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The average millennial pays nearly 8 times as much for a checking account as their boomer parents

"Some people are probably paying more than they need to."

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The new year is a great time to look at your financial habits and set new goals. One easy place to start is your checking account.

More and more banks are offering free checking and savings accounts, according to Bankrate. Still, many people, particularly customers under the age of 40, are paying fees to do their everyday banking.

On average, millennials, those born between 1982 and 1995, and Gen Zers, born after 1996, pay $16 and $19 each month for checking accounts, respectively, according to Bankrate data. Baby boomers, born after World War II and into the mid-60s, and Gen Xers, born between the late 60s and early 80s, by contrast, pay about $2 and $4.

In today's environment, "one doesn't have to pay a lot for banking fees," says Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate, "And yet, some people are probably paying more than they need to."

A lot of big banks offer free checking and savings accounts if you set up direct deposit or maintain a minimum balance, and many older people, who may have larger savings balances at their bank, automatically meet the requirement for free accounts. Younger people are more likely to have been charged for those kinds of banking services if they didn't open accounts with substantial balances.

There are a lot of free deals out there, but getting them often requires you to take the initiative. Banks are "just sort of waiting for the customer to initiate a conversation very often," Hamrick says.

Here are some questions to ask yourself to make sure your relationship with your bank is meeting all your needs.

Consider breaking up with your bank

One of the biggest reasons people give for staying with their bank, whether or not they're being charged for their checking and savings accounts, is force of habit. Nearly 3 in 10, 29%, of checking account customers value the convenience of staying with their current financial institution over the services that institution provides.

The average banking relationship is 17 years, according to Bankrate's survey.

"There's a better success of marriage with the bank than there is marriage with a spouse here," Hamrick says.

While splitting up with your current bank may feel onerous, exploring other options can be worth it, especially if a new bank is offering a sign up bonus or low- or no-fee accounts that your current bank doesn't.

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A lot of banks may offer perks that you haven't even considered, from an auto loan and mortgage refinancing to credit card offers and personal loans, Hamrick says. "It could be any of those things," he says, "where they provide a higher level of service with a conversation about how to better manage [your] finances."

In some cases, you can even get some great advice if your financial services provider has a certified financial planner or adviser on staff that can give you tips while still acting as a fiduciary, someone who is legally bound to make sure your financial best interests come first.

"If that advice is credible, if they can act as a fiduciary, and they aren't getting the large commission for the advice or product that they're prepared to talk about, that can be a very good situation," Hamrick says. "The pandemic in some ways reminded us that there is value in in-person communication" and good customer service.

Or: Think outside the bank

Big banks with a national presence are great because they often have a lot of branches and ATMs where you can take care of business. But as more and more financial products go online, having a conveniently located brick-and-mortar place may drop on the list of priorities in favor of a bank that has a strong and secure website.

"Financial services have really been rapidly evolving," Hamrick says, particularly when it comes to customer-facing tech products. As such, one of the most important questions to ask yourself about your current or prospective bank is, "What level of capability do they have with their technology? How agile or robust is the app that they provide for their customers?"

Some banks that are fully online, like Ally or Goldman Sachs' Marcus, often give higher interest rates on savings accounts than their brick-and-mortar competitors. As of January 2022, the banks with the best high-yield savings accounts at 0.6% are at Quorum, a credit union, and LendingClub, an online bank, according to Bankrate.

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There are lots of options for you to pick from. This is where it helps to do some work, Hamrick says: "It pays to shop around for the best rates."

He suggests starting some checklists. One for "the things that [you] really need to accomplish with [your] finances in 2022 and beyond," and another that shows what you're getting from your current bank and how that might be improved.

It may be that your current bank serves your needs just fine. It may be that no one institution will suit all your needs, so the solution could be to have relationships with multiple providers.

Regardless, a key question to ask yourself now, Hamrick says, is this: "What it is that perhaps is yet to be accomplished or would be provided and under a more optimal circumstance?"

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