There was a day — a simpler time! — when all I needed from a chequing account was the ability to receive direct deposits and a card that let me buy things.
Slowly, gradually, that has changed. For a while, I got around it by relying on my business bank account, since it had the ability to accept wire transfers (for a fee, but hey, you need what you need).
But as more things in my financial life (not to mention my husband’s financial life) have changed, evolved and quite frankly gotten more complicated, it’s meant taking a hard look at the financial services we use. That includes our beloved chequing accounts, which, while free, don’t actually do everything.
To be clear, this is definitely an every-few-years financial checkup, not an every-few-weeks one. We’ve been happily using our current accounts for at least five years, but we can tell it’s time to cheque (see what I did there?!) in on them.
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When to take a second look
Chequing accounts are, for the most part, something you really don’t have to think about on a day-to-day basis if everything is set up properly. However, here’s a handy cheat sheet of when you should spend a few minutes making sure that, yes, your account still fits your need:
- Graduating school (high school or university), especially if you’re no longer going to be a student and no longer eligible for a student account.
- Leaving a full time job to work for yourself.
- Starting a business (even a side hustle) where you need to accept multiple kinds of payments.
- Combining finances with someone (like after getting married).
If you’re in one of those situations — or another one that led you here! — here are the steps that can help you figure out whether your trusty account is still the right fit for your life.
1. What do you need?
This is a list that, most of the time, you don’t even need to think about. For a lot of us, it’s very simple. We need to be able to put money into our accounts and take money out.
Here in Canada, that usually looks like:
- Get direct deposit from an employer.
- Pay with your Interac card.
- Send e-Transfers.
- Pay bills online.
- Automate your savings contributions.
For a long time that was my only list of requirements, and it’s pretty standard for any chequing account, free or paid. So you might compare banks based on whether they offer free e-Transfers, or whether you can earn points or interest on the balance in your chequing account.
But there are plenty of other services you might need (or want!) in a chequing account, and that’s where you’ll start to see differences between accounts that matter more than just “free” or “paid.”
If you need occasional access to in-person services like bank drafts or certified cheques, that alone might be worth getting an account that gives you branch access, like a Scotiabank Basic or Basic Plus account.
There are also some less common situations that might be incredibly common in your life, like accepting international wire transfers. I’m no expert on them, but what I do know is that the one piece of my financial life that relies on them isn’t compatible with my free account — which is why I keep a separate, paid account at an in-person branch, and pay the fee happily.
2. What’s a good rate for the products you need?
Comparison shopping, unlike comparison itself, is not the thief of joy. It’s something you should definitely do before committing to an account.
Once you know what you’re looking for, do a bit of poking around to check out what different banks will charge you for the services you need. It’s worth knowing what a competitive rate is for each service, like the fee for a wire transfer or the price of an unlimited chequing account, even if you don’t want to decide on price alone. Knowledge is power, my friends.
However, while you’re doing this shopping, remember there are ways that you might be able to get a great deal with absolutely zero hassle. If you already have other services with a bank, the packages they offer for chequing might work out beautifully in your favour.
Here’s an example. If you signed up for a Scotiabank Ultimate Package, you might be able to pay a cool $0 if you keep a certain amount in savings with them, and the package boosts the rate you get on those savings, too.
Plus, a personal fave perk: They waive the annual fee on a Scotiabank credit card if you have one, up to a certain dollar amount, every year.
3. What can you get if you switch?
Listen, I am not above a promo offer, and if you’re in the market for a new chequing account you should know that there are some great ones on the table. If you know you need to switch anyways, it’s worth doing your research.
Right now, Scotiabank is offering a $300 bonus for eligible customers who sign up for an Ultimate or Preferred account. If you were in the market for an account anyways, and those ones fit your needs and your overall financial life? Pals, my motto is and has always been, why not take the free money?
Especially since, let’s be real, most of us don’t switch accounts every day because it is a hassle. Your chequing account should, rightly, be a long-term companion in the game of life, if for no other reason than it will save you time and — if you shopped around well! — money.