Paying your bills and taking care of other banking chores is a pain. Even more painful: the fees you’ll face if you don’t do them when you need to. But here’s good news from ShopSmart, the shopping magazine from the publisher of Consumer Reports: Banks have introduced five services that make those tasks easier and more rewarding.
Person-to-person payments. Pay your friends the same way you pay your monthly bills online. All you need is a name and an email address to create a new payee in the person-to-person section of your online banking setup. The feature is called QuickPay at Chase and Popmoney at Citibank and other banks. To send money, you enter the recipient’s name, the amount to be paid, the date it should be sent, the account from which it’s to be taken and a memo to explain what it’s for. Then you simply click “send.”
Electronic check deposits. More banks are letting customers use the camera in their phone or tablet to photograph checks and deposit them electronically using a mobile banking app. No more trudging to a branch or an ATM to deposit them. But to protect yourself, consider installing security software that detects and removes malware and lets you remotely lock or delete data if your phone is lost. Also, avoid public wireless networks to prevent theft of account information.
On-the-go account monitoring. You can use a smartphone app or mobile websites to keep track of balances, transfer funds, avoid overdrafts, find ATMs and monitor account activity in real time to detect fraud.
Online budgeting tools. Just use your debit card for most of your day-to-day shopping, and programs offered by Bank of America, Citi, Wells Fargo and many others will help you pinpoint your budget busters. Also, look for financial planning tips and mortgage and insurance calculators.
Discounts from retailers. Have you noticed retailer ads or coupons in your online bank statement? It’s a new type of promotion that analyzes your banking, credit and social media activity to offer you personalized discounts of, say, 5 percent to 20 percent that you can click on for on-the-spot deals.
TWO SERVICES TO SKIP
Expedited payments. To avoid late charges, some 27 million households pay a fee of $5 to $25 to speed up a payment. But ShopSmart points out that you don’t have to spend money to get payments to post quickly. Simply schedule them online to be sure they will be on time.
Investment advice. A bank’s investment recommendations might work for you, but you shouldn’t base your choice of adviser and services on where you keep a checking account. Instead, start by searching for a qualified financial planner who is a member of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (napfa.org). Members charge for their services rather than collect sales commissions from the investment products they recommend.
HELP WITH COMPLAINTS
These new perks are helping consumers take some of the hassle out of banking. But these kinds of services are little consolation if you’ve been hit with an unexpected fee or been treated unfairly by your bank.
Fortunately, consumers have a new watchdog they can turn to if they’re having trouble resolving a problem with their bank. The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is collecting complaints from consumers about their experiences with different financial institutions, including banks. Learn more at consumerfinance.gov.
2013, Consumers Union Inc.