As part of my downshifting project, I’ve spent the past couple of days replying to several hundred stale messages in my inbox. There were plenty of great reader stories, guest posts, and “ask the readers” questions in my stack of stuff, but there were also some good article ideas, too.

For example, I had three different e-mails about bank-related stories. Each of these is pretty small for its own post, but they share a similar theme, so I decided to put them together in one piece.

Not Quite a Bank
First up, the always-awesome Ron Lieber at The New York Times recently profiled bank accounts that aren’t quite bank accounts. These tools are designed to give consumers better tools than they can get at traditional banks. The catch? Well, the tools make use of traditional banks.

Lieber lists some accounts that GRS readers are probably familiar with, including SmartyPig. SmartyPig is a free online, goal-oriented savings account that many of you already use. To use SmartyPig, you must make required monthly contributions. [Edit: Oops. Apparently you don't have to make required monthly contributions anymore!] You can also make additional contributions at any time. Plus, your friends and family can contribute to your account to help you reach your goals. SmartyPig currently offers a 2.15% APY.

Lieber’s article covers other accounts from places like PerkStreet, the forthcoming BankSimple, and Kasasa. Have you used any of these accounts? Would you recommend them?

Credit Union Finder
Next up, the Credit Union Foundation sent me a press release to announce its new Credit Union Finder app for Apple mobile devices:

Through the Credit Union Finder app, users can search for non-profit banks close to their current location, search by name, zip code radius, or by address; all on their mobile device. Results are displayed on a map or in a list that also displays address, telephone, and webpage information. With the touch of a button users can connect to the credit union’s webpage on their iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch and with a single tap place a call to selected credit unions on their iPhone.

Since most credit unions provide shared branching, it’s as if all the credit unions in the U.S. are part of one enormous banking network. You can make a deposit at a credit union in Kansas, and the money will make its way to your home CU in Alaska.

This Credit Union Finder app might be handy for folks who travel a lot.

Teen Banking
Finally, JLP from All Financial Matters recently took his kids to open Teen Checking Accounts at Wells Fargo. A lot of GRS readers are looking for more info on how to teach kids about money; here’s some practical, real-world experience:

So far things are going great. I love that I have access to their account information from my Wells Fargo accounts page. I can see where their money goes. They can buy stuff online or at a store. The cashiers sometimes look at them quizzically because they aren’t used to seeing kids with what looks like a credit card.

My eventual goal is to figure out how much my wife and I spend on routine expenses for our boys, deposit that into their accounts and make them responsible for making and sticking to a budget. They have to learn sometime and I think sooner is better than later.

JLP’s article gives a bit more detail about how he’s taught his kids about money, and about his decision-making process.

I would love to include more stories about children and money. I don’t write about this often, though, because, well, Kris and I don’t have kids. We have four cats. And while it would be nice if we could instill sound financial habits in our felines, that’s not going to happen anytime soon. However, I’m always open to guest posts about kids and money. If you have something to share, please send it in!

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