Clever Economy

How to Bank When You Can’t Get to a Bank

Getting to a bank branch can be a challenging task, especially if you have limited transportation options or live far from your bank. In fact, if you live in a rural area, it’s likely that your community may have lost more bank branches than it gained between 2012 and 2017, according to a 2019 study from the Federal Reserve.

It may be time to consider other options for where you bank. Many banks and credit unions have created ways for customers to have access to robust customer service from home as well as expanded shared branches, ATM networks and fee reimbursement programs for services that need to be done in person.

Here are some options for doing your banking when you can’t physically get to a branch.

Banks with solid online features and remote customer service
Many traditional brick-and-mortar banks offer services that can now be done totally online, such as remote check deposit, online bill pay, check writing and mailing, money transfers and more. As you would expect, online-only banks and neobanks also offer these services and eliminate the need for in-person customer service, although they may have to use unique solutions for allowing customers to deposit cash (see the section about Green Dot below).

Remote customer service channels might include a phone line, live chat, secure messaging when logged in, email or communication through social media — such as a Twitter handle that’s dedicated to customer service.

The ability to deposit checks through a bank’s mobile app has become a standard feature that mostly eliminates the need to deposit a check at an ATM or branch, unless the check amount exceeds remote deposit limits.

Online transfers and bill pay are also standard features for most banks these days. Some banks will even mail a check on your behalf if a recipient doesn’t accept online bill pay.

Banks that offer ATM fee reimbursements or free ATM networks
ATM fee reimbursements have become a more common offering in recent years, especially for online banks that don’t have branches or their own ATM network. Some banks offer unlimited ATM reimbursements, whereas others might reimburse only up to a certain amount, such as $15 in fees per month.

Mike Horlbeck, an airline pilot and retired military officer from Indiana, says that this method of nontraditional banking where customers can do everything online and get unlimited ATM fee reimbursements has been used by service members for a long time since they move around so much and don’t always have access to bank branches. Many use banks such as USAA that specifically cater to the needs of the military.

"USAA provides ATM fee refunds, so I never even think about those charges when withdrawing money,” Horlbeck says.

Outside of ATM reimbursements, your bank might have a free ATM network that may be more convenient than getting to a branch. A couple of common shared ATM networks include Allpoint and MoneyPass, although your bank may have its own ATM network.

Banks and credit unions that are part of the Co-op network
If you need in-person customer service but your bank or credit union locations are far from you, see if your financial institution belongs to the Co-op network. The Co-op network offers more than 30,000 fee-free ATMs and more than 5,600 credit union branches that can be shared by members of the network. You can search the Co-op site to see if your bank or credit union participates.

Green Dot locations
Green Dot is a bank with a network of services that have locations in major retailers such as CVS, Walgreens, 7-Eleven and more. The company is well known for its prepaid debit cards, and it offers accounts, mobile banking, debit cards, money deposit and the ability to send money and pay bills.

Green Dot functions under a variety of trade names including Green Dot Bank, GO2bank, GoBank and Bonneville Bank. Its widespread locations in retail stores may make it a more convenient and accessible option than traditional bank branches.

Which is right for you?
As mobile banking and remote customer service continue to become more accessible, your need for bank branches may diminish. Think about your lifestyle and whether a new bank with online-only or mobile-friendly services or other features might be better than trying to find ways to get to a faraway bank location.

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