Tuesday, July 03, 2007

My quest for savings - 2: Banking

This is the second in a series of posts that I'm planning to make on my quest for the most cost effective and frugal method for things I use on a daily basis. I recently re-located to USA from India and thought it will be interesting to compare what I used to do/have in India versus here in the US.

When I came over to US, one of the first things I did was to open a Checking account with Comerica Bank which had a branch near the place I work. I did not have much choice in deciding the bank as that was the only one willing to open an account without a Social Security Number as my SSN was still under processing . They opened the account on the strength of my office ID as employees from my office are the biggest customers of that bank branch.

I also opened a savings account with them but I was on the look out for a better place to park my savings and I found that with ING Direct which offered 4.5 % interest rate compared to the paltry 0.4 % offered by Comerica. Though there are other online accounts offering better interest rates, I'm not a rate chaser and am happy with ING direct so far.

Within days of my opening the savings account with them, ING offered me an online checking account called Electric Orange which I gladly signed up for – I love online banking and hate to go to a bank branch – moreover, they were offering 4.25 % interest on the Checking account. Only drawback was that ING does not offer paper checks which was fine by me as I had Comerica Checking which has paper checks.

So, I get my pay check credited into my Comerica Checking account and the moment it is credited, most of it is transferred into my Electric Orange account leaving just enough in the Comerica account to pay for bills that I have to use paper checks for. Money left over at the end of every month in the Electric Orange is transferred to my ING savings account on the last day of the month. This way, I get to pay bills that require paper checks from my Comerica account and earn interest for the money I have in my ING Electric Orange Checking account.

Now for the comparison between my banking experiences in US and India. Compared to US, I feel people in India are living in banking heaven !!. Here are a few of the services I enjoyed back in India:

1.Opening a bank account – I had accounts with 3 banks in India – and I never visited the branch even for opening an account !!. Banks send people to my home (or office if I had preferred it) to complete all the formalities and I got my debit card and the account details within 2 days by courier.

2.Transfer money online to any one anywhere in India and to any bank free of cost.

3.Free paper checks.

4.Free bill pay (OK, some banks do offer here it for free).

5.Free Demand Drafts – I just had to go online and request a Demand Draft to be send to any one in India – and the bank send it by courier free of cost !!

6.Free international debit card – they also offered cash back and rewards on purchases using the debit cards.

7.Free stuff /reward points for using net banking !!.

8.Instantaneous updates of my account – I buy something or transfer money – my account was updated almost instantly – compare that to the situation here where it takes at least one business day for the transaction to be reflected in my account.

9.Free phone banking and updates.

The only time I set foot in the bank branch ( I did not know on which city street it was !!) was when I went over to close my account.

To say the least, I'm pretty disappointed with the level of service and the banking charges that are levied here in the US !!