Paying your bills and taking care of other banking chores is a pain. Even more painful: the fees you’ll face if you don’t do them when you need to.
But here’s good news from ShopSmart, the shopping magazine from the publisher of Consumer Reports: Banks have introduced five services that make those tasks easier and more rewarding.
• Person-to-person payments. Pay your friends the same way you pay your monthly bills online. All you need is a name and an email address to create a new payee in the person-to-person section of your online banking setup.
• Electronic check deposits. More and more banks are letting customers use the camera in their phone or tablet to photograph checks and deposit them electronically using a mobile banking app. No more trudging to a branch or an ATM to deposit them.
But to protect yourself, consider installing security software that detects and removes malware and lets you remotely lock or delete data if your phone is lost. Also, avoid public wireless networks to prevent theft of account information.
• On-the-go account monitoring. You can use a smartphone app or mobile websites to keep track of balances, transfer funds, avoid overdrafts, find ATMs and monitor account activity in real time to detect fraud.
• Online budgeting tools. Just use your debit card for most of your day-to-day shopping, and programs offered by Bank of America, Citi, Wells Fargo and many others will help you pinpoint your budget busters. Also look for financial planning tips and mortgage and insurance calculators.
• Discounts from retailers. Have you noticed retailer ads or coupons in your online bank statement? It’s a new type of promotion that analyzes your banking, credit and social media activity to offer you personalized discounts of, say, 5 to 20 percent that you can click on for on-the-spot deals.
Two services to skip
• Expedited payments. To avoid late charges, some 27 million households pay a fee of $5 to $25 to speed up a payment. But ShopSmart points out that you don’t have to spend money to get payments to post quickly. Simply schedule them online to be sure they will be on time.
• Investment advice. A bank’s investment recommendations might work for you, but you shouldn’t base your choice of adviser and services on where you keep a checking account.
Instead, start by searching for a qualified financial planner who is a member of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (napfa.org).
Members charge for their services rather than collect sales commissions from the investment products they recommend.