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7 Steps to Blissful Banking

Dealing with your bank shouldn't leave you feeling like you're stuck in a love-hate relationship. The right bank could save you hundreds of dollars, so it may be time to give your bank the boot.

Before you choose a new bank, here are seven important qualities that military members should look for:

1. Generous perks: While free online banking is a standard service for most banks, find out what else is free. Some banks offer free fund transfers and free online bill pay without minimum balance requirements as well. Also, be aware of banks incorporating additional at-home services as technology advances.

2. Compassionate costs: Extra fees can eat away at your account balance. Consider your banking habits, and then ask what the bank charges -- if anything -- for using another bank's ATM, dropping below the minimum balance requirement, or writing too many checks. You want a bank that charges as few fees as possible.

3. Competitive rates: Rates determine how much money you earn on your savings account, or how much you pay for loans. Check the bank's website for their interest rates to see how they compare.

4. Strong rewards: Some banks offer reward programs that really add up, such as cash back for using your bank card to make purchases, or the ability to earn combined points from debit and credit card purchases. Ask what type of rewards programs are available.

5. Responsive service: Call the bank you're considering. Are you on hold for more than a minute or two? How quickly do representatives respond to e-mails? Excellent service can make all the difference.

6. Good reputation: When in doubt, ask a friend to recommend a bank. And check the Better Business Bureau at bbbonline.org for records of complaints against the institution.

7. Protective measures: The online banking industry has invested billions of dollars to help protect the security and privacy of your data and account information. Check out the bank's website to learn the specifics. Many banks explain how they protect your information and offer other useful tips for how you can protect yourself and detect fraud. Some banks also offer services that help you monitor your credit.

Find a bank that meets all of these criteria, and you're well on your way to having a happy banking relationship.

Joseph "J.J." Montanaro is a financial planner with USAA's Financial Planning Services and is a Certified Financial Planner practicioner. He is a native of Kansas City and earned his Bachelor's degree in Engineering from the United States Military Academy , West Point , New York . He holds Series 7, 63, and 65 licenses with the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD). He is a member of the Financial Planning Association.

Joseph has 13 years of experience in the financial services industry as a financial planner. Prior to joining USAA in December of 2002, Joseph owned and operated a financial planning business. Joseph served in the US Army for six years on active duty and is currently a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army Reserve.

USAA is a diversified insurance and financial services organization that has served the military community since 1922. USAA means United Services Automobile Association and its affiliates.

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