Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Tips for Better Banking

First: If your bank requires deposit slips to make a deposit, then you generally have two options: use your own, pre-printed deposit tickets, or fill out the generic form offered at the bank. USE YOUR OWN SLIPS. Seriously.

Much faster. They already have your name, address, and account number printed on them, so all you have to do is fill in the date and the money. You get to smugly slide by all the poor saps standing around the counter, laboriously printing out their address for the millionth time.

More accurate: Mistakes happen. Deposit slips have to be read by multiple sets of eyes, and messy handwriting or transposed digits on a hand-written slip can derail a deposit. Hand-filled deposit tickets have to be typed by hand into the computer system, first by the teller and later by a proof-work operator. Your pre-printed slips are read through a machine: more accurate, and again, faster for you.

Cons: None. They're free to order, so why on earth not, right? There are a few at the back of every book of checks, and you can order deposit slips separately... at no cost. This is because the bank WANTS you to use them.

Second: Take some of that time you're saving by using pre-printed tickets, and write your account number on the back of every check. Some banks require this. Some don't. It doesn't matter-- this is for YOU, not the bank. This comes back to the "mistakes happen" concept. Sometimes a check gets separated from the herd... ah, from the deposit. Bank paperwork equals big stacks of deposits, rubber-banded together and sent elsewhere. 99.999% of the time, every check in every deposit gets where it needs to be-- the system works. But for that one check that doesn't, it ends up in a "homeless items" bin somewhere, waiting to be matched back to the account it belongs with. If that account number is written on the back, then the check can get back where it needs to be so fast, you may never notice that anything went awry. If there's no account number, though, it can take a long time: long enough to cause major problems for you. By labeling the checks in your deposit, you are only protecting yourself!

Third: Writing your account number on every check does something else for you: it helps you learn or memorize your account number. No, you don't need to know the whole thing, but memorizing at least the last four digits of each account is very useful. For one thing, when you look at your receipt and the last four numbers on it, you may notice if the teller screwed up your deposit.

Fourth: If you have multiple accounts, have some mental system for knowing which is which. The best, as stated above, is to know at least the last four digits of each. Otherwise, know (for example) whether one is in your name only but the other is jointly held, or the approximate balances in each if the balances are relatively stable. That way, if you walk up to the teller window and ask to withdraw from an account, or transfer from a checking account to a credit card to make a payment, or close an account, and the teller asks, "OK, which account?"... you have a good answer. This will keep you from getting your stuff in trouble by using the wrong account for the wrong thing. Again, account numbers are best because they are concrete.

Fifth: Speaking of credit cards, if you have any, set your PINs. While every debit card holder has a PIN to use at the ATM or at stores as "debit", most credit card holders have no idea what their PIN is. Working with the theory that credit cards are for emergencies, it is imperative that you be able to use one for cash if need be. To get a cash advance off of a credit card at an ATM, you need that PIN. Hopefully, this will be something you never, ever have to do, since the interest rates and fees for cash advances are awful. But you never know*, so be prepared! To set a new PIN, call the customer service number on the back of the card. It's usually one of the first options offered in the automated menu.

Fifth-A: PIN advice: I set the PIN for all of my credit cards and my debit card to the same number. Now it doesn't matter how seldom I use it, it's that number for everything. Also, do not use any part of your date of birth or your social security number. Hello, obvious?

Sixth: Research what your bank offers, so that you can take advantage of everything. Chances are, you're already paying for it one way or another. Free online banking? Free savings if you have a checking? Free checking if you direct-deposit your paycheck? Free text-message alerts if your balance drops below (x) dollars? Savings services that make matching contributions? Debit cards linked to charitable organizations? For brand-new customers, all of this is spelled out in the account set-up, but if you've had your account for years, you may be missing out. When you're in the bank, look around at the promotional materials; if your friend banks where you do and his debit card has the Habitat for Humanity logo on it, ask how he got it and why; or just sit down with someone at the bank, and ask if your accounts are still the best thing going. Banks are constantly rolling out new programs, trying to attract new customers, but old customers can really get the shaft if they aren't paying attention.

*Last summer, the day I found out I was going to miscarry our fourth pregnancy, was such a time. Don was out of town, my car was in the shop, I was driving his truck, his truck got towed, and I was stranded. I was without cash and without my debit card (it was in a pants pocket at home), I was at the doctor's office and fairly nuts from grief from what I'd just seen on the ultrasound (i.e. another failed pregnancy). All I had was my Discover card and my cellphone. Luckily I was able to use the phone to get a ride from a friend (back to the impound lot where the truck was), and borrow cash from her, too. But that day I called Discover and re-set my PIN so that should I ever need to, I can withdraw from it, and started carrying cash in my wallet at all times.


Rachel said...

Hey, you know this post didn't show up when I clicked on your main page? :smooch I got a sinking feeling that you weren't blogging anymore in the couple days it's been since I checked, but then realized that I could see your archives...and then found this post from today.

Mara said...

Hmm. Well I wrote this on my lunch break at work... it's possible that you were checking at the same time I was publishing? When I go to my main page, I can see it...


ayla said...

My bank is in a different state, and I have no local branches, so I do all my depositing by mail. I write "For Deposit Only" on the back of all my checks, along with my account number, which I've had memorized forever. I also have my debit card memorized, though I don't know the pin for it (I have a separate ATM card that I do know the PIN for when I need cash).

My credit card, however, is a different story. I don't have that number memorized, nor do I know the PIN for it. I do have a separate joint account with a different bank that we usually keep emergency money in, and I know the pin for that card. I don't know.

What's your opinion about signing credit/debit cards?

Bex said...

ok #2 has happened to me . . . with a $5000 check. . . and I was miles away from the bank so I couldn't show them my receipts until I returned to town . . .so I was over draw and away from the bastards, I mean bank . . . luckily I had the receipt of the deposit because they were seeming less then helpful before they understood that I had proof of deposit.

Bex said...

ayla has a couple good points, I've been wondering about banking out of my own state due to the upcoming move but I've pretty much determined that it would be too much of a headache (but I've never actually tried it)
also signing credit/debit cards . . . the card states that it is not valid unless signed. For most retailers it's a non-issue if the person has their ID on them (and if they even check the card in the first place). I particularly love when it states "See ID" and the person doesn't carry their ID with them. No chocolate for you!

Mara said...

I'd say that signing the debit card is quickly becoming a non-issue, as more and more vendors switch their POS to the kind where the customer swipes their own card and chooses 'credit' or 'debit'. Heck, I can't remember the last time a cashier even LOOKED at my card! Mine has "See ID" on the back (but I do carry ID!). Of the few cashiers that still swipe the card manually, maybe 10-15% notice that, and ask to see my DL. I'm assuming that if my card were stolen, the thief would have no problem just swiping the card somewhere, choosing "credit", and walking off...

IMO, what is more important is knowing what your bank's policy is on fraudulent charges on a debit card. Some banks offer total protection, just like a credit card, while others make you liable for the first X dollars' worth of charges, usually $50.00 or so.

Mara said...

Also, Becca has a good point that I was going to mention but forgot: save your receipts! Until you have proof that your deposit posted accurately, hang on to that scrap of paper. It can save your butt.