11 Common Checking Account Mistakes

By Rebecca Lake · October 17, 2023 · 10 minute read

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11 Common Checking Account Mistakes

A checking account is one of the most useful items you can have in your financial toolbox. You can use a checking account to pay bills, get paid early with direct deposit, or build your savings through automatic transfers.

However, it’s possible you’re not getting the most out of your account. Recognizing some of the most common mistakes you’re making with your checking account could help you to save money and time.

Ready to optimize this aspect of your financial life? Read on to learn:

•   Common mistakes you’re making with your checking account

•   Tips for improving your banking habits

Why Banking Mistakes Can Be Costly

Making mistakes with your bank account could cost you in more ways than one. It’s possible that you’re overpaying bank fees unnecessarily, missing out on valuable interest earnings, and possibly leaving yourself vulnerable to fraud. You may also be short-changing yourself and missing out on benefits and features if you’re using the wrong type of bank account for your needs.

Here’s why these issues can cost you:

•   High fees are generally not a good thing, as they can nibble away at your balances over time.

•   Losing out on the best interest rates means your money has less room to grow.

•   Fraud can potentially be the biggest drain on your accounts, if your debit card or bank account is used to make unauthorized withdrawals or purchases.

The good news is that it’s relatively easy to get back on track. That starts with knowing which checking account mistakes to avoid. You’ll learn about them next.

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11 Checking Account Mistakes to Avoid

Managing a checking account shouldn’t be complicated. Here are 11 of the biggest checking account mistakes that you’ll likely want to sidestep.

1. Not Shopping Around

Sticking with the same bank for years may be comfortable, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting the best deal. It’s a mistake not to shop around for better banking options, as banks regularly introduce new benefits and features to attract customers.

It’s also incorrect to assume that switching banks is time-consuming or difficult. Many banks offer switch kits that help to simplify the process of transitioning your accounts over. These kits include a checklist of steps to complete to get your new accounts open and shut down your old ones if you choose to do so.

2. Overlooking the Benefits of Online Banks

How you use your checking account matters but it’s also important to consider where you keep it. Online banks can offer benefits you don’t always get at traditional banks or credit unions, such as lower fees or higher interest rates for deposit accounts. These two features could help you build wealth.

Opening an online checking and savings account is usually something you can do in just a few minutes. The trade-off of choosing an online bank is that you don’t have branch banking access. Comparing online banking pros and cons can help you to decide if it’s right for you.

3. Paying a Monthly Maintenance Fee

Banks can charge monthly maintenance fees for having a checking account. In some cases, you might pay these fees for savings and money market accounts as well. Paying these fees is a mistake if there are ways to get around them.

Your options for avoiding monthly maintenance fees might include:

•   Meeting a daily or monthly minimum balance requirement

•   Scheduling a qualifying recurring direct deposit

•   Maintaining a minimum balance across multiple linked accounts at the same bank

•   Making a certain number of purchases with your debit card each month

You could also avoid monthly maintenance fees by moving to an online bank. Online banks tend to be more fee-friendly than traditional banks, and you could earn a higher rate on interest-bearing accounts as well.

4. Triggering ATM Fees

Here’s another common mistake you may be making with your checking account: When you need quick cash, you hit the first ATM you come across. Convenient, yes, but that’s a problem if your bank charges ATM fees.

What are ATM fees? They’re fees you pay to use another bank’s machine. Typically, your bank won’t charge if you use their ATMs. But they might tack on a foreign ATM surcharge if you use a machine that’s out of the bank’s network. The ATM owner can also charge a fee of their own. Typically, out-of-network ATM fees will cost you between $2.50 and $5 per transaction and possibly even more.

Knowing where you can withdraw cash fee-free is a simple way to avoid that mistake. You might also consider looking for a bank that reimburses foreign ATM fees each month. Some banks offer reimbursement, either as a flat dollar amount or up to a certain number of foreign ATM fees per month.

5. Not Keeping Enough in Your Account

Maintaining a lower balance in your checking account isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it could put you at risk of incurring overdraft of non-sufficient funds (NSF) fees.

Banks can charge overdraft fees to complete transactions when you don’t have enough money in your account. Non-sufficient funds fees may apply when you don’t have enough money in your account and the bank cancels or rejects the transaction.

In terms of how much you’ll pay for NSF vs. overdraft fees, that depends on the bank. However, it’s not uncommon for banks to charge anywhere up to $40 for these fees.

