4 costly banking mistakes you don't want to make
By Beth Orenstein
When was the last time you were in your bank? It was probably when you opened your accounts. Thanks to ATMs, online banking and your smart phone app, who needs a teller? You know the money is there when bills are due.
Because we're all so busy--with work and family and friends--it's easy to pay such little attention to our bank accounts. But you really shouldn't take a cavalier attitude about banking. Doing so could be costing you a lot of money.
Here are four of the most common mistakes when it comes to banking - and how to avoid them so that you're not losing money at a time when every penny counts.
1. Not checking your statements
Checking your accounts daily would be ideal, but since we don't live in a perfect world, the least you can do is check your monthly statements. These days, you probably get them via email--who doesn't want to help save paper and trees--but do you actually open the email and look at the statement?
It's a good idea to make sure all the deposits you made show up. Also, check that the withdrawals you made are for the correct amounts. Were you charged any fees on your savings account or checking account that you shouldn't have been? If you find a mistake, call it to your bank's attention immediately. If there's a mistake, it could be quite costly.
By law (Regulation E), banks are required to pay for any losses greater than $50 caused by identity theft or online banking theft. However--and this is important--you're responsible for contacting the bank within 48 hours of receiving your statements.
2. Paying too much in fees
You opened an account at the bank down the street because you saw it had high yield savings accounts. But did you check how much it was going to cost you to write checks from your checking account at that bank? Or to use the ATM? Or the minimum you need to keep in your accounts to avoid paying fees?
Banks these days are under a lot of pressure as recent regulations have left them scrambling for new sources of revenue. One way banks are making up for a loss in credit card interest they can charge is by adding fees for banking services that were previously free, or were free with minimum balances in your accounts. It's easy to be attracted by a high yield savings account, and forget about what other banking services you need.
Fees can add up. So be sure to check what you're paying and, if it's too much, shop around and see if you can find a better deal. In this world, there's little benefit to being loyal.
3. Being careless when banking online
Hackers are smart. They can find a way into your banking account, especially if you make it easy for them. Be sure to use a password that is fairly sophisticated and change it from time to time. Also, never check your accounts from public networks unless you're certain they're totally secure. It's safer to do your online banking from your home computer, provided you have a firewall.
While you're not responsible for online theft from your accounts, it can be a real hassle getting things straightened out. Additionally, if you write down account numbers while you're on the computer, never leave those slips of paper where someone else can find them.
4. Signing or endorsing checks for deposit before you're outside the bank
You probably think it's easier to endorse the check at home and then take it to the bank. But once the check is endorsed, it's as good as cash. Someone finds it, and that money could be theirs. It's smarter to sign your checks once you're inside the bank. Or, if you use an ATM to make deposits, after you pull up to the machine. Of course, direct deposit is safest, so you should arrange to have as many checks as you can deposited directly to your account.
With some care, you can protect your money and make sure it works for you.