How to decide if an online-only bank is right for you

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  • While traditional brick-and-mortar banks are still found around the world, many people handle all of their banking online.
  • Online banking allows you to transfer funds, make payments, and even deposit paper checks with your phone or computer.
  • Traditional banks are still useful if you regularly deposit cash or prefer an in-person experience.
  • Learn more about the two online banks Business Insider recommends »

While I have many memories of going to the bank with my parents as a kid, I can't think of the last time I had to go to the bank in person. I've managed my personal bank accounts exclusively online for years. 

Here's a look at some important differences between online and traditional banks.

Online banks are the future of banking

A recent survey found that Americans of all ages are open to banking with an online-only bank. The survey, by Finder, found that about 30% of Americans already bank online or plan to make the switch.

While the majority still use a traditional brick-and-mortar bank, many people use digital banking tools with their traditional banks. Just as we've seen technology change many parts of our lives, however, online banks offer everything most people need from the convenience of their smartphone.

There are some situations where a traditional bank may still make sense. It all comes down to your needs and preferences, and if you want to get the best deal for interest rates and fees.

Advantages of online banking

Early online banking products came about in the '80s and '90s. The first online-only bank was registered in 1999. In the years since, online banking has rapidly evolved to become a quick and convenient way to handle your money.

With online banking, you can do just about anything you need from the couch in your pajamas. Online funds transfers are instant for internal accounts. Moving money to or from an external account, including a brokerage, takes two or three days. You can deposit most checks with a photo and the tap of a button. Mobile banking apps are very powerful tools.

While you can't go to a bank branch for cash, online banks do issue debit cards. Some banks give you a large network of fee-free ATMs. The best online banks don't charge any ATM fees and reimburse fees charged by other banks.

Perhaps most important, online banks typically charge lower fees and offer better interest rates than traditional banks. As of this writing, the average interest rate for savings accounts nationwide is 0.09%. Some traditional banks pay as little as 0.01%.

High-yield savings account rates with online banks are much higher in most cases, typically well over 1.5%. And most online accounts don't have any minimum balance or activity requirement to avoid monthly service charges you regularly find at traditional banks.

Advantages of traditional banking

Traditional banks set up shop in the United States starting in 1784. Many branches operate in a very similar way today as they did more than 200 years ago.

Bank branches are places where you can handle all of your banking needs with the assistance of a teller or branch manager. This in-person service is valued by some customers, though it may not be around forever. When you have a bank branch, you know exactly where you can go for help with your accounts.

In addition to in-person customer service, a branch gives you a place to deposit cash in your account. If you have a job where you often get paid in cash or receive cash tips, it's a good idea to have a bank account where you can put the money.

Bank branches can offer some other less-commonly needed services, like picking up foreign currency before a trip and notary services. Outside of these situations, sticking with a traditional bank typically comes down to personal preference.

You can do almost everything with online banking

Outside of depositing cash, online banks can do just about anything traditional banks can. While they are mostly self-service, the convenience of managing your money from home or a mobile app makes it the future of banking.

If you've been debating making the switch, think about how often you really need to go to a bank branch for help. For people who don't go to a bank regularly, online-only banking may be a great decision.

Personal Finance Insider offers tools and calculators to help you make smart decisions with your money. We do not give investment advice or encourage you to buy or sell stocks or other financial products. What you decide to do with your money is up to you. If you take action based on one of the recommendations listed in the calculator, we get a small share of the revenue from our commerce partners.

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