Over time, customers of banks and members of credit unions have found the benefits of online banking to be great, and financial institutions have responded by including features beyond the basics described here.
Many banks and credit unions allow you to set up email alerts that give you notice when certain account activity occurs. There are a variety of alerts, and different institutions will offer different ones, but the standard alerts include:
A warning when your balance drops below or rises above a certain amount that you designate. For example, if you want to know when you have less than $100 in your account, you can set up an alert and receive an email letting you know.
Confirmation from the bank or credit union when a large deposit or withdrawal occurs. Deposit alerts let you know when a large deposit (like a paycheck) you already deposited is credited to your balance, and withdrawal alerts let you know when a large amount is removed from your account, like when you write a rent check or buy dinner for all your friends. For both deposit and withdrawal accounts, you can set how large of a transaction will set off the alert. High withdrawal alerts also serve as a security measure, letting you know when any large withdrawal occurs -- even ones that you did not schedule.
Negative Balance Alerts
Alerts you when your balance becomes negative, helping you avoid additional overdraft fees.
BillPay reminders and confirmations
If you haven't scheduled your bill payments, or if you just want a reminder when an amount will be deducted from your account, reminders help you keep track of you balance. Confirmations let you know when a bill pay has successfully been made.
Secure Message Alert
To avoid the security risk of sending sensitive information to your email, banks and credit unions often have an internal messaging system that allows you to ask a question about your account without leaving the financial institution's website. Secure message alerts email you when a customer service agent responds to your question. These alerts don't include the response itself, but let you know when to log back into online banking to read the response.
Priority Online Notifications
Nearly all banks and credit unions automatically enroll you in this service whether or not they offer the other email alerts. These emails notify you when important changes are made to your customer profile, like a change of address, change of password, or when you open a new account.
Most banks with online banking allow you to download your account information as a spreadsheet or in a format that money management programs like Quicken and MS Money can read. If you're looking for a way to manage your money and haven't used these programs before, you should also learn about the online banking services your bank or credit union already provides. Online banking has advanced greatly in the last few years, and many financial institutions offer tools to help you budget your finances within online banking. You should also read about personal finance management web apps like Mint.com These sites don't offer as many features, but many people find them easy to use and "good enough" at balancing their budget.
Activity Download Options
- CSV or Spreadsheet
- This is a format that can be opened by spreadsheet programs like Microsoft Excel or Open Office Calc. While these programs are not tailor-fitted to the purpose of money management, people often prefer using them because they are familiar. There's often a feeling of peace of mind when you budget using a spreadsheet -- everything out in the open so there's nothing to miss. (Note: "CSV" stands for "comma-separated values," and CSV files are just text files that spreadsheet programs can easily read.)
- Manual Download vs automatic import
- These two are usually pitted against each other -- "Manual Download" is the cheaper and more difficult way to download information and automatic import is the easier but more expensive way. These characterization are apt, but because the bank or credit union buys this service and then offers it to their customers and members, you might get both for free or only have access to one download option. Ask your financial institution or look at a checking account's FindABetterBank profile to find which options are available to you.
- Manual Connect ("Web Connect" for Quicken users)
- This is the option that requires a bit of work. Traditionally, you must log into online banking, specify how much transaction history you want and download that information. Then you must open the money management software (Quicken or MS Money), and import the downloaded file. The money management software recognizes the data format and updates your accounts accordingly. Because you have to do this manually, you must make sure you're importing the right dates on your own -- the software won't always alert you when you've made a mistake. Complications aside, most people find this a viable option, and almost all financial institutions offer this as a free service.
- Automatic import (or "Direct Connect" for Quicken users)
- This is a service that makes downloading your account information a simple process and helps avoid error by automating how the information gets imported. Instead of requiring that you log into online banking, you import your information from Quicken or MS Money. The software detects how much account information it needs to download and refreshes your information automatically. This process only takes a couple clicks.