The Definitive Guide to Personal Banking
Personal banking can mean a lot of things. Depositing your paycheck, transferring funds in between your own accounts or to friends and family, even just going to the grocery store and using your debit card is considered personal banking. If it’s for personal reasons and involves your own finances then it can be considered personal banking. We do it almost every day without even realizing it. Sometimes we are doing it with an exact purpose like sitting down with an accountant to go over your yearly finances or saving for a down payment to buy a new house or a new vehicle. Most times we are just thinking about buying something and wondering if we can afford it.
We are going to discuss two of the most common accounts that are offered at a financial institution: checking and savings accounts. Everyone has one or has at least been told they need one, but what are they? What can they do for you? Each are designed with their own function in mind and some might even have restrictions to make sure you are using that account for its intended purpose.
We will cover the following topics:
- Checking and Savings Account Basics
- Account Types and Special Features
- How to Open an Account
- Deposits and Withdrawals
- Fraud Prevention
Checking vs. Savings
A checking account, also known as a transactional account, is intended for both withdrawals and deposits on a regular basis. There are special checking account types that do have restrictions and possibly monthly fees but we will get into that later. By writing a draft, or a check, you are able to pay people. This is the basis of a checking account, to transfer money to another person or entity. Nowadays we are able to do this a number of different ways, primarily with a debit card. There are also digital means like with ApplePay, SamsungPay, and even mobile apps like Venmo. It all comes down to preference and comfortability with digital formats.
Some checking accounts can also earn you interest.
Some checking accounts can also earn you interest. There are usually requirements that need to be met since the basic function of the account is for you to make transactions and not be used as a savings account. This could mean a required amount of transactions per month in order to earn a high interest rate.
A savings account, also known as a share account which is required for membership at a credit union, is a non-transactional account intended for deposits, and earns interest. Non-transactional simply means that you are not withdrawing money from the account on a frequent basis. Though withdrawals can be made Federal Reserve Regulation D (Reg D) restricts the number of withdrawals per month from a savings to a checking account. The regulation does not limit transactions made in person, at an ATM, or request by phone for a mailed check. Reg D is the government’s way of making sure that banks have the needed amount of reserves to do business and encourage people to use the account as intended, to save money.
A checking and savings account go hand in hand. Your checking account serves as a means to pay bills, buy groceries, and so on. Your savings account is where you have your rainy day fund. It’s important to keep the money you use and the money you save separate. There are multiple types of each account that work in harmony as long as you utilize them appropriately. When picking the right account consider your needs and the purpose of opening that particular account. Creating a budget will help you decide how much money you put in each account. Make savings goals to keep you on track.
Here is an example of a basic monthly budget:
Monthly Income: Add up all of your monthly income after taxes.
- Primary Job
- Second Job
Additional income: Child support, alimony, etc.
Monthly Expenses: Add up all of your monthly expenses.
- Mortgage or Rent
- Auto loan payment(s)
- Car insurance
- Utilities: Electricity, heat, gas, water, etc.
- Cell phone
- Cable TV/Internet
- Gym membership
- Student loan(s)
- Other outstanding debt (credit cards and other loans)
- Eating out – don’t forget your daily coffee!
- And more, unfortunately.
Now take your total wages and subtract your expenses. The exercise is meant to help, not discourage. If you are in the negative, take a look at what expenses are affecting you the most. If you are in the positive that is how much should be going into your savings account each month. The most important part is to be honest about your spending. If you need more income, either because you have a savings goal or because you are in the negative, consider getting another job or pick up more hours when you can. Take control of your finances.
Account Types & Special Features
There are multiple types of checking and savings accounts, all created to suit your needs as a consumer. Take a look at your finances and your spending habits to determine which is the best for you. Here is a list of the most common types of accounts:
- Free Checking – These checking accounts are free to open barring a minimum deposit amount. Free refers to no minimum daily balance. Another term for this could be “Basic” or “Simple” checking. This account type is geared towards students or people that don’t want to deal with any requirements to avoid fees each month. Typically there will be no interest paid on this account type.