You could avoid overdraft fees by enrolling in overdraft protection. What is overdraft protection? It’s a service that allows banks to transfer money automatically from your savings account to checking if you’re in danger of overdrafting your account. You can avoid high overdraft fees by opting in, though banks may charge a smaller transfer fee.

6. Keeping Too Much Money in Checking

Keeping too much money in checking could also be a mistake if you’re missing out on interest earnings. Siphoning off some of the money in checking into a high-yield savings account or money market account, for example, could allow you to earn a competitive interest rate and APY on your balances.

It’s also important to consider how FDIC coverage limits apply to checking accounts. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation insures deposits up to $250,000 per depositor, per account ownership type, per financial institution. If you keep more than that in checking, you could be at risk of losing money in the rare event that your bank fails.

7. Choosing a No Frills Checking Account

A basic checking account should have all the features you need to pay bills, deposit money, or make purchases with a linked debit card. But a specialty account could offer a wider range of benefits.

For example, a high-yield checking account earns interest on balances. That’s like getting free money just for keeping a balance in checking. You will, however, have to pay tax on the interest you earn at the end of the year.

8. Missing Out on Potential Rewards

Another checking account mistake to avoid is losing out on potential rewards and bonuses. What are reward checking accounts? These are bank accounts that reward you with points or cash back for completing certain activities. For example, you might earn rewards when you make a specific number of debit card purchases each month or link a savings account.

These accounts are similar to rewards credit cards but the difference is you’re spending your own money to earn them, rather than borrowing from the credit card company. They can offer you some nice perks as you conduct your usual banking business.

9. Not Protecting Your Account When You Shop Online

Shopping online is convenient and you might be able to save money versus shopping in store if you’re using promo codes or coupons at checkout. However, you could be putting your checking account at risk if you’re shopping over unsecured WiFi networks or making purchases on untrusted websites.

A simple way to verify a site’s authenticity is to look for “https” in the site’s address. That indicates the site uses a Secure Sockets Layer certificate to encrypt and protect user data.

You can also protect yourself by not storing your debit card information at the checkout. If you’d like to be able to automatically enter your debit card details to pay, you can add them to a secure mobile wallet like Google Pay, Apple Pay, or Samsung Pay.

10. Not Enrolling in Email and Text Alerts

There are different ways to keep track of your bank accounts, including online and mobile banking. If you don’t always have time to log in, you could use email and text alerts to monitor your accounts instead.

Banks can allow you to set up different types of alerts, including notifications for:

•   Low balances

•   New credit transactions

•   New debit transactions

•   Updates to your personal information or login information

•   New linked accounts

•   New wire transfer transactions

•   Failed login attempts

Not using alerts can be a mistake as it can save you time as you manage your financial life.

Enrolling in alerts can also help you to spot potentially fraudulent activity before someone is able to do any major damage with your account.

Recommended: The Biggest Money Scams in the U.S.

11. Using Weak Passwords

Your password is your entry key to your online and mobile banking accounts and it’s important to choose a strong one. The stronger your password, the more difficult it might be for hackers to steal your information, and your money.

If you’re using weak passwords that are easy to guess, you could be leaving yourself open to fraud. It’s also a mistake to reuse the same passwords to log in to multiple accounts. If a hacker gets their hands on the password, they could have instant access to bank accounts, credit cards, investment accounts, email accounts, and any other accounts you manage online.

Choosing strong passwords and updating them regularly can help you avoid that scenario. If you have trouble remembering passwords, you might consider storing them online in a secure password keeper.

Ways to Improve Your Banking Habits

Building better habits can take time, but it may be well worth the effort if you’re able to avoid making common checking account mistakes. Here are a few ways to improve your banking habits:

•   Check your accounts regularly. Logging in to your bank accounts once a day or every few days is a simple way to check your transaction history and balances so you know what you have to spend.

•   Sign up for alerts. Banking alerts can help you to spot potential fraud, track your balances, and know what’s being debited or credited to your account. It’s typically free to enroll, and you can personalize which alerts you want to receive.

•   Maintain a buffer. Getting in the habit of maintaining a cash cushion in your checking account can help you to minimize your risk of overdraft. For example, you might want to keep an extra $500 to $1,000 in your account at all times and not let your balance fall below that amount.

•   Review your accounts. Reviewing your checking account once a year can be a good way to see what you’ve paid in fees and what benefits you’ve enjoyed. You can then use that as a guide for deciding whether to stick with your current bank or shop around for a new one.

Recommended: Guide to Practicing Financial Self-Care

The Takeaway

Having a checking account can make managing your financial life easier, but it’s important to make sure you’re using it the right way. Avoiding common checking account mistakes and developing good banking habits can help you use your account to its full potential. Doing so can also help you earn more interest and pay fewer or lower fees.

