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Should Walmart be your next bank?

Attention, shoppers: The retail giant now offers bank-by-smart-phone mobile checking accounts

Published: November 2014

Everyone loves Walmart’s power to deliver bargains. So the recent news that the mega retailer will offer smart-phone-friendly GoBank checking accounts alongside WrestleMania action figures and Ol’ Roy dog food is likely to put smiles on the faces of some people, though perhaps not on traditional bankers’.

Though Walmart’s aim is to tempt customers away from mainstream banks, that doesn’t mean its miles of aisles will be outfitted with marble columns or steel vaults anytime soon. Rather, Walmart is just trying to get a bigger piece of the financial services action. Along with retailers such as BJ’s and Costco, Walmart already markets credit cards, auto insurance, and other money products, some of which we’ve reviewed favorably.

GoBank, by the way, is not a full-service bank but simply a checking account. It doesn’t provide other typical banking services, such as savings or loans, nor does it have branches. GoBank exists primarily as a smart-phone app. You access money in your account by using a debit card for purchases and cash withdrawals at an impressive network of 42,000 fee-free ATMs located in kiosks in smaller local banks and retailers—not just in Walmart locations—all over the country. There are no minimum balances or overdraft fees. But when we compared GoBank head-to-head with a traditional bank’s equivalent app on 15 key criteria, including the ease of depositing money and getting account information, Chase Mobile won handily, scoring 4.5 to GoBank’s 3.6 on a 5-is-best scale.

That doesn’t necessarily mean you should stick with a traditional bank. Today’s banking services buffet gives you options that may provide savings if you shop around wisely. Walmart is a good place to start thinking about your possibilities. Use our toolkit below to get the street smarts you need for careful comparison.

Banking at Walmart: Buy, consider, or shop around?

Checking ➡ Consider Why: GoBank’s $9 monthly fee, waived if you have at least $500 in direct deposits per month, is not unusual; 60 percent of banks offer some form of free checking. Compare GoBank with your current traditional bank’s online and mobile banking app, in terms of fees, services, and more.
Credit Cards ➡ Skip Why: The Walmart MasterCard has no annual fee, but it comes with a steep 23 percent variable annual interest rate. Never settle for a choice of only one credit card, either. Shop far and wide for the best deals by using comparison websites such as CardRatings.com and LowCards.com.
Mortgages ➡ Shop Around Why: Walmart doesn’t offer mortgages. Do consider Costco’s First Choice Loan Service, where 10 lenders compete for your business and usually charge interest rates that are one-eighth to one-quarter percentage point lower than five major banks, according to independent surveys.
Prepaid Cards ➡ Buy Why: Walmart offers a reloadable prepaid card that we’ve rated highly on fee accessibility, clarity of terms, convenience, safety, and overall value. Called Bluebird and issued by American Express, it can be refilled via direct deposit.

Savings ➡ Shop Around

Why: Walmart doesn’t offer savings accounts. But online banks such as Ally Bank and Barclays, as well as credit unions, tend to pay higher rates on certificates of deposit and savings accounts. Shop nationally for the best deals at bankrate.com and for credit unions at mycreditunion.gov.

Editor's Note:

This article also appeared in the January 2015 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.



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