Say goodbye to paper bills, stamps and envelope licking. Say hello to the easy way to manage your finances.

 

When once checking bank accounts, credit reports and making transfers meant a journey into the local branch of the bank or building society, online banking has dramatically changed the way in which the average person manages their finances.

Almost all banks and building societies now have websites and apps that allow users with access to the Internet to manage their various bank accounts. It has always created a paper-free statement system that not only helps to preserve the planet and reduce litter, but to stay more conveniently organised at the same time.

With the rise of online banking allowing users to make quick and easy transfers along with checking bank accounts and statements, online security has also become a greater need for the everyday Internet user, especially as sensitive financial information is so readily accessible.

Managing your investments

How's your investment portfolio doing today? Well, you could call your broker and ask. Or wait until the end of the month and check your statement. Or go online and take a look right now. You can ask your broker to set up online access for you, or you can go online and sign up yourself. Once online you can:

Monitor the total value of your portfolio or check the
current price of each security.

View trends for the whole portfolio or individual securities.
Buy and sell securities (before you do this, be sure to
get input or recommendations from a licensed broker or,
at the very least, do some astute research of your own).

There have been scams where cybercriminals have accessed the online portion of financial services companies and posed as the account owners to transfer funds overseas. Ask your financial advisor about fraud alerts or additional security measures to prevent such crimes.

Monitoring your credit cards

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, credit card fraud is the most common form of consumer fraud. Online monitoring of your credit card transactions can help keep you from becoming a fraud victim and a statistic.

Go to your credit card company's website and sign up for
online access to your account.

Monitor your account frequently and identify each
transaction.

If you see a transaction that is suspicious, call the credit card
company and report it.
If the transaction is found to be fraudulent, you can have the
charge reversed and, if necessary, your account frozen and
a new card issued with a new account number.

By using the various online and mobile tools available from your bank, your credit card provider and your financial investment service, you can stay well informed about the state of your financial affairs. You will also be able to spot fraudulent charges or unauthorised transactions, giving you the ability to stop a cybercrime quickly and limit the damage.

Knowing your credit report and your rights

A credit report is essentially a report about your credit accounts that includes your financial information, transactions and history of repayments. Due to the delicate nature of these reports, a bank, building society or other lender is only given access with your specific permission, though many transactions such as phone contracts and loans require a credit report check.

The report is designed to help lenders assess whether you are a reliable person to lend to. The information comes from some public information, such as court judgements and the electoral roll information, along with credit history information to give a snapshot into your ability to repay previous loans.

As a person’s credit report can influence major aspects of a person’s life including the ability to buy a home, there are certain rights each individual has in regards to their report.

Under the Data Protection Act, everyone has a right to:

Receive a copy of their credit report within seven working days of a request.
Dispute any inaccurate information and have this investigated.
Have the errors corrected within 28 days of reporting the inaccuracy.

In the UK, there are several agencies that are designed to help those either struggling to improve their credit report or who may have questions and queries about the information appearing on the report, along with those who may have concerns about identity theft. The major agencies include the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, the Consumer Credit Counselling Service and the National Debtline.

 

Taking basic security precautions

Is all this safe? Well, nothing is absolutely safe, but you can take precautions to make sure that your online financial management activities are at least as safe as the same activities would be in the offline world, maybe even safer. You should be aware, vigilant and take routine precautions such as these:

 

secure. Look for the lock icon and/or a Web address that starts with
"https://" (the "s" stands for secure). This isn't a guarantee, but
is generally a good indication of a secure site.
Create strong passwords of at least eight characters that combine letters, numbers, and
symbols. Use a different password for each account, and don't use the same password that you
use to access your PC. Change your passwords frequently and don't store them on or near your
computer.
When you're finished with your transaction, log out of the account.
Secure your PC with Internet security software, such as Norton 360 or Norton Internet Security.
Keep that software updated.

If you see a transaction that is suspicious, call the credit card
company and report it.
Don't respond to emails or pop-up windows that ask you to update your security information.
Your bank, credit card or investment firm won't ask you to do that.
Remember any offer that seems too good to be true probably is. Don't respond.

 

Protecting your bottom line

As long as you do everything you reasonably can to secure your PC and take standard precautions in making online transactions, the benefits of managing your finances online will outweigh safety concerns. Say goodbye to paper bills, stamps and envelope licking. Say hello to the easy way to manage your finances (but please be careful).