When selecting a bank for your online account, look for the following:

* How long has the bank been doing business? Is it insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), the state they're in, or another legitimate insurer?

* If you already use a particular financial-management program, do the bank's computer programs match yours? If you need software, will the institution provide it?

* What services does the bank provide? What is the monthly fee? How many free transactions are you allowed each month?

* How many checks will the bank write before passing on a surcharge? Will the bank issue paper checks for those creditors that don't accept electronic payments?

* How do you deposit or withdraw cash? Does the bank include an ATM card or debit card? How much will it cost you?

* Does the bank also provide other services, such as investment and financial services?

* Reliable banks provide reliable customer service. Before you sign up, contact the bank by telephone and e-mail. Can you talk to a real person on the phone? When you send an e-mail message, do you get a prompt reply?

* Study the bank's Web site. Is it well-designed and easy to use? Does it load quickly? Does it provide a demonstration of its online-banking program? Does it provide links to sites that cover your other interests, such as stock-market quotes or business news?

If you decide to do your banking online, you may eventually obtain loans, trade stocks and bonds and get business advice--all at your own online branch office.