Last March I shared a list of the best online high-yield savings accounts. Rates have been dropping, and I intend to post an update. Meanwhile, I’ve received a couple of questions recently about the best choices for brick-and-mortar banks. Alex wrote, “I would love to see a write-up on the best banks for regular checking accounts (in terms of customer service, minimum balances, overdraft fees, etc.).”

Paul has a similar question:

My wife and I have three checking accounts, all with Citizens Bank. Our wages come into a joint account, and we “pay ourselves” a weekly allowance for daily expenses to our personal accounts.

But we do not like Citizens. I have a heck of a time getting its information into an online manager like Wesabe or Mint. Also, we’re paying fees on the joint account (it’s an old one), and Citizens have been less than helpful in removing those fees.

What brick-and-mortar bank do you recommend for our joint account that we can have wages go to, and have the ability to easily deposit checks (which rules out ING Direct), that has great online management, and can easily hook into online services? Fees are obviously nasty and to be avoided.

Could you recommend a checking account for us? (We’re in Massachusetts, if it matters.)

A good place to begin searching for a financial institution is the Bankrate checking & saving rate search tool. But while this will help you compare the stats for various banks, it won’t help you with the intangibles:

  • How convenient is the bank?
  • How is the customer service?
  • What is the web interface like?
  • What are the bank’s check-clearing policies?
  • Do you have free access to cancelled checks?

For that sort of information, it’s useful to get feedback from current customers — from people like the readers of Get Rich Slowly!

Of course, different people can have conflicting experiences with an institution. I loathed U.S. Bank when I had my account with them. Yet Kris thinks they’re great to work with. (The difference, I think, was that she has a no-fee account, which U.S. Bank would not give me. Also, because I was a poor money manager, I was hit with far too many $28 overdraft fees for my liking.)

A couple years ago, I switched to a local credit union. I love it. Sure, there are only four branches. No, there aren’t many ATMs. But the people are friendly, my accounts have no fees, and the web interface is superior to the one at U.S. Bank. My favorite feature: no bizarre check-clearing rules — you make a deposit, the funds are available.

What about you? Can you recommend a good brick-and-mortar bank for Alex and Paul? Where should they open their checking accounts? Which banks should they avoid? Or does it all boil down to personal preference?

Addendum: In the comments, CP points to an article by Liz Pulliam Weston that describes why you should ditch your bank for a credit union.