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10 Practical Tips To Lower Your Banking Costs

10 Practical Tips To Lower Your Banking Costs

Recently, I was going over the details of my budget with a friend. When I got to the estimated expenses, he seemed to have a puzzled look on his face and asked me if I had forgotten to include banking costs. I was surprised by this question, but not as surprised as he was by my answer: “I don’t really have any banking expenses.”

“What about service charges, accidental overdrafts, minimum account balances etc.?” he asked. I shrugged. I don’t pay my bank to hold my money, they pay me for the privilege. Here’s how:

1. Set up overdraft protection … now!

Accidents happen. No one usually intends to overdraw their bank account, but sometimes a debit transaction comes through before a check clears and there you are with one or several charges applied to your already hurting bank account.

The first thing you should do after setting up a bank account is inquire about available overdraft protection. Sometimes referred to as cash reserve checking, this is a line of credit that the bank extends to its customers that kicks in when your debits exceed the balance in your account. Basically, you are pre-approved for a loan that is used to cover your negative balance.

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While this protection virtually eliminates overdraft fees, there are two small caveats. Firstly, you must be approved for such a line of credit, which is dependent on several factors including your credit score and history with the bank. Secondly, banks are not in the business of loaning out money for free, you will be charged interest on the overdrawn amount, though this is almost always going to be less than the fees that would be applied without overdraft protection.

2. Establish a good relationship with the tellers at your bank.

We often tend to view banks as large, faceless megacorporations, and save for the local credit unions, most of them are. That said, the people who work at your local branch are just that, people, and they often possess more power to help you out than you may realize. Knowing your teller by name, asking them about their family and what they are doing this weekend are, other than being generally polite things to do, great ways to ensure that you are treated fairly by your bank. I cannot tell you how many times my teller has pushed a deposit through to clear immediately or removed a fee for me: services that I doubt would have ever been extended to someone they didn’t know.

3. Prepare ahead for traveling abroad.

Oftentimes travelers run into additional banking fees and inconveniences, simply because they didn’t plan ahead. Be sure to tell your bank that you are traveling. Will you need to use ATMs while you are abroad? Check to see if your bank has any arrangements with banks in the countries to which you are traveling. If they do, using these banks can significantly cut down on fees and you can be assured that your money will be readily available when away from home. If you travel frequently, consider opening a Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking Account, which automatically reimburses all foreign ATM fees.

4. Use online banking but don’t rely on it.

Online banking is a godsend for most people. It allows you to keep an eye on your balance, transfer money from one account to another, and more. Many banks allow you configure alerts so that you are notified via email or text message when your balance drops below a certain threshold. Get to know what your online banking offers and leverage these tools to stay in control of your account. While this can be an extremely useful tool, bear in mind that it does not replace the need to balance your checkbook.

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5. Balance your check book.

Every time you swipe your debit card or write out a check, add the transaction to your ledger immediately. For all intents and purposes, view that money as no longer being in your account. If you get into this habit and quit relying on the available balance reported by your online banking, you will save yourself a lot of trouble, fees and embarrassment.

Remember that transactions can often take days to show up on your online ledger. Always know what it really in your account. Maintaining a balanced check book will also enable you to more easily spot potential bank errors, such as double charges. While there are a wide variety of apps available to make this age-old act easier, I personally prefer Toshl, which is available on all the major mobile platforms and can also be used to set up budgets and generate helpful graphs about your spending habits.

6. Shop around for better accounts.

Before looking elsewhere, go into your bank and ask to talk to someone about your account. Let them know that you are concerned about avoiding fees and would like to know what types of accounts are available. Answer any questions they ask you with complete honesty. Do not say that you can maintain a higher minimum balance than you realistically can. Oftentimes, you can forgo interest (which is often quite meager to begin with) for a totally free account with no restrictions. After a simple five-minute conversation with my banker, I was switched into an account that is typically just for college students (which I am not) that offered some built-in overdraft forgiveness with no fees and no minimum balance. While your mileage may vary, it never hurts to see what is available. If it seems that your bank has nothing to offer, look elsewhere.

