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How and why to stop wasting your time banking offline

Here’s why banking offline is costing you way too much time and what you should do to optimize your online banking experience.

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    In this Dec. 13, 2012 file photo, a customer stops at a Bank of America ATM office in Boston.
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You can do almost everything digitally these days, and banking is no exception. More than half of American adults bank online, according to the Pew Research Center — which isn’t surprising, considering the benefits.

Here’s why banking offline is costing you way too much time and what you should do to optimize your online banking experience.

Limited locations and bankers’ hours

When you bank offline, you can only handle your money at certain times and places.

Brick-and-mortar banks tend to be open during the most inconvenient time of day: traditional work hours. To transfer cash between accounts, order checks and access other banking services, you have to brave the crowds at lunchtime or during limited Saturday hours — or miss work.

Online banking allows you to bank whenever and wherever. Using your computer or phone, you can deposit checks, transfer money, check your balance and view old statements. There aren’t any lines or “closed” signs, save for the occasional website update, and these often happen in the middle of the night to avoid disruption. Bonus: You don’t have to waste time or gas driving to and from your brick-and-mortar.

Outdated bill pay

We’ve come a long way from running around town to pay for utilities in person, or even sitting down with a stack of bills and a checkbook. Now you can have your bills paid automatically every month on the due date.

Saving time isn’t the only benefit of automatic online bill pay. Some companies offer a small discount for setting it up. And provided your bank account is sufficiently funded, the service will ensure you don’t miss payments. Those missed payments can result in late fees, or even damage your credit. Making regular, on-time payments can help build your credit.

But if you don’t keep an eye on your balance and your automatic bill payment causes your account to become overdrawn, that can also hurt your finances. Aside from accruing fees, you might also lose your bank account, which is much more limiting than banking offline. A recent NerdWallet study highlighted the serious costs of not having a bank account, including depending on high-fee prepaid cards.

As long as your balance always covers your automated bills, though, online banking has other perks, too. You can search online statements — no more paper clutter! And you can make free and easy money transfers to others.

Switch banks if you have to

Many banks and credit unions offer online banking, and you can ask customer service for help setting up online bill pay and other services. But first, make sure your current bank has some of the best online banking features. Does it offer real-time chat? Secure messaging? Check on ATM access, because limiting branch visits should be your goal. Does your bank charge for using other ATMs? Does it have a mobile app? If it does, read the app’s reviews.

If your bank doesn’t have good online banking services, consider switching to one that does. Some banks are only online and specialize in that user experience.

Changing banks can be daunting, but it might be worth the trouble. Here’s how you can do it:

  • Research and choose a bank. Remember you’re looking for a user-friendly digital experience. Pick one that offers accounts with no maintenance fees — or fees that you can easily avoid with, for instance, a low minimum balance — plus comparatively high interest rates.
  • Make a list of every account that will be affected by this change. You’ll have to update direct deposit and — if you already bank online — automatic payments. Review your bank statements from the last six to 12 months to create this list because some expenses aren’t charged on a monthly basis, such as some car insurance premiums.
  • Open your new account. And start your online-banking journey by setting up automatic bill pay and money transfers. This might take awhile if you have complicated finances, but it will save you time going forward.
  • Keep a buffer in your old account for now. You might want to leave some cash in your old account so you don’t bounce any checks or incur overdrafts for forgotten items. And know your old bank’s fee structure: You might have to keep a certain minimum balance to avoid monthly maintenance fees.
  • Close your old account after a few months. Three to six months after you’ve opened your new account, it’s probably safe to close your old one.

Banking offline is time intensive and unnecessary for the average user. Performing most of your transactions online saves time and energy. It requires a little effort up front, but it’ll be worth it for the convenience in years to come.

Erin El Issa is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: erin@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @Erin_El_Issa.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by U.S. News & World Report.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best personal finance bloggers out there. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here. To add or view a comment on a guest blog, please go to the blogger's own site by clicking on the link in the blog description box above.

 
 
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