NEW YORK – The news about saving is that Americans are having a hard time doing it.
The Commerce Department told us this week that, for the first time since the Great Depression in 1933, consumers not only spent all their after-tax income but also borrowed more or dipped into their savings. As a result, the national savings rate was a negative 0.5%.
One way to pep up your savings may be to start with your bank itself, and try to collect more interest on your money.
All bank checking accounts used to be very much the same, but now that's radically changed. In their fierce competition to win your business, banks are making all sorts of special offers. Be smart: Shop around among several banks to see which one offers you the best deals.
Here are some pointers:
In most cases, try to keep all your checking, saving, CD and other business in the same bank. If the money in these combined accounts reaches a certain total, you should get free checking and a number of other deals -- like a free safe-deposit box.
If you write very few checks, use a bank money market account instead of a checking account. These accounts place limits on the frequency of check writing and withdrawals, and often require a minimum balance. But you stand to collect more interest than a checking account may pay. How much more depends on whether the bank has a special drive on to recruit customers.
Look for a bank that charges you nothing for withdrawing cash from its ATM machines. Ideally, you want a bank that gives you free withdrawals not only from its own ATMs but also from the machines of some other banks.
Look for a bank that offers online access to your checking account, allowing you to monitor your balance, transfer money between your accounts and do almost all your banking electronically.
Look for a bank that automatically -- and for free! -- pays some of your bills for you, such as your home mortgage and you car loan. All you have to do is to give instructions electronically or by phone.
The point is that most banks now are prepared to negotiate hard for your business and cut some very special deals. It doesn't hurt to ask.