7. Be careful when writing checks.

Checks can be tricky as you never know when their recipient will cash them and if there isn’t enough money in our account when they do, they will bounce, which is costly and very embarrassing. Bounce enough checks around town and you might even find yourself in jail. If we are following tip #5 and balancing our check book, this should never happen. That said, sometimes we make mistakes. So, if you do bounce a check, and you happen to catch it right away (it shows up in your online banking, but the transaction is still “pending”), then immediately deposit enough funds in your account to cover the check and call your bank. There is a chance that they might be willing to manually approve the transaction and prevent the check from bouncing.

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8. Read every notice that your bank mails you.

Regulations require that your bank notify you of any new fees. Be sure to open and read every piece of mail that your bank sends you. If they are introducing a new fee of some type, contact them immediately and see what can be done to avoid being charged. Often they are just hoping that you won’t notice. Stay on top of things and you could avoid increasing fees.

9. Consider switching to a credit union.

If you are unable to get your banking costs under control with a typical bank, try a credit union. Credit unions are member owned and operated and as such, are service-driven as opposed to profit-driven organizations, and because of this they tend to offer more favorable rates and additional services.

10. Don’t be afraid to mix and match your banks.

If one bank offers a great free checking account and another has really useful features for its business accounts, don’t be afraid to mix and match. Find the accounts that suit your needs, regardless of where they are offered.

 

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With a little effort, it is possible to mitigate most banking costs, even those associated with mistakes made on your own part. For a look into some more money mistakes worth avoiding, check out 11 Money Mistakes You Don’t Realize You’re Making.

Featured photo credit: Money Bills Calculator Save Savings Taxes/jarmoluk via pixabay.com

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Last Updated on January 2, 2019

How Personal Finance Software Helps You Get More Out of Your Money

How Personal Finance Software Helps You Get More Out of Your Money

Do you know what mental health experts point to as the biggest cause of stress in the United States today? If you said “money,” then ding, ding, we have a winner!

Three out of four adults today report feeling stressed out about money at least part of the time. People are either worried about not having enough money or whether they’re putting the money they do have to use in the best possible way.

Your money is either in charge of you or you’re in charge of it, there’s no middle ground. Using some type of personal finance software can help alleviate some of that money stress and better allow you to manage your money effectively. Without it, you may just be setting yourself up for constant financial worry. Life is already tough enough and there’s no need to make it more difficult by simply hoping your money issues will all work out in your favor. Hint: they won’t.

This guide will help you to understand how personal finance software can better assist with both accomplishing long term financial goals and managing day-to-day aspects of life.

Whether it’s tracking the savings plan for your child’s college fund or making sure you won’t be in the red with the month’s grocery budget, personal finance software keeps all this information in one convenient place.

What Exactly is Personal Finance Software?

Think of it like the dashboard in your car. You have a speedometer to tell you how fast you’re going, an odometer to tell you how far you’ve traveled, and then other gauges to tell you things like how much gas is in the tank and your engine temperature. Personal finance software is essentially the same thing for your money.

When you install this software on your computer, tablet, or smartphone, it helps to track your money — how much is going in, how much is going out, and its growth. Most personal finance software programs will display your budget, spending, investments, bills, savings accounts, and even retirement plans, levels of debt, and credit score.

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How It Leads to Financial Improvement

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but people who regularly monitor their finances end up wealthier than those who don’t. When you were a kid, keeping track of all of your money in a porcelain piggy bank was pretty easy. As we get older, though, our money becomes spread out across things like car payments, mortgages, retirement funds, taxes, and other investments and debts. All of these things make keeping track of our money a lot more complicated.

Some types of personal finance software can help make things a little less complicated, setting you up to meet financial goals and taking away some of the stress associated with money.

Even if you already have a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) some type of personal finance software can be of great benefit. Whereas CFPs focus on the big picture of your money, they don’t handle the day-to-day aspects that determine your overall financial health.

It’s also not nearly as complicated as you might think and can take out a lot of the tedium that comes with doing everything on an Excel spreadsheet or with a pad and pencil.

Types of Personal Finance Software

When it comes to personal finance software, it generally fits into two categories: tax preparation and money management.

Tax preparation software such as Turbo Tax and H&R Block’s software can help with everything from filing income taxes to IRS rules and regulations and even estate plans. Plus, there’s the benefit of filing online and getting your refund check a lot faster than if you were to mail off your forms after waiting in line at the post office.

For the purpose of this article, however, will be focusing more on the personal finance software that aids with money management.

