Growing up, I was given a register to keep track of my checking and savings accounts. As time moved on and technology advanced, I began relying on online resources to do my banking and manage my accounts. Using online tools to help me track my finances has saved me a lot of time and money over the years, and now that I work at a financial institution, I have fine-tuned my habits to save even more. So, how can simple technology save you time and money? Here are some ideas…
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Financial institutions are aware that we all lead very busy lives and, while banking is a part of our lives, we don’t want to spend a lot of time doing it. The technology they have come up with to help people take control of their finances has become much more important during the pandemic and many people, who normally wouldn’t use technology, have turned to it in order to bank safely.
Technology can be confusing if you don’t have a lot of experience with it, so here are some tips on how to use the technology your financial institution likely offers.
Online banking gives you the freedom to view your accounts when you need to. You have 24-hour access, so you can always see what’s happening with your money. Setting up an account is easy. You will simply need to create a username and a password for your profile, to protect your account.
The most immediate way that online banking saves you money is by eliminating the ride (gas and time) to the branch and the time spent in the branch. It can also save on stamps for bills you currently pay by check.
Quick balance view: Most online banking portals allow you to see your balances on one screen. Some allow you to bring in information from outside financial institutions so you can get a full view of your overall financial picture. Having your balances in one place makes it a lot easier to see what you have and where you have it. It also allows you to see how much you owe on your loans and how much you have saved in your deposit accounts. When you can see the full picture, it’s easier to get a sense of how you’re doing financially. Some online banking portals will even let you set goals for yourself so you can track your progress on a savings goal (and plan for a big celebration when you reach it).
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Pay bills and make transfers: When it’s time to pay the bills, everything you need to accomplish your goal is right there in the online platform. You should have a bill payment tool and the ability to make transfers to internal accounts and possibly to and from external accounts. I’ve found it handy when it gets to bill time and I realize I don’t have enough in my checking account. Instead of having to go into a branch to transfer funds into my checking account and then write out checks to my phone, utilities, etc., I just go into my online account, transfer the funds, and pay my bills using Bill Pay.
ACH all the way!: ACH is a beautiful thing, if your employer can use it to deposit your paycheck. Though this is not specifically an online banking function, it’s appropriate for this article because having your paycheck deposited automatically can save you a lot of time, money, and frustration. To use ACH effectively, ask your employer to deposit your paycheck automatically into your account(s) each pay period. You can tell them exactly how you want the funds deposited. For example, if you want to save $50 every pay period, you can tell them to put $50 into your savings account and the rest into checking. Or you could have them break it out into multiple accounts if you’re saving for multiple things. This is a great way to save because you never see the funds. They slip right into your savings and all you have quick access to is the money in your checking account, so you’re more likely to spend only that.
Check your transactions (one-time and recurring): When you can see pending transactions, you can plan for them and make sure they’re covered. If you have recurring bills and transfers set up, you can easily go into the accounts to see when those bills get paid. This saves you the wait time to confirm, by phone, that your bill has been paid, whether it is with your financial institution or the billing company. You also won’t have to worry about remembering to physically or electronically make that payment. Late fees will be a thing of the past once you get the transfers set up. There is an added peace of mind that comes with knowing that your bills will be paid on time.
Set alerts: Alerts can save you from overdrafting your account, which can save you a LOT of money, particularly if you tend to carry a low balance. They can also alert you to fraudulent activity in your account, which could save you thousands if you catch the criminal early enough.
Access your eStatements and tax forms early: If you’re enrolled in eStatements, you will likely get your statements and tax forms earlier than those who wait for paper. You will also receive them in a secure environment, which means your paper documents and personal information won’t be stolen from your mailbox or your garbage. And then there is the environmental component (fewer trees required for your records). With all your forms online, you can simply forward them to your accountant or print them out for your own records. It also saves you the paper statement fees associated with sending statements in the mail.
Alongside online banking, there is the trusty mobile application. Catering to the age of smart phones, most financial institutions pride themselves on the reliability and the accessibility of their mobile apps. The features of the mobile app often reflect that of the functionality of the online banking program, with a few added features. With mobile banking, you can usually do everything you can do in online banking and more.
