Presumably the object of having a bank account is to save you money, or at least to help you more easily and properly manage it. But there are also several ways in which your use (or misuse, as the case may be) of your personal banking account could lose you money. Below you'll find out how to avoid the eight most common blunders when it comes to personal banking.
1. DON'T pay more than you have to: If you're like most people, you haven't really made the effort to comparison shop for the best personal banking terms you can find. Most bank accounts have some sort of fees or another associated with certain aspects of utilizing and/or maintaining your account, from annual fees to check-writing fees to fees for falling below a minimum balance to so-called "overdraft protection fees" to counter fees (to name just a few). These fees can slowly eat away at your savings. Banks change their policies all the time, so it's never a waste of time to look around and make sure that you really are getting the best deal for your money.
2. DON'T ignore your bank statements: When your bank statement arrives in the mail, do you simply toss it without even reading it? Many people do. But bank statements often contain errors, and the only way you'll know when one occurs is if you read through each statement carefully and compare it against what you know to be true (hopefully by way of a regularly balanced checkbook). Without reviewing your statements, you could wind up stuck with a fee for a payment you didn't make. You could find that someone has copied your ATM/debit card and made purchases against your account. The only way to catch this is to take it upon yourself to read your statements and check them for accuracy.
3. DON'T be careless with ATMs: Be conscious of other people around you when using an ATM. Do not write your PIN number anywhere near your ATM card and be sure to shield it as you type it in. If you make a mistake writing out a slip, don't just throw it away or leave it lying there - pocket it and dispose of it properly later. If you request a receipt make sure you take it. And many machines automatically spit out a receipt after a transaction is completed whether you request it or not. Be alert to this happening and make sure to grab that receipt before you walk away.
4. DON'T leave paper lying around: After you're finished reviewing your bank statements, don't just carelessly leave them lying out where anyone can see - or steal - them. Even simply throwing your statements away can lead to identity theft. Digging through trash is one of the primary ways identity thieves get the goods on their victims. Don't make yourself an open target. Lock away any bank statements or other related documents that you wish to hold on to. Invest in an expensive shredder - the confetti type are best - for the ones you don't. And then remember to use your locked file cabinet and shredder diligently whenever you are through with your bank statements. It's for your protection.
5. DON'T bank online in a public place: Forget about people looking over your shoulder for a moment. An even bigger threat in banking online at a library or a cyber-café or other WIFI hotspot is another computer user on the same internet connection being able to snoop on what you're doing. Wireless networks are not totally secure. People can use that opportunity to capture your personal information and sabotage whatever transaction you're making. No online banking emergency is so urgent that you need to make yourself that vulnerable.
6. DON'T be a loyalist: In other words, don't become so enamored with your bank, or so lazily accustomed to it, that you continue to bank there without consciousness of how comparatively good or bad a deal you are getting. If you've consistently borrowed money from the same bank, maybe it's time to start exploring your other options. Even if you shopped around long and hard to find this bank, time passes, deals change. It's worth reevaluating every now and again your decision on where to bank. And it's particularly easy to do this type of research online.
7. DON'T be a stranger: Establish a relationship with your bank and the people who work there. The best way to get the best possible deals from a bank is to let them get to know you. Set up a meeting with the manager of your local branch, just to introduce yourself and key them in to your financial goals. You may never actually need their assistance beyond the norm, but if you do - if a problem arises, an error or a financial emergency - you'll benefit greatly from having already established a rapport with the folks whom you're asking for help.
8. DON'T be afraid to ask: Banks are in the business of keeping their clients. This sometimes means they will go above and beyond their normal service offerings to keep your business. Whether you are looking for a more favorable rate on one of your accounts, free financial software, or even a toaster, don't be afraid to ask about specials. In the process don't forget to remind them how loyal a customer you have been. You'd be surprised how many promotion items that are available to you, but are not given to you. It's just taking up space in your bank's storage room.
In summary, taking care with your banking habits, being protective of your banking information, and remaining aware of how the deal you're getting compares with other deals available to you will help prevent you from making many of the most common and detrimental mistakes in personal banking.
Kenneth C. Kelly is the President of Strativia, a financial management software development and services company specializing in applications for personal and business use. Strativia is the developer of Budget Forecaster, a sophisticated home budget and personal finance management software package.