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Money management personal finance software will help you to see the health of your cash flow, pay down debt, forecast for expenses and savings, track investments, pay bills, and do a host of other things that 30 years ago would have practically required a team of accountants.

When to Use Personal Finance Software

So far we’ve gone over what exactly personal finance software is and how it can be a benefit to your money. The next logical step in this whole equation is determining when it should be used and how is the best way to go about getting started using it.

Below are four of the most common and practical ways to use personal finance software. If all or any of these apply to you and your money, then downloading some type of personal finance software is going to be a smart move.

1. You Have Multiple Accounts

There’s a good chance that when it comes to your money, it’s in more than one place. Sure, you probably have a checking account, but you may also have a savings account, money market account, and retirement accounts such as an IRA or 401k.

If you’re like the average American, you probably have two to three credit cards as well. Fifty percent of Americans also don’t have loyalty to just one bank and spread their money across multiple banks.

Rather than spending hours typing in every detail of every account you have into a spreadsheet, many programs allow you to easily import your account information. This will help to eliminate any mistakes and give you a bird’s eye view of everything at once.

2. You Want to Automate Some or All of Your Payments

Please don’t say that you’re still writing out paper checks and dropping each bill in the mailbox. While it’s noble that you’re doing your part to keep postal workers employed, we’re 18 years into the 21st century and you can literally pay every bill online now.

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There’s no need to log into every account you have and type in your routing number either.

With personal finance software you can schedule automatic payments and transfers between all of your imported accounts. Automatic transfers will help to make sure you have the necessary funds in the right account to ensure all bills are paid on the appropriate date. Late fees are annoying and do nothing but cost you money. It’s time that you said goodbye to them once and for all.

3. You Need to Streamline Your Budget

Perhaps the best feature of personal finance software is that it allows you track everything going in and out of your virtual wallet.

Nearly every brand of personal finance software out there has easy-to-read graphs and charts that allow you track every cent you spend or earn, should you choose. You might be pretty amazed when you see just how much you spent on eating out last month or if you splurged a little more than you should have on Christmas gifts last year.

Every successful business on the planet has a budget and using personal finance software can help you trim the fat on your spending in ways that affect your everyday life.

4. You Have Specific Goals to Meet

Maybe it’s paying off debt or saving for up something like a European vacation. Whatever your financial goal is, whether it’s long-term or short-term, personal finance software programs are one of the savviest ways to go about reaching those goals.

You can do everything from set spending alerts to notify you when you’re over budget to automating what percentage of your paycheck goes to things like retirement investments. The personal finance software that you choose should show you exactly how close you are to hitting those goals at any given time.

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How to Get Started

From AceMoney to Mint and Quicken, there ’s no shortage of personal finance software apps out there. Many of these programs are free to download and will allow you to pay bills, invest, monitor your net worth and credit profile, and even get a loan with the swipe of a finger.

Other programs may only offer you limited services and will require a one-time fee or subscription to unlock all that they offer. These fees can often vary from as little as two dollars to 50 bucks a month.

It’s best to start off with the free version and then gauge whether you’re able to accomplish everything you’d like or if it’s worth exploring one of the paid options. Often times the subscription programs come with assistance from financial planning and investment experts — so that can be a real benefit.

When deciding which personal finance software program to use, it’s also important to look at how many accounts you wish to monitor. Certain programs limit the number of accounts you can add. Be sure that if you have checking, credit card, and investment accounts to monitor, that you choose a service that can monitor them all.

Finally, when looking around for the right personal finance software that meets your needs, make sure that you’re comfortable with the program’s interface. It shouldn’t be expected that you recognize every single feature instantly, but if the features don’t seem readable and manageable to you, then you’re not as likely to use it and get the full benefits.

Final Thoughts

Personal finance software can go a long way in helping you to take control of your money and meeting your financial goals. It’s important to note, however, that some focus more on budgeting and expense tracking while others prioritize investing portfolios and income taxes. Explore several different programs and read reviews to find the one that’s right for you.

In this day and age, managing one’s personal finances in a secure manner that allows the user to have a real-time visual representation of their money is easier than ever before. With the numerous applications that are out there — both free and subscription-based — there’s no reason that every person can’t take control of their money and ensure they’re making smart money moves.

Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

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