OK, let’s be honest: When was the last time you balanced your checkbook?
We’re talking about sitting down with a check register and entering deposits, withdrawals, what you spent on fast food with a debit card and any banking fees.
Haven’t bothered to balance lately?
“No one under the age of 30 is balancing a checkbook ever,” said Mark Ranta, director of retail banking product management for ACI Worldwide, headquartered in Naples, Fla.
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“I haven’t touched a checkbook register since I was probably 17,” said Ranta, 32, who is based in the greater New York area.
He looks at his Mint.com app, an online budget tracking service, to review his accounts every day.
But as we mix digital banking with paper checks, we can run into ways to trigger shortfalls, overdrafts and just goof up. And the rules of the game can often change.
Beginning on Aug. 20, for example, Chase will no longer allow its checking account customers to use their credit card as a backup to provide overdraft protection to avoid bounced checks. You’d need to link that checking account to a savings account for overdraft coverage to avoid high overdraft fees.
How can you protect yourself from the high costs of bounced checks?
DON’T ALWAYS BANK ON THE DOLLARS YOU SPOT ONLINE
Ranta, of ACI Worldwide, noted that we’re not always seeing real-time numbers when we view balances online or taking into account bills on the verge of being paid.
Say you go online and spot $400 in checking on Tuesday – and then spend $100 at Target.
But on Wednesday, your $400 monthly car payment is automatically paid out of checking. You’re now looking at a $100 overdraft.
SET UP ALERTS
If you set up an email alert or text alert, banks can notify you when your balance is below a set amount. Or you can be notified when a withdrawal, deposit or check posts to your account.
Consumers who link a savings account to checking, should track spending and avoid seeing money transferred from savings to checking more than six times a month.
KNOW EXACTLY HOW YOU MIGHT GET ZAPPED WITH HIGH FEES WITH A DEBIT CARD
Rebecca Borne, an attorney for the Center for Responsible Lending, said many consumers lose huge sums of money toward fees by using a debit card without realizing their account is short of cash.
“At that moment, it’s like, ‘Here’s your coffee,’” Borne said.
But the $5 cup of coffee in the morning could trigger a $35 overdraft fee.
A way to avoid those fees is to make sure you don’t agree to “opt-in” for debit card coverage. It can be confusing but by not “opting-in” your debit card transaction is declined at the point of sale, if you don’t have enough money. That saves you from getting socked with a $35 overdraft fee.
Worse yet, of course, the fees add up in sporadic episodes, creating even more havoc for already tight budgets.
Susan Tompor is the personal finance columnist for the Detroit Free Press.