A checking account is the hub for many people’s personal finances. It’s where they deposit their paychecks, how they pay monthly bills and, by checking the balance, how they determine how much money they can safely spend. To maximize its benefit, a checking account should also be convenient and low-cost. In fact, these are two of the key benefits of an online checking account. But there are many more.
Damien Peters, a former product manager at Facebook who recently launched the personal finance blog Wealth Noir, sees the advantages of an online checking account.
“I’m a large proponent of online bank accounts and promote them as a way to easily maintain and keep a budget,” he says.
Peters has several online checking accounts to manage his family’s finances, and he frequently uses a mobile app to check his account balances and make sure the family budget is on track.
Whether you’re saving time by avoiding lines at the bank or saving money by avoiding costly fees, the many benefits of an online checking account can help simplify your finances (and your life) all around.
Managing your finances can be easy
Accessibility is one of the biggest advantages of an online checking account.
“With the ability to deposit checks with your phone, instant balance information and low fees,” Peters says, “there isn’t a good reason not to open an online checking account.”
The teller window never shuts down when all you have to do is log in online to access your account. Using a bank’s mobile app, you can check your balance, transfer funds and pay bills from almost anywhere. Whether you’re at home or on the go, online and mobile banking allow you to attend to financial matters at a moment’s notice.
That’s what appeals to Tim King, a certified public accountant and founder of Slim Accounting, Inc. in San Francisco.
“I do not have time to go into a branch and wait for a banker or stand in the teller line,” King says. “And as a small business owner and father of two kids, I find it particularly useful that I can transfer funds to other family members or business contacts without trying to track down checks.” Instead of writing and mailing checks, King simply uses an electronic transfer online or through his bank’s mobile app.
Being able to keep a close eye on your finances isn’t just a matter of convenience. By reviewing your account regularly, you’ll be able to more easily spot fraudulent activity. One advantage of an online checking account is that you may be able to set up phone, email or text notifications to alert you of unusual activity.
Automated functions can bring peace of mind
Ever feel like your to-do list is never-ending? Join the club. Chances are, you have a fair amount of financial tasks that need to be checked off that growing list. A benefit of an online checking account is that it typically offers automated tools and features. You can use online bill pay, for example, to make sure all of your bills get paid on time. You can even set up automatic transfers so you don’t have to stress about a payment slipping your mind or showing up late. Bill pay comes in handy if you regularly split expenses with friends or family, like rent with your roommate.
Automatic transfers are an online checking account benefit that allow you to save for the future. By setting up an automatic transfer from your online checking account to an online savings account, you could build up a fund for one of your financial goals (emergency fund or travel fund, anyone?) without having to put too much thought into it.
An online checking account can also do wonders for your offline filing system. Signing up for electronic statements will help reduce your incoming mail and clutter at your home. Don’t worry. Even if you go paperless, you’ll still have the option to print out a copy of your statement if you’re in a hard copy mood.
King points out another one of the many online checking account benefits that appeals to him as the owner of an accounting firm: “Come tax time, you can download your full year’s activity into a spreadsheet, categorize and send to your accountant, who will appreciate not getting a shoe box full of receipts,” he says.
Online checking can save you time
All the time you spend sorting mail, waiting in line to make a withdrawal or deposit and paying bills can add up. Good news: One of the biggest online checking account benefits is that you can save yourself time. And who couldn’t use a little extra free time?
After switching jobs, Peters, of Wealth Noir, received a final paycheck in the mail. He needed to deposit it right away, since he hadn’t yet been paid by his new employer.
“Instead of having to run to the bank, hope I make it before they close and stand in line,” Peters says, “I used my bank’s mobile app to deposit the check, saving me over an hour.”
Earning rewards can be effortless
When it comes to earning money with your money, most people think of a savings account, certificate of deposit (CD) or investment vehicle. But you may be able to earn rewards with your checking account. Sign me up, right?
Depending on the type of online checking account, you may be able to get cash back when you use your debit card to make purchases. Discover Cashback Debit, for example, allows you to earn 1% cash back on up to $3,000 in debit card purchases each month.1 That means you can earn up to $360 a year in cashback bonus.
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This cashback feature may be an important advantage of an online checking account. An online checking account with a rewards structure is a good alternative to a rewards credit card if you’re worried about overspending and paying interest to carry a credit card balance.
Banking online can mean paying fewer and lower fees
Another advantage of an online checking account is that it could have fewer and lower fees compared to a checking account with a brick-and-mortar bank. Since online-only banks don’t operate physical branches, they can often pass what they save on those expenses to their customers. Check the box for yet another online checking account benefit.
For example, many checking accounts at brick-and-mortar banks have a minimum balance requirement to open an account. You might find that a benefit of an online checking account is that it doesn’t come with this requirement, letting you open an account even if you’d like to start out small with your funds. Or, like Peters, you could open several online checking accounts with smaller balances to manage different aspects of your household’s finances. Maybe you have an account for your monthly bills, one for discretionary spending and others tied to your key spending or budget categories.
After your account is open, some financial institutions might charge a fee if your balance drops below a minimum daily or monthly threshold. Many online banks wave this fee for their online checking accounts, allowing you much greater flexibility in your money management.
By not dishing out fees, you’re maintaining a higher balance in your online checking account and may even have more funds that can go into savings.
While fewer and lower fees are among the online checking account benefits, some online checking accounts do still come with standard fees, like those for an overdraft. Peters suggests jumping online to check your balance before a big purchase or using bill pay to avoid overdrawing your account.
Is an online checking account right for you?
There are people who prefer to meet with a banker face-to-face. But for others, the multiple benefits of an online checking account prevail, especially since many offer the same helpful features that you’ll find with a checking account offered by a branch bank. You can order paper checks, use a debit card for purchases and often access a large network of no-fee ATMs. If you rarely go into a branch to bank, the benefits of an online checking account can simplify your life without requiring an overhaul to your personal and financial routine.
It’s still important to compare accounts, though. Online checking accounts can come with different features, fees or benefits. The good news is that when you find one that’s a perfect fit, opening a checking account online can be a quick and easy process.
1 ATM transactions, the purchase of money orders or other cash equivalents, cash over portions of point-of-sale transactions, Peer-to-Peer (P2P) payments, and loan payments or account funding made with your debit card are not eligible for cash back rewards. In addition, purchases made using third-party payment accounts (services such as Venmo® and PayPal™, who also provide P2P payments) may not be eligible for cash back rewards.