BMO Harris Bank Review

Consumers who are shopping for banking options may consider selecting BMO Harris Bank to meet their needs. Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, this bank traces its roots back to the mid-1800s and is a subsidiary of Canada’s Bank of Montreal. BMO Harris has been chartered under its current name since 2011, and its U.S. network of 600 branches can be found mostly in the Midwest. With an extensive network of walk-in locations and ATMs, the bank is more geared toward the traditional brick-and-mortar bank customer.

BMO Harris at a glance

Pros
  • Variety of financial tools and calculators
  • Low minimum deposits
  • Good Midwest footprint
Cons
  • High fees
  • Average rates
  • Sub-par mobile capabilities

What’s interesting about BMO Harris

BMO Harris provides some novel online tools that assist customers in reaching their financial goals. Calculators let users experiment with the time value of money, exploring scenarios to see what savings will amount to at varying interest rates through any number of time periods. Bank customers who are under 25 years of age will see monthly maintenance fees waived on the Smart Money savings account as long as they meet minimum balance requirements. There are no tiered rate structures on statement savings, so any balance at or above the minimum receives the bank’s highest annual percentage rate.

Things to consider

Cost-conscious shoppers will want to examine BMO’s fee structures before deciding if the bank is a good fit for them. There are hefty overdraft charges, negative balance fees, and amounts levied for overdraft protection that, if assessed, will significantly deplete assets in checking or savings accounts. And that’s just half the battle. BMO Harris does not offer the most attractive interest rates on those accounts compared to other institutions, so that erosion will occur even faster since growth can be slow. Tire-kickers looking to accumulate wealth may be better served by other banks that offer a higher yield on savings options.

Checking and savings accounts

BMO’s Smart Advantage checking account gives consumers a no-nonsense option to manage their daily expenses and withdrawals. With a minimum deposit of $25, customers can establish an account and avoid monthly maintenance fees by opting out of paper statements. Between mobile options and more than 40,000 Allpoint ATM locations, customers will have an easy time tapping funds when and where they need them. One disadvantage of the Smart Advantage checking option is that overdrafts will set account holders back $36 for each occurrence.

Statement savings accounts at BMO can be opened with a small deposit of $25, and building that balance to $100 or beyond on a daily basis will exempt the assets from monthly fees. The major drawback with this account stems from the low rate offered by BMO, which — at 0.05% as of November 2019 — is slightly above the national average. Those interested in growing their money faster should look elsewhere for higher yields.

Money market accounts

One of the more attractive options for savers at BMO is the Platinum Money Market account. Whether deposits equal the minimum of $5,000 or exceed $250,000, this account offers the same rate regardless of balance size. That might be a drawback for account holders who hold larger balances, but across the board, but rates do exceed the national average for either online or traditional banks. There are no fees for these accounts, even if balances dip below the minimum, and money can be readily accessed without penalty from any of the bank’s branches or ATM locations.

Aside from in-person branch and ATM withdrawals, customers can opt for check writing privileges to use money market funds on demand. While unlimited transactions apply to all these in-network channels, it’s important to note that BMO restricts external transactions — like withdrawals from a competing bank’s ATM — to six occurrences per month.

CDs

Savers who desire higher interest rates and don’t mind giving up a bit of liquidity can move money into certificates of deposit (CD). BMO has a couple of different choices for CD investors, depending on the amount of money they have to deposit into the vehicle. For customers who have $1,000 minimums, a range of terms — 3 months on the low end and 5 years on the upper end — determine what interest rates will apply.

Twelve-month standard CDs fetch an annual percentage yield (APY) of 2.4%, while a special 11-month term option, requiring a $5,000 minimum investment, offers customers a 2.0% APY. Regarding the special offer, it would seem to make more sense for savers to stow their dollars in the bank’s money market in light of the higher rate offered and the absence of a lock-up period.

Credit cards

BMO offers four credit card options, all of which are Mastercard:

  • BMO Harris Bank Premium Rewards Mastercard® — Three points awarded for each dollar spent on eligible expenses, spend $5,000 in the first three months and earn 35,000 bonus points, 0% introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers, $79 annual fee
  • BMO Harris Bank Cash Back Mastercard® — Spend $2,000 in the first three months and earn a $200 cash back bonus, each dollar spent on eligible purchases earns 2% cash back, 0% introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers, no annual fee
  • BMO Harris Bank Platinum Rewards Mastercard® — Two points awarded for each dollar spent on eligible expenses, spend $2,000 in the first three months and earn 25,000 bonus points, 0% introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers, no annual fee
  • BMO Harris Bank Platinum Mastercard® — 0% introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers, no annual fee

After the introductory period ends, APRs run above the national average, and better rates can be had with other cards. Cardholders would need to be significant spenders to gain back the $79 fee on the premium card. But overall, BMO provides some stellar programs for travelers and those folks who just want a basic card with no annual fee.

Personal loans

Customers can secure personal loans with BMO Harris between $1,500 and $35,000 with repayment terms between 12 and 72 months. However, the lowest personal loan rate available is 7.99%, which isn’t the best that you could find if you have excellent credit. But if you already bank with BMO Harris, then it would be a solid option to apply for a personal loan with the lender if you need to.

Mortgage loans

BMO Harris offers a wide array of mortgages for prospective homebuyers. Choose among fixed-rate, adjustable-rate and low-down-payment mortgages. Interest rates are below 4% for the standard fare of mortgages, which is pretty average. However, BMO Harris does charge origination and closing costs.

Mortgage refinancing

BMO Harris offers mortgage refinancing that can be applied for completely online. Rates will vary from customer to customer, but this bank does provide quite a bit of information to get an idea of how much it will cost you to refi. It estimates that a refinance with a loan of $150,000 will run you about $6,246 in closing costs, which includes origination charges, discount points and other fees.

Home equity loans and HELOCs

This bank offers both home equity loans and HELOCs, which isn’t common among the big banks, which usually offer one or the other. The terms of its home equity loans are pretty good, too: you can borrow as little as $5,000 and there are no associated application fees. BMO Harris will pay a large chunk of the closing costs on the loan, and your monthly payments will be fixed, so it will be easy to budget without having payment fluctuations each month. The rates on BMO Harris’ HELOCs are pretty good, too, and range from 4.75% to 5.99% depending on the amount you borrow. It’s important to keep in mind, though, that the rates on HELOCs are variable, so the payments could fluctuate if interest rates rise.

Car loans

BMO Harris does provide car loans to its customers, existing and new. Interest rates are pretty standard and on-par with the average interest rate. It doesn’t offer any special rates or discounts for auto-pay nor does it have a car-buying service. In fact, there is a $75 closing cost associated with every car loan through BMO Harris.

The final word

BMO Harris Bank presents a good option for customers who desire standard banking options without a lot of bells and whistles. Rates on the money market account are very appealing, especially in a low-interest-rate environment. It’s the fee-weary shopper that might run into some issues with BMO. Fees for overdrafts and overdraft transfers — and monthly costs to receive paper statements — could potentially chew up a good amount of money if not kept in check. On the whole, BMO Harris delivers the core services that most people desire, but Midwesterners will want to make careful cost comparisons before going all in.