Has the PayPal transfer of funds been deposited in your checking account? How much interest did your savings account earn this month? You can easily find out the answers to those questions as well as information ranging from balances to service charges. That is available 24/7, globally.
All you have to do is register with your financial institution for online access to your accounts. To facilitate that, you need to be able to “get on” the Internet. There are a growing number of ways for that, including the Personal Computer (PC), smartphone, tablet, or other gadget which you’ll find in the consumer electronics section of a store or on the web.
But suppose you don’t want to purchase or rent any of those digital connectors? Public libraries are among the municipal facilities that allow free access to the Internet through their PCs. If you choose that route, you need to sign up for a library card, which is also free. Some librarians will show you the basics of operating the PC. Others will direct you to the how-to reference books you can flip through free.
When you’re opening accounts, you can register for online access right then. You will do that as a matter of course if the financial institution is an Internet one. Or, if you already have accounts with the financial institution, you can register in three ways. If the financial institution has brick-and-mortar branches, go there and a representative will lead you through the process. You can call Customer Service. Or you can go on the Internet, key in the name of the financial institution, and when its website comes up, click on “Sign up for online access or banking.”
For all, you will provide standard information. Depending on the financial institution, that could include the first and last name on each account, the account numbers, the ATM number, and your Social Security number. In addition, there will be questions asked and stored in the database for security purposes. Those could range from your mother’s maiden name to the city in which you were born. Make sure you can easily recall those answers. Financial institutions run tight ships when it comes to security and you could be locked out of your account if you don’t supply the exact answers in the database.
The next step will be this: The financial institution will assign you a password and perhaps other data you have to key in to gain access to the account. The latter might consist of identifying a flower or design associated with the account. All that will be sent to the email address you provide. Yes, you must have an email address. You can sign up for a free one on the Internet. There are at least 10 of those services, ranging from Google (mail.google.com) to AOL (AIM mail). You can find out more about them by going to a search engine such as Google or Yahoo and keying in “Free E-Mail accounts.”
It is imperative in the digital era that you do not share your security information and password with anyone or any entity not associated with the accounts.
How to Find Online Banks with No Fees
How can you find an online bank which really has no fees?
The good news is that there are a number of respected sources for this information. They include MyBankTracker, BankRate.com, CNN Money and ConsumerSearch.com. You can retrieve on the Internet their general information and reviews of specific online banks. You have to check the dates carefully on each analysis since the data and perspective could be out-of-date but still have a high ranking on search engines. Online banking, also called Internet and Direct Banking, is a dynamic field where things are changing rapidly.
The bad news is that “No Fees” has become a phrase which doesn’t really tell consumers much about what services have no fees, which do, and for how long will the bank maintain those policies. That means two things for you, the consumer.
One, you have to read line by line what has no fee, ask questions by email or phone, and dig around for information about the bank’s history of frequent changes in its fee structure. In addition, you have to calculate what the tradeoffs are and which matter to you. For example, one online bank may have fewer no-fee categories than another. But the fees it does have for overdrafts and stop-payments are lower and its interest rate is higher for both checking and savings. Also, its customer service may be superior. You may opt for those features in exchange for paying fees for what a number of other banks give a free pass to.
Here are the categories which may or may not have no fees. Verify with customer service that what you saw in an advertisement or read in reviews by a rating service or actual users is accurate.
- Monthly fee
- ATM fees. Are those charged by other banks reimbursed?
- Transfers with other banks
- Deposits of checks that are scanned
- Waiver of some fees in exchange for such things as having employment check direct-deposited or maintaining a monthly balance
- Overdrafts, up to what dollar amount
- Postage, if check is snail-mailed
- Inactivity in account
- Coverage by FDIC or NCUA
All this becomes even more important to you the consumer because some experts recommend that you maintain a savings account in a brick-and-mortar bank which is linked to your online checking account. That ensures you can easily transfer funds when you need to. They contend that sometimes the release of funds from online banking isn’t as quick or efficient as with brick-and-mortar. That brick-and-mortar facility could be part of the same online bank. Or it can be your old neighborhood bank. Maintaining that savings account in brick-and-mortar could, in itself, result in fees. That’s because, given the high cost structure of brick-and-mortar, they are known for imposing penalties for not maintaining a certain balance or large and/or frequent withdrawals.
As with most financial decisions, make this one carefully and don’t fall for a “teaser” menu of just about everything free. If it seems too good to last very long, it probably is. And switching your online accounts later to another financial institution could be inconvenient and cost you more in the end.