I’ve banked with Ally Bank for years, opening both a savings account and CD. In this Ally Bank review, we’ll look at rates, fees and account types.
Just over ten years ago, General Motors was having trouble remaining in business. Its subsidiary that provided customers financing for automotive purchases, GMAC, converted to a bank holding company. The goal was to take advantage of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).
In return, it received $5 billion from taxpayers through the government. By this time, GMAC Bank, a division of GMAC, already offered retail banking. Its products included savings accounts, certificates of deposit, and money market accounts.
In an attempt to distance itself from the faltering GM brand, GMAC Bank re-branded itself as Ally Bank. It focused on offering a high-yield interest product. And it began actively seeking new customers and depositors. Later, the bank’s parent company, GMAC, also re-branded itself to become known as Ally Financial. Today, Ally Bank offers some of the most competitive banking products around.
Opening an Account with Ally Bank
Here are my experiences from the Ally Bank account opening process. As I visited the website to begin my application, Ally Bank warned me that I would need my driver’s license (or an alternate state or military identification number) in addition to my Social Security Number to proceed.
Like some other banks, Ally performs a credit check to verify identity. But they may also reject your application if they see you as a credit risk. However, getting rejected because of your credit history is unusual. But since this bank was once a financing company and then a bank holding company, this strategy may become more prevalent.
It look less than two seconds once I submitted my application for Ally Bank to inform me my application was approved. Once inside this virtual gate, I was able to choose whether I wanted to receive paper or electronic statements. I always choose electronic to cut down on paper waste. I wish more services would offer this option from the beginning.
Here’s another great feature: I can create as many separate savings accounts, with their own account names and numbers, as I want. At this point in the initial set-up, I could also add money market accounts and certificates of deposit.
I set up two separate savings accounts, both to be funded electronically from my Citizens Bank checking account. Like configuring linked accounts at any other bank, I will be required to verify two small deposits to ensure I am the owner of the linked account. Options for a one-time initial deposit or a recurring automatic savings plan are available.
Ally Bank then required me to create my security settings for viewing my account information and activity online. The bank has combined most of the security features that have become commonplace over the past few years. I created a username and a strong password, including mixed case letters and numbers.
Then I selected some secret code words and an image I can expect to see each time I log in. I also chose three security questions and answers. Ally provides the option to register the computer you use for accessing the website. This avoids repeated security questions at each online session.
If Ally Bank does not recognize the computer you are using to log into your account, they will send you an email with a single-use password to further confirm your identity. I have not seen this feature implemented anywhere else.
Using the Ally Bank Savings Account
Once logged in, I was impressed with the clean look of the interface.
You can transfer among your Ally accounts and two and from other accounts for free. But keep in mind, for money market and savings accounts there is a limit of six withdrawals per period, due to government regulations.
Ally Bank charges no account maintenance fees and requires no minimum balance. If you exceed the six withdrawals mentioned above, Ally will charge a $10 fee. Cashier’s checks and wires carry an additional cost. A returned deposit item, if a check you send bounces or if you don’t have funds in an external account to cover a transfer, will cost $25.00
The bank is also drawing attention to their 24-hour customer service availability and the plain language used throughout their website. I have not yet worked with Ally’s customer service, but I will be sure to report any future frustrations.
Ally Bank Products
High Yield Savings–This is the best product Ally has to offer in my opinion. The current APY is a robust 1.20%. Ally routinely ranks in the top 1% of all banks in terms of two very important factors: interest rate and customer service.
Interest Checking–It’s not easy to find a high yield online checking account these days. Ally tries their best, God bless ’em. For balances less than $15,000, Ally offers a 0.10% APY. And for balances greater than $15,000, the APY is a much more respectable 0.60%. Either way, Ally charges no monthly maintenance fees, which is rare today when looking for a high quality checking account.
CD’s–If you don’t mind losing a little liquidity for a higher interest rate, a CD is a great option for better returns. Ally has a wide variety of CD options, including high yield CD’s, a raise your rate CD, and a no penalty CD. The no penalty CD is perhaps their best offer, providing a 1.50% APY on balances of more than $25,000.
Money Market–Money Markets have always puzzled me. You see the interest rates above for CD’s and checking. And then you check the Ally Money Market account, and it earns a 0.90% APY on all balances. What would possess someone to open a money market account vs. a savings account? The Ally Money Market account does provide a debit card and the use of checks if needed. But you’re sacrificing a lot of interest for a touch of convenience.
Ally Invest–Ally recently purchased the online discount broker TradeKing and absorbed its business. Now, you can not only open a deposit account, but an investing account with Ally Bank. Trades are charged at a flat rate of $4.95, and options contracts run you $0.65 per.
Is Ally an Ally of Your Personal Finances?
Opening my account with Ally Bank was painless and quick, and I like how the website operates so far. After my initial deposit transfers, I will have a better idea of how quickly funds are available and can be transferred back to external accounts. I will return with more information at that time.
The main question I have moving forward is how long Ally Bank will be able to maintain their position as one of the highest among high-yield savings accounts. Banks have long used high interest rates to lure new customers, only to drop the rates when they become confident in their position as leader.
The American Bankers Association (ABA) sent a letter on May 27, 2009 to the FDIC requesting that Ally Bank be forced to lower their deposit interest rates, citing the bank’s unfair competitive advantage. It is unfortunate that the ABA would take this stance with savers forced to settle for interest rates that will not reach the rate of inflation going forward. The ABA has since removed the letter from the organization’s website, and I would suspect top tier interest rates so long as Ally is in business.
If you are interested, apply for an Ally Bank savings account here and let me know about your experience by commenting below.