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Are Bank Branches the Next Blockbuster?

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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First, I must confess that I love bank branches and always have.  As a child, I used to enjoy going with my mom to the bank.  The people were friendly, the lollipops were tasty and I had a real sense of accomplishment when I could deposit a roll of coins.  My affinity for bank branches makes this article particularly difficult for me to write, but it contains good news for all of you out there who would rather do anything else other than go to a bank branch.

You can finally switch to internet-only banks and put hundreds of dollars back into your pocket.  Real choices finally exist.  In fact, after doing the research on the best bank accounts for MagnifyMoney, I switched to Ally (both checking and savings account).  And I doubt I will ever go back to branches.  (Note: I have not been paid by Ally, and they are not a sponsor or investor in this site).

How do traditional banks make money?

I used to work for large banks (like Citibank and Barclays).  Retail banks branches are expensive to run, but banks banks make a lot of money with their brick-and-mortar locations.  So, how do banks make money?

1. You give them interest-free loans.  If you keep a lot of money in your checking and/or savings account (usually $2,000 is enough), the bank makes money by paying you virtually nothing, and then lending that money in the form of loans that make a lot more money.  When I worked at a bank, I loved “sticky, low-cost deposits” to fund our business. Every $1,000 you keep at the bank is about $20 of profit to a retail bank.  $20,000 savings accounts were the best.  We would make at least $400 a year.

2. You pay them lots of fees. If you don’t have a lot of money, then banks will make their money on fees.  Banks make the most money on overdraft fees.  Almost 70% of their revenue comes from overdrafts – which is the most expensive way to borrow money short-term that I have ever seen.  In addition, banks make a good chunk of money with monthly maintenance fees (those pesky charges if your balance falls below a minimum) or ATM fees (you use someone else’s ATMs).

And, although fees vary by bank – the differences are not dramatic.  The monthly fee at Citibank is $10 per month.  At Bank of America it is $12 per month.  You can save a little money at Citi, but the difference is marginal.  That is why building branches made sense for banks.  The product offering did not differ much – so people would choose banks based upon the proximity of the branch.

Credit unions are usually a little bit better than banks at both fees and interest rates.  Why? Because they don’t have shareholders.  Their customers also own the credit union, so the goal is to pay higher deposit interest rates and charge lower fees.  They do a decent job of lowering fees — credit unions have many more free accounts and much lower monthly and overdraft fees.  But while they can be dramatically better on some fees, they still tend to have hefty overdraft fees ($25 average instead of $35) and low interest rates on savings account (PenFed pays 0.05% compared to 0.01% at Bank of America).

Enter internet-only banks….

How do internet banks create a revolution in banking?

Amazon is able to charge less than Barnes and Noble.  Why?  Because they don’t have to pay for all of those bookstores and people.  Internet banking is no different.  By removing branches, you are removing the single biggest cost of banking.

So what can internet banks do with all the money they save?  They can slash the cost of routine, everyday banking for you and save you the cost of gas.

How does that add up for you?

  • Dramatically higher interest rates on your savings

The Bank of America Savings Account pays only 0.01% interest rate. Compare that to the best online savings accounts.  Right now Ally is paying 0.87% on savings, with no minimum.  So, you could earn $50 at Bank of America, or $435 at Ally on that $50,000 deposit!

  • Dramatically lower fees on your checking account

Ally, Charles Schwab and Bank of the Internet Rewards Checking (just to name a few) have no monthly fee, no minimum deposit and no requirement to keep the account free.  A real free account.

  • Actual overdraft protection

Online banks are revolutionizing overdraft charges.  Ally, Schwab and Bank of the Internet let you link your savings/money market account to your checking account.  If you make a mistake, they will transfer funds from your savings to your checking account – FOR NO CHARGE!

If you actually need to borrow money, Capital One 360 has created a line of credit that is linked to your internet checking account.  There is no overdraft fee, and interest is charged only for the days that you use the line of credit.  This is an incredible deal.

  • Reimburse you for ATM fees

Not only do internet banks not charge you for using other bank ATMs, but they also reimburse you for any charge that you may receive from the other bank.  Ally and Schwab have no limit on the reimbursement.  You can use any bank’s ATM for free!  With my Ally checking account, I happily go to the closest ATM when I need cash – and I don’t worry about fees.

  • Deposit checks with your mobile phone

MagnifyMoney did a survey of Americans, and the #1 reason people go to a bank branch is to deposit a check.  Now you can deposit a check by taking a picture with your mobile phone.  Ally Bank allows you to deposit checks with a value up to $10,000.  Thanks to the power of your mobile phone camera, you really don’t need a bank branch.

In an ironic twist: banks have made this revolution themselves. They have gone out of their way to push us into digital channels.  They want us to give up paper statements, deposit checks with our mobile and use the ATM.  Why?  Because they want marginal cost improvements.  Fewer people in the branches.  More part-time employees in the branch. But banks keep the savings of our digital banking.  They want us to make the digital switch so that they can make more money.  But  now we can make more money by switching to internet banks.

But are they safe?

Yes, they are safe.  All of these banks are FDIC Insured.  That means you have the same protections and rights as any other bank (up to $250,000).

In addition, a lot of these banks are actually being created by well-known financial organizations.  Ally has been created out of the shell of the old GMAC.  Charles Schwab is already well-known brand in its own right.  And some of the new entrants have been rapidly acquired by banks that know the world is changing.  Simple, an internet-only bank, was just acquired by BBVA – one of the largest banks in the world targeting Latin America.