Deposit by phone: The most helpful additional feature offered by your mobile app is mobile deposit, which allows you to make deposits by taking a picture of the check with your phone. All you need to do is select the account, choose the deposit option, enter the amount of the check, and snap your pictures. This feature saves you time, not to mention gas money. Anything that saves you from that long line at the credit union or bank is great, right?
Automated teller machines (ATMs)
Another type of technology, for those who need access to cash or who don’t have access to online or mobile technology is the ATM. ATMs allow for 24-hour access and allow you to check your balances and deposit or withdraw cash. Using an ATM requires using an ATM or debit card. Inserting your card in the designated slot will set off a series of prompts to help you. If online or mobile banking isn’t your style, the ATM may be the best choice for you.
Now that we have looked into ways to save some time and money using the simple and free technology offered by your financial institution, let’s venture further out into the technological universe to see if we can find other apps to help save even more.
Online budget planners
Online budget planners like Mint (free) or YNAB (low-cost) can help you start budgeting for specific goals. Secure and easy to use, most budget planners use information provided by your financial institution to give you a more detailed view of how you’re spending your money. I’ll describe how Mint works as an example.
Once you download the Mint app to your smart phone, you will need to establish a username and a password. After that, you will be prompted to connect to your financial institution; that way the app can access the transactions in your account.
Categorize for savings: You have the option to manually enter your bills or have the app access them and put them into categories for you. Some of those categories are home, shopping, and education. However, the categories will be personalized based on the information from your transaction history. Categorizing helps you see where your money is going (even those places you forgot about), which can help you figure out where it should stop going.
Manage your loan accounts: Not only will Mint keep track of your savings accounts. It will also track your loan payments as well. By incorporating loans, you can use the “upcoming bills” feature of the app. With this feature, you can prioritize your bills and set reminders as well. Once you pay a bill for that month, the feature allows you to mark that bill as paid so that it disappears (though if it is reoccurring, it will reappear the next month). This helps you eliminate late payments, and therefore late fees, which saves you more money.
Set goals: You can’t reach goals you haven’t set, right? This is an extremely helpful feature for anyone who has a financial goal. And to be honest, we should all have financial goals, whether it’s to save for something we want or for things we may need, like emergency funds or retirement. Setting goals will help you stay on track for the future, so you aren’t struggling to get by when something bad happens or when you’re much older and ready to stop working!
Review your credit report: Keeping tabs on your credit report can also save you money by alerting you to fraudulent activity on your account. Your credit report doesn’t just tell you what your credit score is. It also offers a bird’s eye view of your payment history on major bills and of large purchases. If someone tries to get a loan or a credit card in your name, your credit report may be your first warning that you’ve become the victim of fraud. The earlier you see the fraud, the more apt you are to save yourself money.
One thing that I love about the smart phone era is that you can use your device for just about anything—in this case to save yourself some time and help you cut back on spending, which will save you money.
Calendar: You can use your calendar for bill reminders and add your bills to your calendar on, or a few days before, the day they are due to avoid late or missed payments. You can set notifications and schedule them for the same day of the month, every month. You can make changes yourself—no fuss and no hassle. And you can add as much or as little information as you need to utilize your calendar for your financial needs. The calendar is also handy to help you in remembering to transfer funds if you don’t have automatic transfers set up. This could help you avoid overdraft fees or any other charges that are associated with not having a payment go through on time or dropping below your required minimum balance.
Reminders: We can all benefit from the reminder app on our phone, whether it is for help with finances or just your day-to-day life. You can set reminders for dates and times that bills are due and just to make sure you have enough in your account for your automatic payments. You can put bills in in the order that you need to pay them during the month. Once you have paid them, you can cross them off. That way, you won’t have to dig through to make sure you didn’t forget. Finally, you can also set reminders to go off at a specific time and place if you would like. That way, if you happen to get sidetracked, you have something nudging you and keeping you on track. The beauty behind reminders is you can use them for whatever you would like, even if it is just to remember to check your accounts at the end of the day.
Life is good when you can save some extra cash or don’t have to take time out of your day to manage your finances. Technology that is designed to make banking more convenient for you can help you reach your financial goals, no matter what they are. With advances in technology, it is easier to save money now than ever before. In addition, you can save time and give yourself some necessary peace of mind.
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