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Managing Accounts

In this topic, we cover:

  • The advantages of online banking.
  • The importance of saving statements for three years or more.
  • Three simple steps for managing your accounts.


 

Actively managing your accounts ensures that you always know your account balances, even when the true balance may differ from the amount printed on your last statement or ATM receipt.

How could your bank not know the true balance? Think about mailing a check to pay a bill. For all practical purposes, that money has been spent - it’s just a matter of time before the postal service delivers the check and it’s deposited. But your financial institution doesn’t know that a check has been written until it’s been presented to the bank for payment, so your account balance isn’t telling the whole story at all times. The same is true with any debit card transactions made without entering your PIN - it will generally take a day or two for the money to be withdrawn from your account and reflected on your statement.

By tracking your deposits, transfers, and withdrawals, you can make sure that you don’t spend more money than you have. Otherwise, you could be charged overdraft fees, your transactions could be declined, or you could even be charged late payment or bounced check fees from merchants. It is ultimately your responsibility to monitor your account activity.

Most banks offer the option of either electronic or paper statements. No matter which type of statement you prefer, remember to save your statements for a minimum of three years and up to seven years. Bank statements are often needed for tax returns, financial aid verification and in the event of a tax audit.

Online Financial Services

Most banks and credit unions offer online banking tools that make managing your accounts easier than ever. While online account management is not the only way to effectively manage your accounts, it does have many advantages.

  • 24 Hour Account Access - Rather than waiting for a statement, calling an automated information line, or visiting an ATM, online account management gives you near real-time access to your balance and transactions.
  • Electronic Bill Payment - Paying bills online not only saves stamps, it helps to reduce the chances that you will miss a payment as the result of a move or trip away from home.
  • Automated Alerts - You can often set up alerts for common situations. For example, you may be able to set up an alert when your balance reaches a certain threshold or as a reminder to pay a bill.
  • Exporting Account Information - You can easily export your transactions to a money management program such as Quicken or even to a simple spreadsheet for easy tracking over time.
  • Staying Organized - Taking full advantage of the online services offered by your financial institution is usually the easiest way to stay organized, reducing the risk of missed payments that could hard your credit report and credit score.

If you bank online exclusively, meaning you never receive paper statements, make sure you understand how long your statements will be available online. If they’re available for just one year, for example, you will need to download them periodically and store them yourself. Otherwise, you will likely have to pay a retrieval fee for older statements if you need them later.

How to Manage Your Account in Three Steps

Ideally, you’ll write down every purchase and save every receipt, always knowing your true account balance – especially if your account balance is often near zero. Otherwise, you’ll want to review your transactions at least once per month using your statement or an online banking portal.

When reviewing your account information, you should:

  1. Make sure all charges are correct and were initiated by you. Unrecognized charges could be the result of identity theft or a compromised account and should be reported to your bank, and possibly law enforcement, immediately.
  2. Confirm that any deposits were credited to your account. If a deposit doesn’t appear, take your deposit receipt to your bank or credit union for assistance.
  3. Verify that all checks you have written have been deposited. If a check hasn’t cleared after a couple of weeks, you’ll want to verify that it was received.

Performing these simple tasks regularly helps to ensure that you are in complete control of your account.