By Chris Guld
Geeks on Tour
I haven’t walked into a bank in more than 10 years. I do all of my banking online or through the mail. Checks get deposited through the mail, bills get paid online, and I monitor all my account activity online.
I was doing all this long before we started Rving full-time, but it’s essential for the RV lifestyle. With online banking, there's need to hunt for a local branch of your bank or credit union; just set up a username and password on your bank’s secure Web site so you can make financial transactions online. There's no need to wait for the paper bill from your cell phone service provider; just access the company's Web site and pay with your credit card online.
What about identity theft?
Many people will tell you that, because of identity theft, they would never do their banking online. I’ll tell you that because of identity theft, your best strategy is to do your banking online.
Identity theft happens in many ways, but rarely is it because of your online activity. More often, it’s because some other computer has your credit card information on it and that computer gets hacked. For example, if you use your credit card at a grocery store and that store’s computer gets hacked, your card number can be stolen.
Your best defense against fraudulent use of your credit card is to monitor the activity in your account, regularly. How do you do that? Online! Don’t wait for your paper statement to come in the mail. That only comes once a month. If you use a mail forwarding service it may take another week or two to reach you. If you view your bank account activity online, you can check once a week, or even more. Early detection is your best protection.
Services and features vary by bank, but in general, here's what I mean by “online banking."
1. Monitor your bank account activity
The first and most essential part of online banking is simply having Internet access to your account information. Most every financial institution will have a Web site. Examples include: Bank of America, Wachovia, Wells Fargo, Merrill Lynch and Paine Webber/UBS. Each of these institutions has Web sites that include a place for you to enter a username and password.
Call your bank if you don’t already have a username and password. They will help you set up an online account. Once you log in, you will be able to see all of your account balances and up-to-the-minute details on every transaction. If you log in regularly and just look, you will see any suspicious activity right away and be able to take action.
A bank’s Web site itself handles the security regardless of how you are connected to the Internet. Even on a wireless connection (Wi-Fi), your activity on your bank’s Web site is completely secure because it is encrypted. Even if someone on the same wireless networked “sniffed” the airways and grabbed your transmission, all they would see is gibberish.
On individual bank’s Web sites you will find detailed information about how they handle security.
2. No need for a paper statement
If you monitor your banking activity online, you can use that information to keep your checkbook balanced. Most banks also provide you with an online copy of the paper statement. My online statement includes the ability to click on any check and see the scanned check itself, including the back side.
3. Transferring money between accounts
If you have a checking account and a savings account at your bank, you can use the Web site to transfer money from one to the other. I use this feature to ‘borrow’ money from my credit card account by transferring from the credit card account to my checking. Then, after depositing some money in checking, I go back online and pay off the credit card by transferring from checking to credit account.
4. Paying Bills
Many banks offer the service to pay your bills. You set this up once, entering the name of the payee, the amount, the address and the date to be paid. Then, the bank makes out a check and does the mailing for you. There is usually a fee for this service. Personally, I prefer to go direct to the payee’s website, e.g. Verizon, and pay my bills there. But, if you have some payees that don’t have their own Web sites with ability to pay them, the bank’s service is a good way to go.
Once you get accustomed to online banking, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it! It makes other things so easy. Here’s another example …
I used TurboTax online to prepare my tax return. When it wanted the details of my 1099-DIV forms, I didn’t have to enter a thing. I simply provided a link to my account at my financial institution and all of the details got filled in for me. My tax return was filed on March 27, and the refund money appeared in my account one week later. I knew it because I logged in and looked!
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