Once the new year rolls around, people start thinking about what they plan to do differently and for many of them, that means getting a better grip on their money. Paying off debt, finally learning to live on a budget and saving more all rank highly on the list of most popular financial resolutions.
If you’ve made a commitment to change how you approach your finances in 2015, one of the best places to start is at your bank. Odds are, there are a few things you could and should be doing differently to take some of the hassle out of your banking experience. Dumping old accounts you’re not using or shopping around for a bank that offers the best interest rate on savings are no-brainers but they’re just the tip of the iceberg. When it comes to banking better in the new year, there are some important changes to consider making.
1. Link your accounts to Mint for easy tracking
Monitoring your balances, keeping up with bill payments and tracking what you’ve spent are all necessary to a healthy bottom line but it can be time-consuming, especially if you’ve got multiple accounts to deal with. Using a personal finance software to keep tabs on everything can streamline the process so you’re not spending hours each week trying to figure out what you’ve got coming in and going out.
If you’re looking for a finance app that’s easy to use and doesn’t cost a dime, Mint is an excellent choice. Once you’ve created a Mint account, all you have to do to link your checking, savings or money market accounts is enter your banking login username and password and the app does the rest. Instead of visiting multiple sites, you can go straight to Mint and view your deposit, debit and transfer activity for all your bank accounts. If you want an even more complete financial picture, you can also link your credit card accounts, track your net worth and set your goals for the new year.
2. Automate payments and transfers
There’s nothing more annoying than realizing you’ve forgotten to pay a bill. By the time you do get around to paying it, the amount’s gone up thanks to a late charge and it may even go against your credit. The best way to get around late fees and missed payments is to take a set-it-and-forget-it approach using your bank’s online bill pay system. All you have to do is add in the payee’s information and set the due date. If you’re keeping an eye on things with Mint, you’ll be able to see exactly when everything is paid and in what amount.
If one of your financial resolutions is to bump up your savings efforts, automating your deposits is a must. You can set up recurring transfers from your checking to savings account each pay period or schedule outside deposits to your retirement or brokerage accounts. Paying yourself first is one of the tenets of personal finance and it becomes much easier to do when you’re not having to shuffle money from one account to another yourself.
3. Stop paying for ATM fees
Fees are one of the most unpleasant parts of banking and the ones you pay at the ATM can quickly eat into your balance if you make regular cash withdrawals. Using your debit card for most transactions is an easy work-around for avoiding those $4 and $5 fees but it’s not always realistic. If you still hit the ATM a few times a month, there are a few things you can do to cut down on the cost.
Downloading your bank’s mobile app is a step in the right direction. You should be able to use it to locate ATMs in your area where you can make fee-free withdrawals. You might also consider switching to a bank that offers fee reimbursements. Ally Bank, for example, doesn’t charge ATM fees and they’ll reimburse you once a month for any fees you pay at foreign bank machines.
A third option is to just cut out the middleman altogether and avoid using the ATM. That doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your cash spending, however; you just have to get the money somewhere else. For example, you can request cash back at the grocery store or when you’re making a purchase at selected retailers. Just be sure that the store doesn’t charge a fee to get the money since it can end up being more than what you’d pay at the ATM.
4. Protect your information
Debit and credit card users know that security breaches are becoming increasingly common and major retailers are often the biggest targets for hackers. Checking your bank statements for suspicious activity and using cash at places where you don’t feel comfortable swiping your card are wise moves but there’s even more you can do to keep your information safe.
If it’s been awhile since you changed your passwords, now’s the perfect time to update them. When you’re choosing a password, it doesn’t hurt to get a little creative. Interjecting numbers, capital letters or special characters makes it tougher for cyber thieves to decode if they’re trying to gain access to your account. If you normally get paper bank statements in the mail, switching to electronic statements only reduces the odds of your information ending up in the wrong hands if you normally don’t take time to shred your documents.
Making financial resolutions is usually pretty simple but it’s sticking to them that’s the hard part. If you’re focused on making better banking decisions in 2015, you can’t go wrong with these four moves.