Account management tools

Many financial institutions offer a variety of tools to help you manage your accounts and control your finances. Here’s a description of tools that may be available to help you. Ask at your bank to learn more.

ATM

An Automated Teller Machine, or ATM, is a specialized computer used by bank customers to safely and conveniently manage their money. Almost all ATMs allow you to withdraw money, and many allow you to make deposits. At some ATMs, you can print a statement; check your account balances, transfer money between your accounts; and even purchase stamps. Your own bank’s ATMs may offer these services, but at an ATM not owned by your bank you may be limited to withdrawing cash. There are millions of ATMs worldwide and you can use many ATMs 24 hours a day, 7 days week. Some offer different language options, such as Spanish. To operate an ATM, you insert a debit card or credit card and enter the Personal Identification Number (PIN), a secret password that either your bank provided to you or that you created for that card. Check with your bank to see if they charge any ATM fees to customers. Almost all banks do charge a fee to non-customers who use their ATMs.

Online banking

Online banking is a way to handle banking activities with your personal computer, using the Internet. Online banking gives you access to review your accounts any time. That means you don’t have to wait for a monthly statement to review your account activity. Many banks offer online statements, which are online versions of your monthly paper statements. This is convenient, cuts paper waste, and helps the environment. If you bank online, your account activity is usually updated daily or even more frequently. You can quickly find out whether transactions you have made have been processed by your bank or are still pending. Other helpful features may include one-time and automatic transfers between accounts (to help you set aside money in savings automatically) and bill pay. Ask your bank for details.

Mobile text banking

Text banking service enables you to connect to your bank accounts from a mobile phone through text messaging (sometimes called Short Messaging Service, or SMS). It’s another way of accessing your account balances and reviewing the most recent account activity the bank shows on your account so you can compare it with your own records—without being tied to your desktop. You may also be able to transfer money between your accounts. Typically you send your bank a text message using a shortcut command and your bank replies with your requested information. You’ll generally receive the reply within a minute, but the exact timing will depend on your mobile service provider. Some banks offer this service for free, but your mobile carrier’s text messaging and Web access charges may apply. Contact your carrier to see whether your phone and service plan support text messaging.

Alerts

Some banks are able to send alerts to your email address, cell phone, or wireless device. This can help you stay on top of your account activity. Examples might include an alert when your available balance is above or below a preset limit that you choose; or, a withdrawal alert, telling you when a withdrawal has posted.

Overdraft protection

Your bank may allow you to link a savings or credit account to your checking account so that funds can be automatically transferred from the linked account when you do not have enough money in your checking account to pay your transactions. When money is transferred from the linked account to your checking account, the bank may charge you a transfer fee. Remember that this service can prevent overdrafts only if you have money or available credit in the linked account. There is usually a fee for this transfer, but typically it’s much lower than an overdraft fee. Overdraft protection options vary by bank, so ask about the type of accounts that can be linked, the fee for an overdraft protection transfer, and the interest rate charged for transfers from a credit account.

Direct deposit

Direct deposit of your paycheck is a safe, reliable, and convenient way to receive the money you earn. With direct deposit, your money is automatically deposited in your account on pay day. You still receive a pay stub from your employer showing exactly what you’ve earned and all deductions for taxes, benefits, etc. However, you don’t have to worry about losing, misplacing, or depositing a paper check. Your paycheck or any other recurring income can be directly deposited into your checking or savings account for free. This is a less expensive option than bringing your paycheck to a check cashing store.

Direct deposit of your tax refund

Having your tax refund directly deposited to your account is fast, safe and more convenient than waiting for a paper check. It can also help you make saving money automatic. Simply follow the instructions on IRS Form 1040 or Form 8888. You can have your refund split between several accounts (including an IRA account) by designating the accounts and dollar amounts on Form 8888.

To directly deposit a federal tax refund you’ll need to supply your bank routing number (RTN) and your account number. The requirements for state refunds vary, so review the instructions on your state’s tax form.

Telephone Banking

This service allows you to get customer service and make banking transactions using the telephone. Most telephone banking services use an automated phone answering system that allows you to enter responses using your telephone keypad. Some also offer voice recognition capability. Except for depositing or withdrawing cash, many telephone banking systems offer features similar to an ATM or online banking, such as: monitoring the most recent account activity the bank shows on your account so you can compare it with your own records; transferring funds between accounts; and bill pay. For security, you are typically asked to enter a password and answer security questions to help the bank confirm your identity. In many cases, you have the option of transferring to a live customer service representative who is trained to answer your questions and assist you with a variety of needs — from ordering checks and entering a change of address, to explaining products/services and submitting a new account application. Some banks may charge a fee to have a live customer service representative assist you if your need could have been fulfilled through the automated phone answering service.