These days, most of us do all kinds of tasks online. From scheduling a yoga class to booking a dinner reservation to ordering more toothpaste instead of grabbing it from a store, our smartphones and computers make it easy.
Still, there are some folks who don’t feel comfortable conducting their banking online. They worry perhaps that they’ll hit the wrong button and send thousands of dollars speeding off into unknown parts of the ether. Or maybe having a physical bank makes them feel more at ease, is more familiar to them, and they feel like their money is safer.
Those who prefer to do online banking may like the convenience of 24/7 access to their money. They may not have the time or inclination to wait in line or chat with bank tellers.
But is one style of banking better than another? To answer that question, let’s examine some pros and cons of digital banking.
Once we’ve examined these benefits and downsides of online banking, you can make an informed decision about what kind of banking is right for you. Maybe it’s even a combo of the two styles. Then, we’ll talk about how to move your banking to an online-only platform if that’s what suits you.
What Is Online Banking?
Consumers have a few different options when it comes to where they park their money and use it to complete transactions. The traditional options are to use a commercial bank with bricks-and-mortar branches or a credit union. A credit union is a financial co-op that is generally owned and operated by its members (as opposed to being a publicly-traded company).
Most traditional retail banks offer mobile banking as well as the ability to conduct business at a branch. Mobile or online banking in this sense allows you to look up your accounts and complete transactions online (more on the difference between the two terms in a minute). Typically, this means you can transfer funds and even mobile deposit checks.
But these added services are not what we are talking about today; here, we are discussing the use of an online-only or an internet-based bank versus a traditional bank. Online-only banks are a newer alternative to traditional banks. Sign up for a digital bank, and you will do all of your banking operations online. Online banks generally have no physical locations, which can help them to keep overhead costs low. In turn, they typically pass those savings on to you and offer some perks over traditional banks, such as a higher interest rate on savings accounts.
Because not all digital banks are the same, the following list of pros and cons won’t capture every nuance, but hopefully you’ll get an idea of what services are offered. Knowing these details should help you evaluate the benefits of both mobile banking and traditional banking and which one suits you best.
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Pros and Cons of Online Banking Services
If you’re used to turning up at your local bank branch and chatting with the tellers, digital banking may seem like a big shift. Or perhaps you’re a person who is already using mobile banking but you wonder if you’re missing out on any perks. In either case, take a look at what digital banking can offer. Here’s an assessment of the pros and cons of online banking.
Pros of Online Banking
Technology can offer some tremendous conveniences and perks to banking. Consider these pros of online banking:
Higher Interest Rates
As mentioned, banks without bricks-and-mortar locations tend to offer a higher rate of interest on cash savings accounts. Currently, the national interest rate on savings accounts is 0.06%.
This is a mere $.60 per $1,000 over the course of a year. On the other hand, an online bank is likely to pay 1% annual percentage yield (APY) or more, which amounts to $10 for every $1,000. This is obviously a significant improvement.
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No Minimum Balance
Many traditional banks still require that you maintain a minimum balance or have an established automatic deposit or they will charge you a monthly fee. You may wonder how much money you need to open an account online. Some digital financial institutions do not require a minimum amount of cash be kept in your checking and savings accounts. Your balance in a digital bank account can be just a few dollars, and you still won’t be hit with charges on your statement.
Online banks are open 24 hours a day, which some customers find useful for maintaining their finances and making transactions after normal bank hours. All you need is secure access to the internet. If you’re working an 8-to-6 job where you can’t sneak out to meet with a teller, the convenience of banking outside working hours is a gamechanger. Also, as we lead more fluid existences (say, working from home), there’s simply the time savings of being able to bank where you are versus walking or driving to a branch.
Most online banks will be part of an online network of ATMs, such as MoneyPass or Allpoint. There is generally no fee to use the ATMs, and customers can locate them online. If they do not use an ATM network, they will typically offer to refund ATM fees up to a certain number of withdrawals.
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Cons of Online Banking
Of course, digital banking isn’t perfect. What is? There are some potential downsides to managing money this way, though many of them depend on your particular personal finance style. Here, some cons of online banking to keep in mind:
No Live Assistance
While most online banks provide a customer service line, they generally do not offer personal bankers. This means that there is no “live” person to help you with your banking needs, such as setting up accounts, applying for loans, getting a notary, or even just someone with whom you can discuss a simple issue or complaint. If you are a person who wants this kind of personal connection, you may not be well-suited to digital banking.
A personal relationship with a banker could come in especially handy in the event that you are trying to secure a loan at the best rate or have a business that you are looking to expand via borrowed funds. This is a person who knows and trusts you and could potentially make a difference in whether or not a bank will issue a loan.
Online banks typically keep their fees low and interest rates higher by offering limited services. They may or may not offer debit or credit cards; you may or may not be able to deposit physical cash, and if you can, there may be limits on how much or how often. Every online bank is different, so do your research on the services they offer.
Limited ATM Access
Although many online banks will have a network of ATMs that customers can access, they may not be as easy to track down as ATMs for the major retail banks. It’s worth spending time to see exactly where a digital bank has allied ATMs near your usual haunts, like your home and office, before signing up.
What Is the Difference Between Mobile Banking and Online Banking?
It’s not uncommon for people to use the terms mobile banking and online banking interchangeably, but there is a difference.
• Mobile banking refers to the kind of banking you can conduct when you download an app and use it on a cellphone or a tablet.
• Online banking is the sort of banking you do when you connect via a secure WiFi connection, meaning you might be using a laptop to check your balance or transfer funds.
Both of these are ways that you can manage your money without turning up at a physical bank. Wherever you are, as long as you have a secure internet connection, you can pay bills, move money between your checking and savings accounts, and see how much interest you’ve earned, among other things.
Security of Traditional and Online Banks
There is often a misunderstanding about security at banks. People worry, Will my online account be hacked? Are online savings accounts safe? The truth is, traditional banks are no more or less secure than online-only banks. Any bank that is insured by the FDIC guarantees the same amount of insurance in the event that the bank goes under $250,000, regardless of whether the bank is online or not. Digital banks generally tend to offer similar fraud protection programs as bricks-and-mortar banks.
Security typically has more to do with whether you use your debit card only on protected sites, do not access your banking information on a public computer, and avoid accessing private information while on public Wi-Fi networks. Unfortunately, even people who do everything right and take all of the proper precautions still find themselves the victims of some kind of bank fraud. Sometimes, it can only be attributed to bad luck.
How Do I Open An Online Account?
It all depends on the bank, but these banks generally have made it easier than ever to open up accounts. The process can likely all be done online, so you don’t have to sign and return physical paperwork.
Usually, opening a digital bank account requires two steps: First, you open an account at the new bank. To do this, you will have to answer a series of questions, and you will likely need to provide personal identification information like your Social Security number, date of birth, and more.
Next comes funding the online bank account, which can be done with a check or via a funds transfer. Usually, you are able to pull the assets into the new bank account by linking to an existing account you own. Most of the time, the sign-up process can be done in a matter of minutes, and you’ll be ready to start using your digital bank account.
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Whether you call it online banking, mobile banking, or digital banking, the concept of doing all of your keeping your accounts at an online-only bank offers many rewards. You’re likely to earn higher interest and pay fewer fees, for instance. But for those who like banking in person at a branch and having a relationship with the team there, then it may not suit you. Think carefully about what suits your personal financial style best and will keep you on top of your money matters.
If you do think an online bank might be for you, come see what SoFi offers. When you open a new bank account with direct deposit, you’ll enjoy a terrific APY, none of the usual monthly, minimum-balance, and overdraft fees, plus you’ll be able to access your paycheck up to two days early.
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