If you’re ready to try a new banking experience, you might consider opening an online checking and savings account with SoFi. You can enjoy the convenience of saving and spending in one place, plus you’ll get benefits like paying no account fees and enjoying a great APY on deposits, which can help your money grow faster.

Better banking is here with SoFi, NerdWallet’s 2024 winner for Best Checking Account Overall.* Enjoy up to 4.60% APY on SoFi Checking and Savings.

FAQ

What is the worst checking account mistake that I need to avoid?

The worst checking account mistake may simply be choosing the wrong account or the wrong bank. When you fully understand what you need a checking account for and what kind of features you’d like to have, that can make it easier to find the right banking option that’s convenient and low-cost.

What to do if the bank makes a mistake?

If your bank makes a mistake with a deposit, bill payment, or any other transaction, it’s important to contact the bank right away. You can explain what you believe the mistake to be so the bank has an opportunity to correct it.

What are the disadvantages of these banking mistakes?

Making banking mistakes can cost you both time and money. You may end up spending more time than you’d like to managing your accounts. Or you might overpay banking fees if you’re not paying attention. Correcting any banking mistakes can help you avoid those scenarios.


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SoFi members with direct deposit activity can earn 4.60% annual percentage yield (APY) on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Direct Deposit means a deposit to an account holder’s SoFi Checking or Savings account, including payroll, pension, or government payments (e.g., Social Security), made by the account holder’s employer, payroll or benefits provider or government agency (“Direct Deposit”) via the Automated Clearing House (“ACH”) Network during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Deposits that are not from an employer or government agency, including but not limited to check deposits, peer-to-peer transfers (e.g., transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc.), merchant transactions (e.g., transactions from PayPal, Stripe, Square, etc.), and bank ACH funds transfers and wire transfers from external accounts, do not constitute Direct Deposit activity. There is no minimum Direct Deposit amount required to qualify for the stated interest rate.

SoFi members with Qualifying Deposits can earn 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Qualifying Deposits means one or more deposits that, in the aggregate, are equal to or greater than $5,000 to an account holder’s SoFi Checking and Savings account (“Qualifying Deposits”) during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Qualifying Deposits only include those deposits from the following eligible sources: (i) ACH transfers, (ii) inbound wire transfers, (iii) peer-to-peer transfers (i.e., external transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc. and internal peer-to-peer transfers from a SoFi account belonging to another account holder), (iv) check deposits, (v) instant funding to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, (vi) push payments to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, and (vii) cash deposits. Qualifying Deposits do not include: (i) transfers between an account holder’s Checking account, Savings account, and/or Vaults; (ii) interest payments; (iii) bonuses issued by SoFi Bank or its affiliates; or (iv) credits, reversals, and refunds from SoFi Bank, N.A. (“SoFi Bank”) or from a merchant.

SoFi Bank shall, in its sole discretion, assess each account holder’s Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits throughout each 30-Day Evaluation Period to determine the applicability of rates and may request additional documentation for verification of eligibility. The 30-Day Evaluation Period refers to the “Start Date” and “End Date” set forth on the APY Details page of your account, which comprises a period of 30 calendar days (the “30-Day Evaluation Period”). You can access the APY Details page at any time by logging into your SoFi account on the SoFi mobile app or SoFi website and selecting either (i) Banking > Savings > Current APY or (ii) Banking > Checking > Current APY. Upon receiving a Direct Deposit or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits to your account, you will begin earning 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% on checking balances on or before the following calendar day. You will continue to earn these APYs for (i) the remainder of the current 30-Day Evaluation Period and through the end of the subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period and (ii) any following 30-day Evaluation Periods during which SoFi Bank determines you to have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits without interruption.

SoFi Bank reserves the right to grant a grace period to account holders following a change in Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits activity before adjusting rates. If SoFi Bank grants you a grace period, the dates for such grace period will be reflected on the APY Details page of your account. If SoFi Bank determines that you did not have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits during the current 30-day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, then you will begin earning the rates earned by account holders without either Direct Deposit or Qualifying Deposits until you have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits in a subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period. For the avoidance of doubt, an account holder with both Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits will earn the rates earned by account holders with Direct Deposit.

Members without either Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits, as determined by SoFi Bank, during a 30-Day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, will earn 1.20% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances.

Interest rates are variable and subject to change at any time. These rates are current as of 10/24/2023. There is no minimum balance requirement. Additional information can be found at https://www.sofi.com/legal/banking-rate-sheet.


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