- Interest Checking – Checking accounts aren’t intended for saving money but if you can earn a little interest, why not? An interest-bearing account will typically have requirements that need to be met each statement cycle to earn the interest. This type of account is meant for someone that has a fair amount of activity including recurring deposits or automatic bill payments coming out of the account. The activity makes the account profitable to the financial institution allowing them to give back to you for having the account. Make sure to read all terms and conditions to ensure you meet the requirements to get the interest.
- Money Market Checking – A money market checking account is a blend of money needed for daily use and money meant to save. The interest is based on a tiered system paying out more interest for higher balances. There is typically a minimum balance required to open as well as to earn any interest. Activity will be limited with restrictions on number of checks that can be written. This type of account is best used by someone with a savings goal in mind like a vacation the following year or even once a year holiday shopping. Keeping restrictions in mind since this is not an everyday use account and earns higher interest on a higher balance.
- Statement – The basic of basic savings accounts. This account earns minimal interest every statement cycle with a minimum amount. There aren’t a lot of frills associated with this account type. For a credit union this is used as a Share or Membership account. An amount will be placed on hold while the account is open as their piece or share of the credit union making them a shareholder. Hence, the term share account.
- Online – Opening your account online is cheaper than doing it in person. No paper, less manual labor, and estatements replace the need to mail a statement each month. This all adds up to higher interest available for most online accounts. There is typically a higher minimum deposit amount but the higher interest being paid makes it worth it. Plus, the money will usually remain liquid, which means you are able to withdraw without penalty. Not to say it won’t be affected by Regulation D, remember to always know the rules and stipulations of any account you open.
- Club – Saving for a trip or for the holidays? A club account might be for you. A safe place to keep your hands off your money when you have a specific purpose in mind. A club account will typically pay interest on lower amounts since the purpose is short term and usually has an end date. Read all terms and conditions as there may be a deposit schedule that you may have to follow.
- Certificate of deposit – If you are serious about putting money away and earning interest this is the product for you. A certificate of deposit (CD) has strict term restrictions. Your money is on hold for a set period of time to earn a specific interest rate. This makes a CD account a safe investment since you are guaranteed the interest rate. There are penalties for withdrawing your money early though that could potentially forfeit all of the interest earned depending on when you withdraw. Make sure to read and understand the terms and conditions and only withdraw early if absolutely necessary.
Workers Account Special Features
Depending on the credit union or bank that you go with, checking and/or savings accounts may come with unique features. Below we’ve detailed what Workers Credit Union members can take advantage of when they open an account:
- Debit card – Free with every Workers checking account.
- Early Pay Day – Businesses alert financial institutions ahead of time how much money will be deposited into their employee’s account on payday. If you are signed up for direct deposit with your employer then Workers is able to deposit your pay into your account up to 24 hours earlier than normal. All Workers checking accounts are eligible.
- Online Bill Pay – Pay your bills and set up recurring payments all in one place. Comes free with Workers High Interest Checking.
- Debit RoundUp – For every purchase with your Workers debit card you can instantly round it up to the next dollar and the difference will be deposited into your Workers savings account. There is no fee but you do need to sign up for the service in order to activate it.
- Mobile App – Free to download and free to use. The Workers mobile app allows you access to your accounts on the go. Check your balance, make a transfer, set up a bill payment, and more.
Opening an Account
Opening a checking or savings account should be a painless process. Typically no appointment is necessary. However, make sure you are prepared.
What to have ready:
- Two forms of ID (at least one picture ID); driver’s license, social security card, birth certificate, etc.
- Initial deposit either in cash or check. When depositing a check make sure to inquire about any hold policies. The funds may not be available immediately. If you are doing it online make sure you have a routing and account number the funds will be coming from. A routing number is a nine-digit code that identifies the financial institution from which the money is coming. This can easily be found in the lower left corner of a check.
