A very frustrated woman came into my work looking for help cashing her tax refund check. For most people, getting a tax refund check cashed is relatively easy to do, even without a bank account. Unfortunately for this woman, the check was made out to her and her husband, and he was in jail. She had established power of attorney over her husband and had been running his affairs, but because they did not have any relationship with a financial institution before his incarceration, all of the banks within a reasonable drive from her home determined that to cashing the check or opening a new account with her and her husband to deposit the check into was too high risk. Their lack of a banking relationship cost them prompt access to thousands of dollars.
One of the big dividing factors between adults who are successful and adults who are not is the quality of their relationship with their financial institutions. Here are five tips to ensure that your relationship is a good one.
- Choose your bank carefully. Just because your parent’s bank works for them, doesn’t mean that it will work out for you. Before you open an account for yourself, you need to be aware of and comfortable with the following
- Funds availability policies- banks are required by law to give you a written copy of their funds availability policies, but most people do not take the time to read them. When you deposit a several hundred dollar check, do you automatically have access to a portion of the funds? If you deposit a check on a weekend, do you have to wait until after Monday’s business date before the funds become available? Can I cash this check without having the amount of the check, or offsetting funds, in the account already? Knowing the answers to these questions will help you plan ahead and avoid frustration later on.
- Fee schedule- How much will your bank account cost you? Paying monthly maintenance fees on your account is easily avoidable if you understand the criteria for keeping the account free and ensure that criteria is being met, or that you can switch into a different account that works better for your financial situation. If the institution you are with doesn’t have an account you can reasonably keep free, you need to consider looking into switching institutions.
- Overdraft policies- What happens if you overdraw your account? Is overdraft protection available for you? How long can it stay overdrawn before it starts accruing fees? Knowing the answers to these questions can help you minimize your costs and avoid a huge headache if you accidentally spend more than what is in your account. On this note, also keep in mind that while some institutions can reverse one overdraft fee as a courtesy, you are ultimately responsible for making sure that you have enough in your account to cover anything you purchase. If the overdraw was not a result of a bank error (like your bank not processing a deposit correctly), the bank may not have to reverse any fees regardless of how loudly you insist that your failure to keep track of your own money is somehow not your fault.
- Get on a first name basis with the people who work in the bank or credit union you keep your money in. While it is tempting to solely utilize the ATM and online banking services for convenience, doing so would be a mistake. Technology is awesome, but in the circumstance that your account gets messed up you will need a human to help you fix it. A familiar face at the branch, who you already know well, will be more motivated to help you than the random person who will pick up the 1-800 line, and you get the added benefit of being able to just talk to the one person instead of getting a different stranger each time you call. Knowing the tellers could also have the added benefit of allowing you to be able to cash your check if you’ve forgotten your ID or don’t have the offsetting funds in your account.
- Be on your best behavior. We get it. Trips to the bank are tedious, and you have several things you’d rather be doing. Standing in line tapping your foot, being huffy and rude to the employees, throwing tantrums, or acting aggressively is not going to get you on your way any faster, and the more flustered the employee you are working with is, the more likely your transaction will be done incorrectly. On that note, is something wrong with your account? See something scary on your bank statement? Definitely reach out to your institution, but make sure to take a deep breath and be as calm as possible before picking up the phone or going out for a drive. The part of your brain that handles logical thinking shuts down when you are in attack mode, which is less than productive for you.
- Be responsible for your finances. The institutions that are not pushing you to sign up for additional products are being bought out by the banks that are, and soon everyone will be pushing extra accounts, loans, credit cards etc. Signing up for everything that the nice people at the bank isn’t going to be what is in your best interest because, unfortunately, many bankers are being forced to choose between pushing unnecessary products or no longer having a job. This doesn’t mean that refusing to even hear the banker out is in your best interest either. Banks are constantly changing out their products, your financial situation is constantly changing, and taking the time to learn about what’s new prevents you from missing out on new benefits. If your bank utilizes the “needs met” framework for sales, the offers are going to be more tailored for your financial situation as well.
- Pay attention to what your institution is telling you. Banks are constantly changing their accounts. Most of these changes require your bank to notify you by law, which is most likely going to be among the promotional junk they include in your statements or fill your mailbox with. Make sure to give anything your bank sends to you a quick look through before you throw anything from your bank away.
These are my five tips for having a good banking relationship. I cannot stress how important this relationship is to being a more financially successful adult, and I’d love to hear any tips you may have in the comments below!