By  Mon Apr 16, 2012

Make Financial Accounts Conform to Your Habits

Breaking bad financial habits — or creating good financial habits — is a test of self-discipline and determination that often results in failure. Instead of changing your habits to take advantage of certain financial products, it would be easier to have the financial products conform to your habits.

It doesn’t make financial sense to pay fees for a savings account. Nor is it wise to go on more vacations because you got a travel rewards credit card with a great signup bonus.

Whether it is saving, investing or spending, there are particular accounts that are more suitable for your relationship with money.

Here are four examples of common personas that should choose accounts to optimize their financial habits:

The college student

 

Checking/Savings: PNC Virtual Wallet Credit Card :Citi Forward

The college student is in the early stages of adulthood — and that comes with the responsibility of learning to save and budget. However, keeping things simple is key.

The PNC Virtual Wallet is a single account that is comprised of a checking account and two savings accounts — one for the short term and one for the long term. In addition to being free of monthly fees, the Virtual Wallet account offers free overdraft protection from savings accounts, two free non-PNC ATM transactions per month and money management tools. Furthermore, the Virtual Wallet has various tools, such as the Calendar, Money Bar and mobile banking apps, to help the college student practice money management.

Books, fast food and entertainment are the most common purchases made by the college student. The Citi Forward card, which doesn’t charge annual fees, pays out 5 points per dollar spent at bookstores, music stores, movie theaters and restaurants and 1 point per dollar on everything else. Additionally, the APR can be reduced when cardholders stay under the credit limit and make payments on time.

The career starter

 

Checking: Ally Interest Checking (or major bank checking) Savings: ING Direct Orange Savings
Retirement: Company 401(k), Scottrade Roth IRA Credit Card: Chase Freedom

Having just secured the ability to generate income, the career starter is a young adult who begins focusing on bulking up the savings account and retirement vehicles while keeping account costs low.

As in the case of the college student, Ally’s checking account offers easy access to cash for the career starter, who is still active and relatively spontaneous. A basic checking account from a major bank can be a good alternative with a monthly direct deposit to waive monthly account fees.

In the first stages of independence, the career starter has to establish an emergency fund, but it may be difficult to do so. With a recurring funds transfer to ING Direct’s savings account, the task is put on autopilot — with a competitive interest rate and mobiles banking apps to boot.

The career starter may be even less mindful of making retirement contributions, which again calls for automation. If a company 401(k) plan is available, contributions are automatically made to the account. Additionally, the employer may match part of the contribution to boost retirement savings. After contributing enough to receive the employer match, the career starter should open a Roth IRA for its tax-free withdrawals during retirement. Scottrade is an example of a discount brokerage that offer IRAs with no fees for account maintenance, account transfer or inactivity. As the nest egg grows, Scottrade makes it easy to move to a full-service brokerage firm.

With a wide range of expenses, a general-purpose cash-back credit card is most appropriate for the career starter. In addition to a minimum 1% cash back on all purchases, Chase Freedom is a no-annual fee card that offers 5% cash back on popular categories, such as groceries, restaurants and major retailers, which change on a quarterly basis.

The stay-at-home parent

 

Checking: PerkStreet Financial (or local credit union checking) Savings: Ally Money Market
Retirement: Vanguard IRA Credit Card: American Express Blue Cash Preferred

The stay-at-home parent is often responsible for tasks such as paying the bills and purchasing groceries and household items. Because of the lack of regular income or a sizable balance, the stay-at-home parent prefers a checking account that charges no monthly maintenance fee or has lenient requirements to avoid fees. Additionally, it should offer easy and low-cost access to ATMs.

PerkStreet’s checking account or a checking account from many credit unions would fit the bill. Furthermore, PerkStreet customers earn unlimited cash back on debit card purchases.

Ally’s money market account makes an appearance because it has the attributes of Ally’s savings account but it also issues a debit card that introduces another way for the stay-at-home parent to pay for purchases.

Despite not having income, the stay-at-home parent can still save for retirement with a spousal IRA. If the income of the working spouse is within the contribution limits, contributions can be made into the stay-at-home spouse’s IRA — Vanguard is a popular brokerage option due to its diversified funds and low costs.

The knack for deals is a common trait of the stay-at-home parent, who tends to be extremely price-conscious. Paired with a coupon-hunter mentality, the Blue Cash Preferred card from American Express can yield significant savings on some of the household’s biggest expenses. For a $75 annual fee, the card offers 6% cash back at supermarkets, 3% at gas stations and department stores and 1% on everything else. A weekly groceries purchase of $25 will recoup the card’s annual fee.

The unbanked

 

Checking: American Express Prepaid Card Savings: ING Direct Orange Savings
Credit Card: HSBC Orchard Bank Secured MasterCard

The unbanked consumer is likely to have low-income, poor or no credit or a bad history with financial institutions. However, the goal would be to rebuild credit-worthiness to qualify for traditional financial products while still being able to conduct everyday financial transactions.

The unbanked consumer needs financial accounts that don’t check their financial backgrounds.

The American Express Prepaid Card only charges an ATM fee of $2 (after the first free ATM withdrawal per month) and there are fees when reloading the card with cash. Many other prepaid cards have a fees for card activation and monthly maintenance — the AmEx prepaid card does not. Under AmEx’s Make Your Move program, prepaid cardholders may be invited to apply for a charge card, which will help rebuild credit.

Even with low-income, the unbanked consumer still has a need to save. Because ING Direct is less stringent on applicants’ financial histories, the unbanked consumer is more likely to qualify for the Orange savings account, which has no monthly fees and attractive interest rates.

Card issuers will pull credit reports when consumers apply for their regular credit cards and deny applicants who have poor credit. Secured credit cards, such as the HSBC Orchard Bank Secured MasterCard, do not pull credit histories, but they require that the cardholder make a cash deposit in an account that is held as collateral. For a $35 annual fee, cardholders immediately begin building their credit. The card has a low variable 7.99% purchase APR.

Identifying financial habits

Before choosing this checking account or that credit card, you must first recognize your financial habits, which is more easily said than done. Using personal financial management tools, such as Mint, will unveil more details on your financial habits. Then, you can mix and match the appropriate financial accounts.

If you’ve already tried to match your accounts to your habits, let us know how it’s working out for you.

Photo credit: Walmart Stores / Flickr

 

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