Is the future finally here?

People are remarkably loyal to their bricks and mortar bank branches and banks know that. So, they pay 0.01% on deposits, charge $12 per month and $35 if you go overdraft.

But, for the first time, real competition is coming.  At MagnifyMoney we are thrilled to see the competition, and the money that it could save you. You can just see that these businesses have been designed to delight and satisfy customers. When my Ally Bank CD expired, they sent me a letter and gave me a loyalty bonus.  My rate would be 0.15% higher than the highest advertised rate – to thank me for being a customer!  Most traditional banks do it the other way.  They give big teaser introductory offers to get you to switch, and then it only gets worse over time.

But now with Ally, Schwab, Bank of the Internet, Simple and others – we will have a big incentive to switch – because the savings will go into our pocket and not the banks’.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Nick Clements
Nick Clements |

Nick Clements is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Nick at [email protected]

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About MagnifyMoney

Meet the Team: Erin

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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Erin sat down with me to explain why she wanted to join MagnifyMoney and what’s on her mind when she isn’t reading and writing about money. 

What made you want to join the MagnifyMoney team?

The moment I started playing around on the site, I knew I wanted to be involved.

Debt is a serious issue in America and has hit the millennial generation especially hard. Between student loans and consumer debt, the average millennial isn’t set to retire until 73. Helping people, specifically my peers, get a handle of their debt and increase their financial savvy has been a personal mission and suddenly I was seeing a website that helped do just that.

When did you become interested in money?

At seven years old — oddly enough it was around the same time I really started hating math class.

I had a genius idea to make some quick cash by setting up a Krispy Kreme doughnut stand during my mom’s garage sale. My little sister helped me out and we used our general adorableness and lure of delicious glazed doughnuts to score big bucks for a seven and four year old. I think we sold them for fifty-cents a doughnut, which was a decent mark-up considering you could get a dozen for about $4.

After we sold out, I started counting up my precious earnings. During my meticulous quarter stacking process, my father came up and taught me a little lesson in net profit.

He had me pay him back for staking me in the initial purchase of the doughnuts and then throw my sister a few bucks for sitting there all morning, luring customers in with her big, baby blues.

Needless to say, I started becoming fascinated with how to earn money, maximize your ROI and keep as much in your pocket as possible.

We hear you had a unique childhood, tell us about it.

Other than going to the financial school of hardknocks, I did end up spending a lot of my young adult life in Asia. My family moved to Japan when I was 10 and stayed overseas for nearly 11 years. I repatriated to attend university and my family still lived in China for several more years.

When you aren’t writing about money, what do you like doing?

Does reading about money count?

I’m kidding — sort of.

Outside of work I actually like acting. It’s really expensive to take acting classes in New York though, so I started doing improv instead. There is nothing quite as scary as getting up on a stage with no clue about what’s going to happen next.

I also try to travel as much as I can and can usually be found plotting my next great adventure.

Now that you live in an expensive city, how do you have fun on a budget?

New York is incredibly expensive when it comes to housing, but there are actually a lot of activities to do for cheap or free — they just usually requiring standing in line and doing some waiting. The summer is a great time to live in (or visit) NYC because there are outdoor concerts, movies in the parks, street fairs and my favorite: Improv Everywhere’s Annual MP3 Experiment.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Erin Lowry
Erin Lowry |

Erin Lowry is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Erin at [email protected]

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About MagnifyMoney

Meet the Team: Brian

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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We sit down and chat with MagnifyMoney co-founder Brian who gives us some insight about why he wanted to start MagnifyMoney and a few tips on his out-of-office hobby: reward travel.

Why did you start MagnifyMoney?

It’s rare that everything comes together to let you build a team with a close friend and supportive advisers, so when the chance came I didn’t dwell long. My old job involved calling out some big companies on things that didn’t make sense in order to help investors. Now we get to do it on behalf of consumers.

What is your first money-related memory?

Well, I did always insist on handling ATM transactions for my mom as a kid — but really the first memory happened one summer in the 80s when Almond Delight cereal had a cool promotion. Instead of putting a free action figure inside of each box, Almond Delight put plastic wrapped money in the boxes, usually replicas of old money no longer worth anything.

But 1 in 43 of those boxes had real money in them and I learned the hard way that there wasn’t much to be made stocking up on cereal boxes. Fast forward 20 years and I ended up in brand management for one of America’s biggest cereal companies.

If you could only use one credit card in your wallet for the rest of the year, which one would you pick?

My United MileagePlus Select Visa. It earns 2x points on groceries, 3x on United purchases, and I get miles toward United ‘Premier’ status each year. For all of the bad press United gets, its miles are still incredibly flexible if you know their system. And this card is no longer issued, so I don’t want to lose it.

We hear you like to capitalize on reward travel, what’s the best trip you’ve taken on points?

My favorite was flying to Japan, Germany, and Turkey on one award ticket over the course of 12 days. A little jet lagged, but spending time in each for the price of one flight was great. There’s a whole subculture of people who do much more than that frequently, but I usually put my efforts into getting where I need to go as comfortably as possible for as little as possible.

Do you have a trip you’re planning on taking next using rewards?

I’m looking forward to going to Sicily with my Delta SkyMiles on Alitalia, saving lots on airfare.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Erin Lowry
Erin Lowry |

Erin Lowry is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Erin at [email protected]

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