Best Alternatives to Traditional Banking

Screenshot of online banking options in an account

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Traditional banks tend to offer a wide range of financial products, from checking accounts to loans to investments. But some new options have popped up over the years that offer a great alternative to that traditional bank relationship. If you want to shed the restraints and fees of a brick and mortar bank account or just get excited about newer, technology-driven financial services, follow along to learn about some of the best alternatives to traditional banking available today.

Go to an Online-Only Banking Experience

If you get paid by direct deposit, manage most of your bills and expenses online, and rarely use cash, there is little need to keep an account at a traditional brick and mortar bank. Online banks don’t have the big real estate and personnel costs of traditional banking, and they pass on the savings to customers in the form of better interest rates, in most cases.

I have been with an online-only bank account since 2010. As long as you don’t get paid in cash—like with a tipped job like a restaurant server or valet parking attendant—you should do just fine with the online-only experience. When signing up, just make sure you choose an account that won’t charge you fees for the occasional ATM visit.

Go the Non-Profit Route With Credit Unions

Credit unions are like banks in most ways, but there is one major difference. Credit unions are not-for-profit. That means that they are not trying to squeeze every penny out of you in interest and fees. Credit unions typically offer favorable interest rates for both savings and loan accounts compared to banks.

A credit union gives you a physical place to go with tellers and loan officers, but it may save you a lot of money compared to the traditional bank experience. Credit unions tend to have a smaller footprint and just focus on one local area or region. Check with your employer and do a quick online search to find credit unions in your area that may be a good fit for you.

The world’s largest retailer is also a great place to handle a wide range of basic banking needs. At a glance, Walmart MoneyCenters offers a much lower-cost alternative to predatory payday lending businesses for services like check cashing, money transfers, prepaid cards, and money orders.

Most of the services here are ideal for unbanked and underbanked people looking to get into more financial services. You could cobble together a viable alternative combing the Bluebird card—from American Express—or the Walmart Money Card—which is the Walmart Credit Card—with other services offered at about 5,000 locations in the United States. And even if you have a traditional banking history, you might enjoy the convenience and low cost of moving some of your financial transactions to Walmart.

Find a Loan From an Online Lender

The “disruption” mentality in Silicon Valley and other tech hubs gave birth to a wide range of online lenders. Whether you are looking for a payday loan alternative, want to consolidate and pay off credit card debt, or take out a loan for new home improvement, online lenders give you a quick and sometimes lower-cost option compared to the bank.

If you’re one of the 78% of Americans living paycheck to paycheck, a service like Earnin or PayActiv can save you a bundle compared to payday loans.

Are you looking to consolidate debt? Marketplaces like Lending Club and Prosper and nontraditional lenders like Marcus from Goldman Sachs and SoFi are good options. And there are plenty of other options that could be a good choice depending on your credit and borrowing needs.

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies were popular things for your money in 2017. They grew in value from about $1,000 per coin to nearly $20,000 in a volatile year of growth. But if you bought in at the top, you’ve lost about 75% of your “investment” in this highly speculative asset. While you can use them for transactions at a limited number of merchants, digital currencies took a big hit in 2018 and had a precarious outlook.

Some people love their bank and have loyalty to the companies that hold their money. But after seeing banks like Wells Fargo breach their customer’s trust repeatedly over the last few years, traditional banking alternatives are more enticing.

Whether you want to look online or to a community credit union, there are good financial options to meet your needs. Don’t settle for high fees and bad service. Find an account that really serves your best interests. If you do, you’ve found a great banking alternative for your unique financial needs.

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  1. CareerBuilder. "Living Paycheck to Paycheck is a Way of Life for Majority of U.S. Workers, According to New CareerBuilder Survey."

  2. Coindesk. "Bitcoin."

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