- A smile.
During the process a report will be run to make sure you don’t owe money on closed accounts at other institutions as well as a background check. All of this is done at the office while you are chatting with the representative.
Now it is common to open a deposit account online. Everything can be done electronically, including the signing of your new account agreement. This makes it easier for those that don’t have the time to make it down to a branch or just prefer doing things on their own time. Either way works just fine.
Deposits and Withdrawals
When opening a new account it is required to make a minimum opening deposit. Some account types require a higher amount based on its features. There are also account types that have a minimum balance requirement that must be maintained while the account is open or receive a fee.
Technology has made depositing funds to your account more convenient than in the past. You used to have to go to your local branch in order to put funds into your account. Now it is common for an employer to offer direct deposit for your paycheck. You can also setup recurring transfers between your savings and checking accounts, even if the accounts live in two different financial institutions. Smart phones were a game changer for the banking world. Members can now transfer money to other members instantly, check their account balance on demand, and they can take a picture of a check to remotely deposit it into their account. Deposits can still be made at a branch or ATM of course but the need to come into a branch for minor transactions is dwindling. This allows branch staff to better cater to more complex needs and questions.
Withdrawing your money has also benefited from technology. The saying used to be “cash is king” but over the past few years cash is slowly becoming an inconvenience. The debit card has replaced the need for carrying cash or paying with a check, a now antiquated form of payment. Though cash will continue to be an acceptable form of currency we are quickly seeing a digital world unfold in front of us. Even the debit card is slowly being replaced with things like Apple Pay and Samsung Pay. A digital wallet all housed on your phone. Paypal has been a big player in online purchases as well. It guarantees funds through a secured online channel. Third party financial tech companies are making life even easier with mobile apps like Venmo where you can transfer funds to your friends instead of “splitting the bill” when you go to group dinners.
Should you need or want to use cash, ATMs are still the quickest and easiest way to withdraw cash from your account. Workers is a part of several ATM Networks that offer surcharge-free access to thousands of ATMs across the country. Just look for the following logos: SUM, Cirrus, Money Pass, NYCE, Visa, and the Co-Op Network.
Technology has made it easier to access your money but more importantly keep yourself accountable. With online banking you can check your balance, make emergency transfers, and track your spending on your time. Mobile apps have gone a step further and brought everything to your fingertips. You can access your account whenever, wherever you want.
Discretionary overdraft on a checking account is when there isn’t enough funds in an account to cover a requested transaction. Most financial institutions will charge you a fee for paying the item despite not having the money to cover it. Overdraft is a privilege, not a right. The institution is in no way obligated to pay if you do not have the appropriate available funds. The real kicker is there is typically a fee charged for returned requests if there aren’t enough funds, whether your financial institution decides to pay it for you or not. That means either way, if the request is paid or returned, you will receive a fee for not having funds available when a transaction is presented. This is why it is so important to keep track of your account balance and the items that are coming in as well as being taken out of your account. The responsibility is in your hands, not the financial institutions.
To avoid these fees, some people decide to remove overdraft from their account entirely and to have the transaction declined immediately. This can be helpful but not so useful in case of an emergency. Let’s face it, we aren’t perfect. A check can be forgotten, a bill that we thought we already paid, and so on. Keep the overdraft as your last resort, there are other options.
Keep the overdraft as your last resort, there are other options.
One way to assist with avoiding an overdraft on your account is to setup balance alerts through mobile banking. Receive a text alert when your balance goes below a predetermined amount that you have chosen. That way you know if a transfer needs to be made or perhaps that trip to the mall isn’t such a good idea and can wait until after payday. Online banking and mobile banking also allow you access to your account right at your fingertips. Check your balance, make a transfer, use budgeting tools to track your spending habits.
