Open Checking Account at Right Time, Get Cash, Airline Miles or More
By: Brian O'Connell

NEW YORK (sbup) — Do you want a $300 bonus from your bank — or even from another bank?

Easy — just open up a checking account at the right time.

Banks will throw swag at you, including cash or airline miles, because they have a hard time getting new customers in the door, according to a report from GoBankingRates.com.

But be careful about opening an account without research. "Bank checking account promotions are a nice incentive if you're shopping around for a new checking account, but you shouldn't make your banking decision based wholly on a one-time deal," says Casey Bond, managing editor of GoBankingRates. "If you're comparing checking products, look at fees and interest rates first; after all, a $150 promo could be easily wiped out by several overdrafts if you open an account with an unfriendly fee structure. After you've weighed important account details, these promotions can sweeten the deal and boost your savings."

To help cut through the clutter, GBR points to several enticing offers for bank consumers. Bank of America, for example, is dangling $300 for new checking account customers on certain programs, and so is PNC Bank. BankDirect offers American Airlines AAdvantage miles.

Before signing up, know the terms of the deal and what specifically you should be looking for in a new account. For example, you may not get all the cash upfront in a new account deal. Santander Bank offers a nice $240 deal, but the money is paid out in monthly $20 increments. Other deals mandate you either opt for direct deposit requirements or daily balance minimums.

Deals come and go, too. The Bank of America deal for $300 to open an account expires in April. Consequently, it's a good idea to check your bank's website first for deal parameters. Some bank consumers aren't as concerned about what's in a new deal as they are in the quality of the account, which is a smart way to look at the issue.

"I bank with a credit union because there is no monthly fee with my checking account," says Susan Bender Phelps, owner of business training service Odyssey Mentoring in Beaverton, Ore. "Plus, I get interest on my checking and savings account balances, with no minimum balance required." With her checking account, Phelps says she doesn't have to pay ATM fees, and any fees that are charged are popped back into her account. Plus, she gets a very low rate on her credit card (6.9%). "To me, it's all about good value and great service," she says.

John Rosenfield, head of everyday banking at Citizens Bank, advises consumers looking for a new checking account deal to do what Phelps did, and emphasize long-term value over short-term gains. "You want any maintenance fees waived, and no minimum requirement balance," he says. (Not coincidentally, these are features of Citizens checking accounts.)

Grabbing a new checking account deal without making sure it's right is a risky idea. Go ahead and take the money, or the airline miles, but make sure the deal makes sense to you, and to your banking needs.

—For more ways to save, spend, invest and borrow, visit MainStreet.com.

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