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5 Features to look for in the best online banks

5 Features to look for in the best online banks

Published 11/12/10  (Modified 3/9/11)

By Kelly Richardson

The tech revolution encourages us to perform many of life's tasks on the Internet--and banking is no exception. So rather than fight upstream, I decided a few years ago to try online banking. I was with one of the major players in the industry, so naturally I went with the Internet banking interface that they offered--which turned out to be a major mistake. Here's why.

First, opting to bank online meant that they expected me to no longer need the assistance of branch tellers and charged me hefty fees if I did. Next, getting online help was a purely stressful process--the FAQs were hardly any help and the toll-free number was frequently busy. And, finally, they imposed a monthly fee to download my own banking records to the financial management software I used on my local machine. Long story made short--my foray into online banking was frustrating to say the least.

However, there is a golden lining to this story. And that lining is choice.

Online banks have sprung up all over the World Wide Web, giving you and me the option of comparing institutions to choose from the online banks that actually want our business. So I compiled a quick list of the 5 features that the best online banks possess in hopes you'll follow me to financial bliss.

1. The best online banks take your privacy seriously.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) has published a set of guidelines that

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Zero interest credit cards for beginners

Published 11/11/10  (Modified 12/19/13)

Zero interest credit cards for beginners By Maricelle Ruiz-Calderon

Editor's Note: Thank you for your interest, these offers have expired and are no longer available.

When I got my first credit card, I didn't know too much about how to use one, or the benefits, or drawbacks of credit cards. I didn't shop around - I simply accepted the credit card that my bank provided. Luckily for me, it offered a good deal and my family advised me to never charge unnecessary expenses. Even so, there are definitely some things I wish I knew about credit cards back then.

Credit Cards 101

Since a credit card is a loan, MasterCard recommends that you pay by the end of the month or as soon as possible to avoid interest charges. If you use your credit card responsibly, you should obtain a high credit score, enabling you to take out other loans to pay for school, a car and a home.

"[A credit card] can be very helpful in case of emergency and definitely help in establishing a credit record," Mary Sommers, financial aid director at the University of Nebraska, tells Omaha.com. "If you have no credit record and you've paid cash all your life, you may be a very good money manager, but you're still going to have trouble getting a house mortgage or a car loan."

However, irresponsible credit card use can definitely hurt, including keeping you from getting a job out of college, so make sure you have a plan for credit card use prior to getting one.

Here are a few credit cards

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Get cash quick without getting stuck in debt

Published 11/10/10  (Modified 3/9/11)

By Sierra Black

Everyone needs a little extra cash sometimes. Whether your car breaks down, your cousin unexpectedly announces wedding plans, or your best suit get splashed with grape juice the day before a job interview, you're bound to find yourself getting hit with a financial curve ball from time to time.

When that happens, it can be tempting to borrow the money you need. It's best to avoid any new debt if possible, even when you're dealing with an emergency.

In some cases this applies especially if you're dealing with an emergency. If your family has experienced a job loss or a major health problem, there could be long-lasting impacts on your income and living expenses. Now is not the time to destabilize your financial situation even further with a new debt to pay off.

Borrowing money means paying interest and fees on the money you need, and it saddles with you a new monthly expense. Worse, borrowing when you're already strapped for cash can trap you in a cycle of debt.

Problems with quick cash

Most of the regular sources of quick cash come with built-in problems. Let's take a quick look at a few:

  • Borrowing from your retirement funds. Not only will you pay interest on a 401(k) loan, you'll lose the opportunity to earn money on that investment during the time you're repaying the loan. That will cost you big when it comes time to retire. Additionally, many 401(k) loans require you to
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The Rewards of "Rewards" Checking Accounts

Published 11/9/10  (Modified 3/9/11)

The Rewards of By Marcia Passos Duffy

I have to laugh when I see the interest my bank deposits into my checking and savings accounts each month. It is barely worth the effort to add in the pennies (but I do).

But if you think, like I once did, that you are doomed to get low percentage rates on any money you have squirreled away in you bank, you are mistaken. You don't have to settle for miserly interest rates -- particularly if you have enough accumulated in your combined checking and savings accounts to open up a "rewards" checking account.

Rewards checking accounts are typically no-fee, no minimum deposit, and can earn up to 3 to 6 percent in annual percentage yield (APY). This is higher than most savings accounts, CDs, and even money market rates. What's the catch? Well, there are actually five.

The basics of a rewards checking account

To get the "reward" of a high interest rate checking account you do need to fulfill some basic conditions (banks may vary on conditions), but these are generally what's required:

  • 8-15 debit or signature transactions on your debit card per month. (ATM fees are reimbursed each month)
  • One direct deposit or direct bill pay each month.
  • Agree to only get electronic statements (no more paper statements).
  • Log into your account at least once a month.
  • Maintain a balance of less than $25,000 (some banks are higher, some lower).
  • One other important catch: The highest interest rates for rewards checking accounts are often given by local and regional banks, and credit

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    Chase Freedom among best cash back credit cards

    Published 11/6/10  (Modified 1/7/14)

    By Joe Taylor Jr.

    Instead of flooding my mailbox with balance transfer offers, lenders have been bombarding my web browser and my DVR with ads that make me believe that picking the right credit card can help me live the good life. And while I still would love some help knocking down the interest on a few emergency purchases I made with plastic, the Chase Freedom card could convince me to cash in on my love for keeping my wallet streamlined.

    The recession forced many lenders to rethink their approach to customer service, and Chase certainly took its lumps after trying to swallow what some folks call a forced acquisition of Washington Mutual's credit card portfolio. In line with the times, the Chase Freedom card forces critics to take a second look at five compelling features designed to help consumers use credit responsibly.

    Getting debt-free beats no balance transfer fee

    First, the down side. Chase Freedom is one of those cards that carry a three percent or five dollar, whichever is greater, processing fee for balance transfers. Unless you qualify for the lowest possible APR on the card and you're transferring a balance from a card with very high finance charges, switching to a Chase Freedom wouldn't be a good move on that count.

    However, Chase Freedom is the first card in a long time that helps you strive to become debt-free. Chase used the Freedom card to pilot its "Blueprint" series of online account tools. The

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    A quick guide for moving into mutual funds

    Published 11/5/10  (Modified 3/9/11)

    A quick guide for moving into mutual funds By Michele Lerner

    Like many people, the recession encouraged me to take a harder line with my budget. I'm definitely saving more and being more careful with spending.  But I'm also looking past just saving the money I already have -- I'm looking into earning it.

    This morning, I checked on the interest rate on my emergency savings account, and it turned out to be less than 0.5 percent, much lower than I realized! As a result, my next financial move will be to shift some of those savings into a fund where the interest is higher. I decided to do some research, and thought it might be helpful to those foraying into this higher return territory.

    From savings accounts to mutual funds

    While your basic emergency savings should stay intact in a fund where the money can be accessed quickly when necessary, as soon as that savings account has reached your target comfort level it is time to move into slightly riskier territory to increase the return on your money.

    Investors with a deep understanding of the stock market might feel ready to invest in individual stocks, but individuals who are new to the investment world tend to opt for a mutual fund. A mutual fund pools money from investors and builds a portfolio of investments within the fund, with the investors sharing in the gains or losses of the fund.

    The main reason new investors opt for mutual funds, besides their professional management,

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