A low cost alternative to discretionary overdraft is a checking account line of credit. This product requires an application and a credit pull but the small amount of interest outweighs the amount of paying an overdraft fee should you anticipate this happening. The line of credit automatically deposits only the amount that you have overdrawn and a bill is generated each month. The line of credit covers the full amount that you have overdrawn within a certain time period instead of getting dinged a fee for every transaction that posts to a negative balance. This could potentially save you a large chunk of fees.
Another option is to setup your savings account as a “sweep account.” This means that instead of the funds coming from a line of credit they are pulled from one of your savings accounts. Again, only the amount that has overdrawn is deposited into your checking account and a small fee is charged for the transaction.
The benefit of having any type of overdraft for your checking account is the confidence knowing that if you do overdraw at least the item is more than likely going to be paid. But remember, keeping tabs on your account balances and budgeting appropriately should always take priority. This will help avoid any concern of overdraft in the first place.
Identity theft and bank fraud are real. You may think “that will never happen to me” and hopefully it won’t, but you have to stay realistic and vigilant. Take the measures needed to make sure that it is less likely to happen to you. And if it does, be able to recognize the red flags and ensure that it is addressed in a proper and timely manner.
You may think “that will never happen to me” and hopefully it won’t, but you have to stay realistic and vigilant.
Tips to Avoid Fraud
- Stay on top of your account activity. Check your balance and activity daily. Online banking as well as mobile apps for your smart phone allow you to do this at almost any time. You can also setup text alerts for minimum balances and withdrawals from your account.
- When shopping online use a credit card. If your debit card becomes compromised you could have money stolen and the process to recover could take 3-5 business days or longer. If a credit card is compromised then it is credit, not money that is stolen and can be recovered a lot faster by your credit card company. You could also use a secure third party like PayPal where your account information isn’t shared with the merchant.
- Protect your debit card PIN. Don’t allow people in line to get a glimpse. Memorize your PIN and never write it down or give it to anyone. If for some reason you have to give it to a trusted person make sure to change it afterwards.
- Destroy monthly paper bank statements and bills that may contain your account information. Sign up for electronic statements if your financial institution provides them to not only save paper but avoid potential fraud.
- Be cautious of email phishing scams. An attacker will use deception to obtain personal information including your online login credentials. A common approach is an email from a known company, or in some cases a known acquaintance, asking you to open an attachment or click on a link. For ex. You receive an email from a streaming service that states you are behind on your payments and requests that you log in to pay immediately. You click the link provided and it brings you to a login page. The site you went to is fake and waiting to copy your username and password. The attacker now has access to your account. From there they can obtain your payment information like debit card number.
- Email Red Flags
- Check who the sender is. Make sure it is a legitimate account.
- Never click on a link in an email that is asking you to log in to your account. Close the email and go directly to the secure website. If you don’t see anything suspicious you know that was an attempt at phishing. You may even call the company directly from a trusted phone number.
- Be suspicious of senders that you have never conversed with. Ask yourself, “Why is the CEO contacting me directly?”
Avoid clicking any links in emails that have a long list of recipients or hidden recipients.
- Never open an attachment from an untrusted source. Check the sender, is it someone you know? Does the email address look slightly off? Send a new email to verify that they in fact sent you this email. Do not simply reply to the email.
So as you can see, personal banking covers a lot of financial products and services. We have covered checking and savings accounts, withdrawals and deposits, and everything in between like special features and account types. Personal banking is just that, it’s personal. It’s what you do with your funds. It’s the accountability and responsibility on a daily basis to know what your accounts are doing for you and what you can do to make sure your accounts are still working for you, and not someone else.
Workers Credit Union has the personal banking options that fit your needs and make sure your financial future, and present, are positive ones. Just because it’s personal doesn’t mean you aren’t entitled to some guidance. And with the friendliest staff around, we are here to help guide you and point you in the right direction. Check out our suite of checking and savings accounts and start on your path to a brighter financial future, now.