Two weeks ago, I applied for an account at Ally Bank  , the new rebranded name for GMAC Bank. Their rates have fallen in recent weeks but are still competitive, so I wanted to open an account to take advantage of certificate of deposit rates  while they were still strong.
Ally claims the account opening process takes only 10 minutes, which, after my experience, is probably accurate if you don’t run into any problems (more on that later). It’s also important that you have all the information present, including but not limited to your social security number, your driver’s license, and any banking information for the accounts you want to link to your Ally account (ABA routing number, name, account numbers, etc.) It’s all fairly standard stuff.
Selecting Account Owners: The first step covers how many owners the account will have. We selected joint owners (2) because I want the account to be in both of our names. The primary reason is so that both of us can access and work with this account. If it were only in my name, I would have to do everything. If it were only in her name, she would have to do everything. Joint account ownership gives us flexibility. The second reason is because FDIC insurance is $250,000 per account per person, so with two names on this account, we get $500,000 of FDIC insurance coverage. The difference between $250,000 and $500,000 is really meaningless for us but something to consider if you have a large amount of assets.
Selecting Products: The next sub-step of the account selection process is selecting the products you will want. We chose the 12-month CD offering 2.80% APY and the regular online savings account offering 2.25% APY. The interface is intuitive but the “Potential Earnings” calculation is a little tricky. On Certificates of Deposit, the potential earnings is calculated for the entire term. On Online Savings Accounts, it’s calculated for the month. Frr example, we put in $5k for the CD with a potential earnings of $138.38 and then $5,000 in the OSA with a potential earnings of $9.47. The $138.38 is the earnings over 12 months, the $9.47 is the earnings each month.
Naming accounts: I like to name my CD accounts a particular way – CD [term] [maturity date], so my CD is named CD 12m: June 2010 so I know it’s a 12 month CD that matures in June 2010. I don’t know what the account summary screen will look like so I always name my CDs that way so their name gives me all the information I need.
Here’s where it gets to look like every other bank account application process. You will need the social security number and your driver’s license (or military/state ID) of every account owner. From there, you enter in your typical personal information like address, phone number, identifying information (the license or other ID).
Here’s a nice touch on the part of Ally, each account holder gets their own username, password, secret code, and banking pin. I’ve had joint accounts at other online banks before, not many, and they have only given us one account login to share. (after you set up your login, each person is asked to setup the secret images and secret passphrases and their security questions).
After this step, your account is technically created.
At this point, I think our application departed the usual path.
Adding An External Account
After your account or accounts have been opened, you need to add an external account and then fund your account. Click on “Transfer funds” in the sidebar. At first, this transfer funds screen will be useless because you don’t have any “external accounts” set up. Click on “add external account” to… tada, add an external account.
We added our standard checking account and our ING Direct account (via firewall  of course!) as our linked external accounts and used the “online test deposits” as our verification method. Some banks will let you link online savings accounts, some won’t. Ally did let me link up my ING Direct account, so that’s definitely a plus. They also give you the option of verifying by mail, but that would take a long time so we skipped it, that’s so 1999. 🙂
The transfers appeared several days later and the verification process was quick, everything you’d expect.
I’m afraid this step was as boring as it sounds. I simply chose which account to transfer from, both of my linked accounts were here, and which I was transfer to. I transfered a little into both my online savings account and the CD maturing in June of 2010.
I initiated the transfer two Wednesday’s ago at 2:30PM and the account was funded effective the very next day. I’m fairly sure the funds didn’t transfer in a single day but it appears they gave me credit starting then because that’s the effective start date of the CD. That’s important because the very next day Ally Bank lowered their CD rate from the 2.50% APY to 2.35% APY.
Except for the hiccup with my wife’s maiden and married names, everything went smoothly. Ally even gave me a call to tell me when the accounts were opened, though it wasn’t entirely necessary. In the week it took to open the account, I called Ally three times and was put in touch with an account representatives within five minutes of starting my call (including navigating the menus). I expected their customer service to be pretty strong. I had always heard that GMAC Bank’s customer service was pretty good and they’re trying to rebrand themselves, so I expected service to be top notch at least in the beginning. (when you log in, it even tells you, in the upper left hand screen, your expected wait time if you were to call their 800 number!)
Overall, there’s nothing about the process that bothered me. If you open an account, expect a hard inquiry to appear on your credit report because they do allow you to overdraw (which makes absolutely no sense). That will reduce your credit score by a few points. If you’re OK with that, the rates are very competitive if you don’t have an online savings account yet.
Time to add this account to our financial network map !