about what they have done while cruising.)
* Cruiser's Forums - I found that sorting by descending date was most useful as much of what is out there is old and therefore IMHO, out of date and not worth my time. Financial institutions change their policies daily so a Forum thread from 2009 isn't worth reading. Go to the newer dates.
* Simple word of mouth. Contacts you know and trust can be invaluable in cutting through the crap. Banking policy can be very misleading If you know someone who has had personal experience with a bank, good or bad, it is better than all the online propaganda.
* Lastly, today's fun... pouring over individual Financial Institution's websites and making those phone calls. None of the three companies I chose to compare told you everything on their website. You have to get your questions together and call them.
My Needs: I need a checking account and a savings account that meet the following criteria:
1. Zero (or low) maintenance fee.
2. Zero or low minimum balance requirement. (This allows me to minimize risk. We will transfer only what we anticipate using from a savings account to our checking account. If our checking account is compromised, they won't get much.)
3. Easy online banking. I need to be able to transfer money between accounts within the bank as well as from an outside bank.
4. Multiple account owners. Some banks limit the number of persons signing on an account to two.
5. Individual Visa Debit Cards. Each debit card should have it's own number. If one card is lost, the other card(s) can continue to be used while the lost card is being replaced. The account is not shut down when a card is lost.
6. The ability to have replacement Debit cards shipped to an address other than the address of record.
7. Reasonable daily withdrawal limits with override capability.
8. Toll free international phone number.
10. Attractive interest rate
11. ZERO ATM FEES for either your bank or from the bank machine you're using.
12. ZERO FOREIGN TRANSACTION FEES for ATM withdrawals, bank withdrawals or point of service purchases.
I first called the bank where my 401k is managed to give them the opportunity to keep me. They offered no type of account that came close to the above criteria, so they were crossed off the list.
I investigated Capital One next, as I had heard that many cruisers use their services with positive reviews. I read on SSCA forum that you have to contact them every 60 days to update your travel notice but I'm sure that keeping in contact with any banking institution will be necessary. The reasons I chose to pass on Capital One are: The ATM fees on Capital One's side are waived, but the fees assessed by the bank whose machine you're using are not waived. Secondly, Capital One would not allow me to link my Money Market accounts from another bank for transfers.
The next bank I looked at was Bank of America. I didn't find much information on their website, so I called them to ask my questions. They had no attractive claims of waiving ATM or conversion fees, but if you are traveling in an area that has one of their international affiliates, you can get around that. Scotia Banks are found throughout the Caribbean (although one Forum says the French Islands don't have SB). I asked about the French Islands and was told that they do have a bank affiliate in WestPac Bank. This information is unconfirmed by me. I chose not to use B of A because I didn't want to be locked down to using Scotia Bank if another institution could do better.
And the winner is... Schwab. I will say that I was a bit nervous about their requirement that you must have a Brokerage account in order to open a checking or savings account. I was relieved to know that you do not have to use the Brokerage account or even have a balance in it. Merely a technicality... The only other downside was that their interest rate for checking and savings was slightly lower than the next competitor (Capital One) but since we aren't keeping a lot of money in the account, it doesn't bother us. That's it! The rest is free! No fees, no nothing! They don't even charge for paper checks! We will keep our ATM receipts, just in case our monthly credit is incorrect, but that's the extent of the hassle. Now my pessimistic side has kicked in and tells me to wait and see if it's as good as it sounds... but I grilled the New Account Rep. mercilessly! (Gone is the fearful timid girl. I'm a shark!)
OK, so I'm NOT a shark! But I think the information I was able to ferret out has enabled me to make a (semi)informed decision with which we are comfortable. Now I can tick another project OFF the list!