Consumers love the newfound freedom they have to manage their finances via online services. Now we can use so many methods to check balances, transfer funds, make deposits, and review our credit reports--and we never have to get in the car, drive to the bank, or talk to a live person. For most of us, this translates into a big convenience and terrific time savings.
Banking Online and on the Go
Nearly all banks allow you to bank online. Most are now introducing nifty mobile apps for your smartphones, too. The biggest benefits to you are access and monitoring. When you bank online, you have access to your accounts all the time, not just during banking hours.
Here are just a few of the banking tasks you can do online:
To get started, or to review the growing list of online and mobile banking features, just visit your bank's website or your mobile device's authorized app store. Be sure you only use secured computers and mobile devices to conduct your sensitive banking transactions, and never click a link to get started. Use the app or type the address yourself. And when you've finished your banking, be sure to fully log out so no one with access to your device can do anything damaging.
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:
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.
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 unauthorized transactions, giving you the ability to stop a cybercrime quickly and limit the damage.
Knowing Your Credit Report and Your Rights
Your credit report is a treasure trove of data about you! The report typically includes your Social Security number, date of birth, previous and current addresses, telephone numbers (including those that are unlisted), credit payment status, employment history, and even legal information.
The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and state laws restrict who has access to this sensitive credit information and what uses can be made of it. You are entitled to one free report from each major credit reporting agency per year. Ordering your free credit report at least once a year and knowing your credit reporting rights are truly among the most important actions you can take to safeguard your privacy and security. To order the free credit report, go to http://www.annualcreditreport.com. (Tip: Order a free report every four months, by rotating through the three agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.) By checking all three of your reports, you can help make sure you are maintaining a good credit profile.
Preventing Identity Theft and Fraud
Sometimes credit reports contain inaccurate data that can hurt your credit score, thus impacting your ability to get good interest rates on a loan, whether it's for a car, home, college tuition, or anything else you want to borrow money for. Plus, you want to make sure no one else is using your good name and credit for illegal purposes.
If you spot fraud such as a line of credit or a loan you never requested, act immediately. Place a fraud alert on your credit reports by contacting the toll-free fraud number of any of the three agencies. You only need to contact one of the three companies to place an alert.
Close any of the accounts that you think have been tampered with or opened without your knowledge or authorization. Follow up all your phone calls in writing.
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:
Conclusion: 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).