(Note: this was written in 2000)
(I still use and love FirstIB!)
Find a credit card which shows itemized statements over the internet; the best way to keep track of your expenses while traveling. This may or may not be possible with the same internet checking service you choose. Surprisingly most internet banks which offer credits cards do not fulfill the cards themselves. Even more astonishing, the banks which have those branches do not seem to communicate among them, so even if you maintain significant funds it may not affect the credit limit for the card they offer you.
Park the majority of your funds in a Money Market account so that it earns some interest (about 4% to 5.5% APR as I write this in March 2000) but remains mostly liquid. Some banks will also offer interest checking (at lower rates e.g. 2% to 3%), though keep as much as you can in the Money Market. Note that MM accounts usually have limits to the number of transfers you can make in a month or quarter.
Certificates of Deposit are making a comeback (March 2000). I plan to put a good chunk in a 6 month CD (currently 6.25% APR) which will mature halfway through my trip. Set aside some money for your return. Put enough for moving expenses, security deposit on an apartment, down payment on a car, etc., into a longer term CD, like a 6.6% 12 month. Banks will roll a CD over when it matures into another CD, so mark the date.
Plan to withdrawal cash from ATMs in foreign countries to get the best exchange rates. Most internet banks will reimburse ATM fees. Also, pay attention to which ATM networks the banks uses; I have heard that Cirrus is a good global choice.
Another important consideration is the monthly fees the bank will charge for your accounts. Most will wave the fees if you keep a minimum amount, ranging from $1,000 to $10,000. Citi f/i will take the total funds of all your accounts with them, even crediting the balance on your credit card as positive!
Ask how to contact the bank internationally. Do they maintain branches in other countries? Find a number that is not toll-free in case of emergency since 800 numbers are not accessible abroad. Also be sure the bank has customer support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. American Express Membership Banking would be an excellent choice since they have offices around the world, however, they foolishly limit ATM withdrawals to the United States. Their otherwise great potential as an internet (and one would assume worldwide) bank is useless since you cannot withdraw cash in foreign countries.
Stability. How long has the bank been around? Some of the best services currently offered come from traditional companies who have been quick to realize the potential of the internet and probably will not disappear over night. At a minimum, be sure your funds are insured by the FDIC.
"Bill Presentment" appears to be the next big thing coming down the pike. This service receives bills for you which you can view online. Most banks do not offer this service yet, though a few are adding it, e.g. Wingspan with eBill. Banks in general do not fulfill this service on their own, rather they partner with companies like CheckFree or Transpoint.
Begin your research at Bankrate.com where you can find the latest interest rates for all the major banks.
The four banks with the best offers, IMHO, are First Internet Bank of Indiana, Wingspan (Acquired), eBank, and Citi f/i. eBank is the newest, and while they have excellent interest checking, I was concerned by their young age. Wingspan (Acquired) seems to be an excellent institution, but I had decided on Citi f/i because they have low minimums and a great Money Market rate at 5.5% APR. But then I discovered the forums on Gomez.com. People seem to believe that while Citi f/i has potential, they just don't get it--e.g. no online demo, a slow web site, and no debit card. The only bank that received rave reviews was First Internet Bank of Indiana. I could not believe how much their customers love the service. The only downside is the Money Market minimum, $4,000. Don't let the name fool you, First IB is one of the most savvy internet bank around. They even send you postage paid deposit envelopes. I'll update this through the trip as I experience the First Internet Bank of Indiana.
Good choices as of April 2000
Other useful links
Copyright 2000 - 2003, A. Marsh Gardiner