How to set up savings “buckets”

Dear Liz: You’ve written about how helpful it can be to have “savings buckets” or separate savings accounts earmarked for different goals such as vacations, property tax payments and so on. I have been trying to do this myself, but every bank I find charges so much in fees that it would cost more money than I would save. Either that, or they tie the savings accounts to a “free” checking account that has a high minimum balance. Can you please pass along any information about free savings accounts that have no minimum balance? I cannot use Internet banks because I cannot deposit cash when I have $5 or $10 in my pocket that I would take to the bank.

Answer: Actually, you can. Internet banks can be linked to your checking account at a brick-and-mortar bank. You can take your money to the bank, then transfer it to one of your savings accounts at the Internet bank. Unlike traditional banks, Internet banks such as ING Direct, Ally and FNBO don’t have balance minimums or monthly fees. You can set up several savings accounts without paying extra fees.

You still need a low-cost checking account, of course. You should be able to find one at a local credit union.

Now available: My new book!

Do you have questions about money? Here’s a secret: we all do, and sometimes finding the right answers can be tough. My new book, “There Are No Dumb Questions About Money,” can make it easier for you to figure out your financial world.

I’ve taken your toughest questions about money and answered them in a clear, easy-to-read format. This book can help you manage your spending, improve your credit and find the best way to pay off debt. It can help you make the right choices when you’re investing, paying for your children’s education and prioritizing your financial goals. I’ve also tackled the difficult, emotional side of money: how to get on the same page with your partner, cope with spendthrift children (or parents!) and talk about end-of-life issues that can be so difficult to discuss. (And if you think your family is dysfunctional about money, read Chapter 5…you’ll either find answers to your problems, or be grateful that your situation isn’t as bad as some of the ones described there!)

Interested? You can buy this ebook on iTunes or on Amazon.

Weak bank? Maybe it’s time to move your money

Dear Liz: I have all my money (less than $150,000) in one small bank. I love my bank, but Bankrate.com’s Safe and Sound report shows the bank having only a single star. I asked someone at the bank about it, and this person said the rating wasn’t important. Is it?

Answer: Of course it is. Your deposits are under the $250,000 limit protected by the FDIC, but a weak bank can fail, which can be disruptive to depositors. The bank that takes over typically doesn’t have to abide by the policies or interest rates promised by the failed bank. If regulators can’t find another bank willing to take over, you may have limited access to your money for a few days until your deposits are refunded to you.

A bank with “very questionable asset quality, well below standard capitalization and lower than normal liquidity” — phrases Bankrate.com uses to describe your institution — probably isn’t the best place to have your money.

Find cheaper checking and ditch your bank

If you’re sick of rising bank fees, check out a new feature at NerdWallet that allows you to compare the costs of more than 120 different checking accounts across a spectrum of banks and credit unions.

You’ll answer a few questions about how you use your account, including the minimum balance you can maintain and how much you’ll deposit each month. The feature serves up the best matches based on your answers. If you have enough cash on hand to qualify for an interest-bearing checking account, the feature can help you find some good options.

You also might want to read a couple of my previous posts on this topic: “How to shop for a new bank” and “7 steps to say ‘buh-bye’ to your bank.”

Changing banks isn’t hassle-free, but you can save some decent money switching to an institution that actually wants your business, rather than punishing you for it.