I thought switching to a high-yield savings account would be a hassle, but that mistake cost me over $1,200

The author is not pictured. fizkes/Getty Images
  • For years, I was reluctant to switch banks because I thought it would be a pain to change all my subscription, direct deposit, and auto-pay information, so I stuck it out with my old bank.
  • But after I was hacked twice, I finally decided to make the switch – and I’m so glad I did.
  • Not only is my new bank, Ally, much easier to use, my high-yield savings account is helping my money grow faster than it ever did at my old bank.
  • Read more personal finance coverage.

A 2019 survey from J.D. Power found that only 4% of American consumers switched banks last year. That’s a record low, and may indicate that most people are happy with their banks.

Or, it could point to something else entirely: Most of us are too lazy to change banks. Until recently, I was part of that group. When your to-do list never seems to get shorter, changing banks is never a priority.

When my account got hacked multiple times in the same month, that changed. I suddenly started to wonder what I might be missing out on by not switching. Turns out it was thousands of dollars.

Here’s why I switched to an online bank (and opened a high-yield savings account) – and why it took me so long.

Why I avoided switching banks

I first considered switching banks right after graduating from college. I had a checking account at Regions, one of the few banks with locations in my Tennessee hometown and my Indiana college town.

Around this time, Regions instituted a new monthly maintenance fee. I’d been unhappy with the bank for a while, so I decided to shop around for another bank with a better fee structure. After a little research, I decided to go with a traditional account at PNC.

I had heard about online banks that offered high-yield savings accounts, but they were still relatively new. I also really wanted a traditional bank with physical locations so I could go into a branch if needed. My mum had worked for PNC years earlier, so its reputation was familiar to me.

Why I finally switched banks

A few months ago, I logged into my PNC account and found that someone had transferred $US934 out of my account. I couldn’t understand how someone had accessed my account and stolen that much – why hadn’t PNC called and asked about this transfer before approving it?

I had to visit a branch in person to clear up the mess, spending over an hour waiting before I could actually talk to someone. When I finally sat down with a PNC representative, she implied that I must have given my online login information to the thief.

I felt like I was on trial. Eventually, she reluctantly decided to reverse the charge, but it would take a few weeks for the money to reach my account.

I would also have to close my current account and open a new one, because the original account had been compromised. This meant I would have to link my new checking account to all my credit cards, utility companies, and subscription services.

A couple of weeks after I set up the new PNC account, someone tried to hack into it. I decided PNC’s online security wasn’t good enough, so I closed my account and started looking for a new bank.

I’d been reluctant to switch banks after the first hack because I thought moving all my money and changing my account information again would be too much of a hassle, but enough was enough.

How I picked my new bank

Instead of looking for another traditional bank, I decided to go with an online bank that had a high-yield savings account option. Because online banks have fewer overhead fees than regular banks, they can afford to offer higher interest rates.

There are a lot of online banks to choose from, and I wanted to do my due diligence before picking one. I started by reading online reviews from notable publications, like Money magazine and Kiplinger.

I also looked at a survey from J.D. Power that rates banks on overall customer satisfaction. Because I’d had such a negative experience with PNC’s customer service, I wanted to find a bank that really cared about its customers.

I looked on Reddit’s personal finance forums to see what online banks Reddit users liked. Reddit may seem like an unusual place to get financial information, but I’ve always found their personal finance advice to be trustworthy. I also asked other financial writers and bloggers which online banks they preferred.

All my research pointed me to Ally. In 2019, it was named the best online bank by several different sites. Everything I heard about Ally was overwhelmingly positive, so I decided to open Ally checking and savings accounts.

How much money I lost

After I switched to Ally and saw the first interest payment hit my high-yield savings account, I started wondering how much money I’d lost by not switching to a high-yield account earlier.

As of November 2019, the APY on a PNC savings account is .01%. My Ally savings account has an interest rate of 1.7%.

I had $US10,000 in my PNC savings account for seven years, earning $US7 in interest over that period. If the money had been in an Ally account at the 1.7% interest rate, I would have earned about $US1,263. That would be enough to pay for a round-trip flight to Paris, a down payment on a car, or a new laptop.

What I like about banking with Ally

The high interest rate isn’t the only thing I like about my online bank. Here are some other perks:

ATM fee reimbursement

Because online banks don’t have their own proprietary ATMs, customers have to use ATMs from other banks and networks. That usually results in extra fees, but Ally reimburses up to $US10 in out-of-network ATM fees each month and doesn’t charge any of its own ATM fees.

I don’t often take out money from an ATM, but it’s nice knowing that I don’t have to worry about paying unnecessary fees when I do.

Multiple savings accounts

One of the best aspects of online banking is the ability to open numerous savings accounts in a few minutes. PNC and other traditional banks usually don’t let you open multiple savings accounts. PNC also has a $US5 monthly fee on savings accounts unless you meet certain requirements.

Currently, my husband and I have 10 savings accounts with Ally. We use these accounts for short-term goals, like vacations and home improvement projects. We also use them to save for necessities, like car repairs and annual pet checkups.

It’s free to open a new savings account, and Ally has no minimum balance requirement for savings accounts.

Good user experience

The Ally website is so easy to use and very intuitive, even for a new customer like me. I already feel more comfortable with the Ally online layout than I ever did with PNC’s website. Ally’s mobile app also makes it easy to deposit checks, view my balance, and transfer funds.