The transition to online banking has been underway for years. It’s become so accepted that brick and mortar banks now offer most of the same features – online account access, bill pay, and even mobile banking to appease customers. Yet, they still fall short when compared to Ally and other online banks.
The reality is we are moving to a bank anywhere platform. Yet there will always be a few simple things we want from our bank.
That is why I started shopping around for a new bank last year. My criteria was simple and convenient:
- The bank had to offer good checking and savings accounts. I wanted simplicity, so no separate accounts in multiple banks.
- Both accounts needed to be no fee and free checking. If that’s not too much to ask.
- Make deposits from home. Let’s be honest, running to bank is not convenient.
- No ATM fees. Stalking an ATM network to avoid fees – not convenient.
- A decent interest rate.
That includes all the standard bells and whistles you get with checking and savings accounts these days – free debit card, online bill pay, balance alerts, and FDIC insurance.
All of this pretty much eliminated the brick and mortar banks, which was fine. So I was left to choose between the better online banks.
Opening An Account
Opening both accounts with Ally Bank was easy. The whole process took less than the ten minutes advertised.
You should be aware of few things though. Being an online bank, you need to verify who you are. So be ready with your mailing address, Social Security number, and a driver’s license or similar document that identifies you.
It’s a six step process from start to finish. Just choose the accounts you want to open, fill out your personal information, fund your account (not required), and you’re done.
You’ll get an email confirmation once you’re done. Ally Bank’s Welcome Kit and Signature Card is mailed to you. Which only took a few days. Make sure to sign the card and send it back as soon as possible. You won’t get your debit card or checks until it’s filled out and received.
I did spend a few minutes playing around with the Live Chat feature while I set up the accounts. I really didn’t have any questions since they were all answered right on the site. In an effort to be thorough, I wasted some time anyways.
Overall I’m fairly indifferent. The wait was longer than expected. I asked a couple of questions that were quickly and thoroughly answered and that was it.
It’s a nice feature. But, realistically, nobody contacts a bank until there is a problem. When that happens, are you going to call the 24/7 customer service number or use the live chat?
Accessing your account is easy. Ally takes security seriously and you see it immediately with its SafeKey challenge questions, phrase, and image.
As far as interfaces go, it’s simple and easy to navigate. All the important stuff is on the left, with your account info, balance, and earned interest in front of you. From here you can check your statements, make a deposit, transfer money, pay bills, and set up alerts. It’s not flashy, but it gets the job done. Which is all that matters.
Ally Mobile Banking
The Ally Bank app is the nice feature. I’ve only used it for deposits. The alternative is to mail the checks in (hardly a benefit) or scan and submit the check images with a computer. If you have a scanner, the process is easy.
Lets just say the mobile app makes it much easier. It’s available for the iPhone and Android.
Logging in you’ll see the same SafeKey security features. You can use the app to find nearby ATMs, check your account balance, transfer money and make deposits.
The only drawback I found so far – logging out. The only way to close the connection is to hit the “Logout” button. Easy enough, unless you tab out and forget the app is open. An auto-logout feature after a set time period would be nice for added security. Otherwise, your account is accessible as long as your phone is on or you finally remember to log out.
Ally Checking Account
Ally’s checking account is a free, interest-bearing checking account with no minimum balance requirement. It’s one of the best free checking accounts you’ll find. That means no monthly maintenance fees, free debit card, and free checks.
The best part is no ATM fees. You can use any ATM nationwide and be reimbursed for the fees other banks charge. If you can’t find an ATM, you can get cash back with your debit card purchases without any fees.
You also get the bonus of Ally Perks. When you make qualified purchases at select retailers and restaurants, you get cash back on those purchases.
Ally Savings Account
Ally has several savings account options to choose from. It’s savings and money market accounts both have no minimum balance requirements, no monthly fees, and high interest rates.
Just like the checking account, Ally’s savings account is one of the most competitive savings accounts you’ll find. The money market account includes a debit card, free standard checks, and no ATM fees.
Ally Bank offers some of the better rates on CDs around. CDs are a safe, term based savings account alternative to your normal savings or money market account. It’s an easy way to get a higher interest rate in exchange for locking your savings into a specific time period and still be insured by the FDIC.
Ally has several CD accounts to choose from. A no penalty CD, raise your rate CD, as well as a range of fixed rate CDs in 3 month to 5 year time periods.
It’s hard to expect perfection from a financial institution these days. But so far I couldn’t be happier. Deposits are easy with the mobile app. Even though interest rates are terribly low, Ally Bank’s interest rates are higher than what I had with the old brick and mortar bank account. The idea of a free, interest checking account is almost unheard of these days and hard to turn down. That will only improve if/when rates move higher. And most important, I don’t have to run to the bank, ever!