Online banks can offer higher yields for savers along with fewer fees compared to traditional brick-and-mortar banks. That combination can help you grow your money faster while hanging on to more of the interest you earn.
But, online banks aren't the right choice for everyone. If you're looking for a place to park your savings, take a look at the pros and cons of choosing an online bank over a traditional brick-and-mortar bank.
Benefits of Online Banks
High yield interest rates
The main benefit of using an online bank is generally the interest rate. The interest rates on their savings accounts are almost always higher since their overhead is lower. There are no branches to maintain, no tellers to pay for, no branch managers or janitorial staff. Without those added expenses, banks can pass the savings on to customers in the form of higher interest rates.
When comparing APYs for high yield savings accounts, check to see if they're tiered based on the account balance. Some online banks require you to keep a certain amount in your high yield savings account before higher rates kick in.
In addition to higher rates, online banks also yield another benefit in the form of fewer fees. Compared to a traditional savings account, which might have a $5 or $10 monthly maintenance fee, online banks may charge no monthly fee at all. No minimum balance requirement and low minimum deposits to open an account add to their appeal.
While you may pay no monthly fee, be on the lookout for other fees online banks may charge. For example, the bank may apply a fee for excess withdrawals from savings or wire transfers.
Superior online website interface
Online banks typically have very sophisticated websites with plenty of features and a very fast response time. They also feature mobile apps that offer convenient and streamlined account management on the go. Many brick and mortar banks that offer online capabilities often do so as an afterthought, although some bigger-name banks are retooling their online and mobile banking systems to keep pace with online competitors.
Opening an account is quick and easy
As a result of being entirely online, anything you need to do can be done online at any time. If you feel like opening a new CD on Sunday night, you can. You don't have to wait for a branch to be open, you don't have to drive to the branch, wait in line, and then fill out paperwork or meet with a banker. You can do your banking on your own terms.
Drawbacks of Online Banks
Websites can go down
While rare, it's not unheard of for the websites of online banks to go down. When that happens, you may temporarily lose online or mobile access to your money. This could force you to use the phone, or worse, be unable to make an important transaction.
You can't go to a branch
There is something comforting about being able to go somewhere and talk to someone face to face. With online banks, the relationship aspect of banking, which is most critical when dealing with loans, is gone. Some online banks offer loan services such as mortgages and car notes, but you may feel more comfortable sticking with brick and mortar banks for those types of services.
Potentially high ATM fees
While some online banks have extensive fee-free ATM networks, not all of them do. If you're not able to use one of your online bank's ATMs, you may have to use one owned by another bank. That can trigger a foreign ATM surcharge and your online bank may also charge you a fee for using a different bank's machine. That can make getting cash or checking your balance more expensive than it needs to be.
If you do opt for an online bank for checking or savings, look for one that offers monthly reimbursements for foreign ATM fees.
Playing the waiting game
Because online banks don't have branches, your options for making deposits or withdrawals may be limited to ACH transfers, direct deposit, wire transfers or mobile check deposit. While you do have multiple ways to add money to your online savings or checking account, or transfer it to another account, those transactions take time to complete and time to clear once they hit your account. That can be an inconvenience when time is of the essence.
Overall, the benefits of high-yield savings accounts at online banks tend to outweigh the drawbacks. While they may not be ideal for conducting your day-to-day transactions, they make a great place to stash away some money for a rainy day or hold your emergency fund and earn above-average interest rates.