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Here is a checklist of things to look for in an online bank. Some items you may be familiar with. Others might be new to you if it isn’t something your current bank offers.
Bill Pay Service – One of the biggest reasons for going with an online bank is to get really good bill payment services. Different banks handle bill payment different ways. Here are some things to think about:
- How many bills are you allowed to pay per month?
- What are the fees for going over the limit?
- Can the bill payment send physical checks to merchants who aren’t set up to take electronic payments?
- Do checks come from your account or from a third party service? For privacy reasons, it might be better to be able to pay someone without giving them your bank account number on the check. On the other hand, if the checks actually come from your account, the money doesn’t get taken out until the check is cashed.
- Can you set up reoccurring payments?
Electronic Bill Notification – With electronic bills, your merchant (credit card company, gas company, electric company, etc.) sends an electronic bill to your bank. You can set it up to pay automatically or notify you for approval. This can be particularly good for people who are on the road because it reduces the amount of physical mail you have to somehow get read or forwarded to you.
Online Check Images – Most banks will show you an image of the check, which makes it really easy to balance your account if you can’t remember what a particular payment was for. (Ideally, you should minimize the number of physical checks you write to reduce fraud.)
Online Deposit Slip Images – Most banks just record the total with no image. It will let you see an image of each deposit slip. Having the images available can be very helpful if you ever have to prove something for tax purposes or need to remember where that $2581 deposit came from.
Ease of Opening New Accounts – Once you have an account at the bank, you should be able to open additional accounts entirely online and just transfer money into it. For example, I set up a traditional IRA last year and it took me about 3 minutes to set up, deposit my money from checking and invest it in an index fund.
Reporting Tools – Most banks offer basic reporting tools that will let you see how much you have spent in each category you’ve created. This may not be an issue if you use desktop money management software, but it still can be handy if you are traveling and want to see how much you’ve paid on your mortgage over the past 12 months.
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