Did you get fooled this April Fool’s day? If you did, now is your chance to redeem yourself. Today I’m going to show you how to set up a fee-free financial system.
Getting dinged with an unexpected fee can make you feel like a fool. And paying for something when there’s an equal and free alternative available, well that’s just foolish. Certainly don’t die on the hill of “all things free”. But we live in a time where you can get quite a few financial tools for free. So take advantage…
Start with Free Checking
I personally don’t like handing my money over to a bank just to be charged a list of fees. At most online banks there are no minimums to open a checking account and no balance requirements. And at traditional banks, you can often avoid their regular fees by jumping through a few hoops like direct deposit or meeting a minimum balance. To see the list of traditional checking accounts and ways to avoid a fee, visit our free online checking accounts page.
Other Free Financial Tools and Resources
Since our financial world extends beyond the checking account, let’s explore a few other places you can use to help manage your finances. All for free.
Free Savings Accounts – To compliment your checking account, you’ll need a place to build up your short-term savings. For big sums of money that you’ll need within a year (i.e. your emergency fund, vacation funds, money for holiday gifts, etc.), consider an online savings account. They are low on fees because of their reduced overhead. You can connect your checking account to one of these savings accounts and transfer money for free.
Free Budgeting Tools – To ensure you know where you’re money is going and you’re spending less than you earn, use one of the free online budgeting tools. Two good examples are located at mint.com (see our review) and personalcapital.com (see our review). You’ll be able to see all of your financial accounts in one place, and you can actually export your checking account data to one of these tools if needed.
Free Investing Tools – For those looking to get started in taxable investing, there are a few new online tools that will help you start investing for free. Discount online stock brokers can be free for a while, since most offer free trade promotions up front. But that eventually runs out. LOYAL3 is a limited, but free single stock investing service that we recently reviewed. Another platform yet to launch is WiseBanyan, which is going to be the “world’s first free financial advisor.” Exciting times we are living in.
Free Personal Finance Education – Hey, you’re doing this right now! But if you need a book to peruse, visit your local library and check out as many free personal finance books that interest you. If books aren’t your thing, dial up talk radio (Clark Howard or Dave Ramsey are two of my favorites) or download a free, money-related podcast, like Marketplace from American Public Media. Even if you do pay a financial adviser to handle your money, it’s important to have a baseline understanding of your finances. These free resources can get you there.
Your Truly Free Credit Report – Don’t listen to the guy singing in the commercials. Where you really want to go is annualcreditreport.com. That’s where you can go to get your truly free credit report, once annually from each of the three bureaus. Be aware that there is still a sales pitch you have to fight through on this site, but you really can get your free credit reports there, no strings attached. A good monitoring strategy might be to download one of your three reports every four months and review it for errors. Bonus tip: Looking for your credit score? Check out the free score from Credit Karma.
Do Your Part to Avoid Fees
While it’s wise to avoid as many unnecessary banking and financial fees as you can, it’s not all about the institutions we work with. Much of the responsibility belongs to us and how we use our financial products and services. We spend billions each year on overdraft fees. That’s a sign that we suck at managing our banking. Whatever tools you are using to manage your financial scene, make sure that you understand the rules and fees, and make sure you use them responsibly.
Can you think of any other fee-free money management tools? What services are worth paying for? Share them in the comments below.