10 Banking Tips

Safeguard Your Practice

By William J. Lynott

Your bank may not be the scoundrel that some would have you believe, but don’t mistake it for your kindly old uncle either. Banks are in business to make money, and today’s tough economy is causing them to look for ways to take a bigger bite than ever out of your pocketbook. What’s worse, the bad guys out there are an even bigger threat to your financial well-being. Following are tips for responsible banking so you can keep errors from chipping away at your net income.

1. Avoid Bank Charges

One of the techniques many banks are using to beef up their bottom lines is increased service charges. The average ATM service charge doubled between 1998 and 2007, and overdraft fees brought in $17.5 billion in revenue in 2006, up from $10.3 billion in 2004, according to the Center for Responsible Lending.

If you ever get careless and bounce a check, you’ll likely get hit with an overdraft fee, one of their most profitable ploys. Most banks now automatically enroll their checking account customers in an overdraft program that allows them to hit you with an overdraft charge of as much as $35 every time you write a check for more than your account balance.

According to a study by the Consumer Federation of America, 16 of America’s largest banks charge tiered overdraft fees that go higher after the first one. Some banks set no limit on the number of overdraft charges in a single day, so a little carelessness on your part could cost you a bundle. To minimize your chances of getting caught in this trap, watch that checking account balance with an eagle eye.

2. Analyze Bank Statements

Those monthly bank statements may not make for exciting reading, but they could make for profitable reading. Banks can and do make mistakes, so you need to make sure you’re not being hit with incorrect charges. It will only take a few minutes to examine each charge on your monthly statement. The more familiar you become with your statements, the easier it will be to see errors and overcharges.

3. Erase the Paper Trail

Identity thieves and scam artists are everywhere these days, and people who are careless with banking documents are their favorite targets. Leaving old bank statements, voided checks, or other banking documents where others may find them makes you an easy target. Every one of your old or discarded bank documents should be shredded.

4. Use a Strong Online Password

Online banking is so convenient and easy these days that more consumers (25 percent) now prefer the speed and convenience of conducting banking transactions on the Internet rather than visiting their local branch, according to a survey by the American Bankers Association.

The preference for online banking was followed by branch visits (21 percent) and ATM use (17 percent).

While experts agree that online banking is as safe—perhaps even safer—than conventional banking, it’s important not to be complacent about your online password. Resist the temptation to use something as simple as your birth date. Use a combination of letters and numbers chosen at random, and avoid doing your online banking from a public computer.

5. Deposit into a Money Market Account

While the interest rate on virtually all banking accounts is sickly these days, it’s practically nonexistent on checking accounts. That’s why you should never make your deposits into your checking account.

Open up a money market account at your bank and ask to have it linked to your checking account. Then, make all of your deposits into the money market account where your money will draw a better interest rate (rates will likely be going up soon, making this step worthwhile). Then, transfer money from your money market account to your checking account as needed to cover checks.

6. Know the Dangers of ATMs

Crimes involving users of ATMs are growing nationwide. When you use your ATM, it’s important to take basic precautions to protect yourself and your money. Keep yourself aware of persons around you and make sure you shield your PIN number when you’re typing it in.

Once you’ve made a withdrawal, put your money safely away before you walk to your car, and double check to make sure you have your card with you.

7. Shop Interest Rates

When you need a loan, it’s only natural to look first to the bank where you do your regular banking, but you shouldn’t stop there. The banking industry has become very competitive in these difficult times. The result is a wide variance in such things as interest rates on loans. Always shop around for the best interest rate; there are many places, especially online, that offer attractive deals whether you are saving or borrowing.

8. Choose Paper

You’ve probably noticed those inviting suggestions from your bank that you opt out of receiving paper statements each month. It’s a good idea for the bank because it saves them money, but it may not be a good idea for you.

It may be much easier to spot irregularities when you examine your paper statement each month than it would be on a web page. Even if your bank charges you a few cents for paper statements, you should not opt out unless online banking works best for you. Make sure those paper statements are kept in a secure place in your home.

9. Be Alert for Phishing Emails

Every day, scammers send millions of authentic-looking emails asking recipients to provide sensitive, personal information. On the pretext of being from a legitimate company or bank, the message will often instruct recipients to click on a link that sends them to a fake website. These fraudulent sites will ask for information such as name, address, phone number, date of birth, Social Security number, and bank or credit card account numbers.

Never provide such personal information in response to an email, no matter how authentic it may look. Legitimate companies and banks will never ask you to provide that kind of critically important information in response to an email.

10. Know Your Branch Manager

If you want to be sure you’re getting the most favorable treatment from your bank, it’s important to establish a personal relationship. Don’t hesitate to ask for a meeting with your local branch manager to introduce yourself. Tell the manager a little about yourself and your practice. When it comes to straightening out a problem or asking for a loan or other help, there’s no substitute for being personally acquainted with the powers that be. Besides, the staff might be potential clients, or perhaps the branch would like a chair massage day for customers.

Banking is a tricky business these days. As a business professional, you need to keep yourself up-to- date on the best banking practices. Following these suggestions will give you a head start on maximizing your financial potential.


William J. Lynott has an extensive background in management consulting, marketing, and finance. He’s written more than 900 articles appearing in a wide range of consumer magazines, trade publications, and newspapers in 17 countries. Contact him at lynott@verizon.net.