It used to be that you had one checking account, some bills stashed under the mattress, and if you were lucky, loads of change hidden between the couch cushions. But, these days, we’ve got any number of checking, savings, credit card, Roth Ira, Stock, and HSA accounts. You get the picture—it’s a list.
What you’ve got in your favor, however, is the internet. And, while I like a long scroll on Facebook or Nextdoor too, it’s a good idea to spend less time commenting on Aunt Sally’s Christmas bread and spend more time checking your accounts.
Here’s why it’s important to check your accounts at least weekly—if not more often.
Keeping Track of Perks
Whether it’s a checking account or a credit card account, things have gotten pretty competitive in the financial sector. Benefits, rewards, cash back, and interest all fall under the category of ‘perks’ and in order to keep your attention—and your business—companies continue to offer some unique rewards for just showing up and being their client.
About six months ago, I realized my husband’s bank, Wells Fargo, was now offering little store credits called ‘Wells Fargo Deals.’ You have to sign up for these, and, obviously use your Wells Fargo debit card to pay. The rebates range between 5%-10% off on purchases. As of today, a few of the current promotions are 10% off Pizza Hut, 5% off Starbucks, 10% off Rite Aid, and a $5.00 cashback credit on Showtime. I also happen to notice that Showtime is offering a free 30-day trial. After that, the service is $10.99. I might just have to try it out! This is just to name a few and I’m sure the offers change frequently. I’m all for pinching pennies so I signed him up for the program.
A far bigger perk that I almost missed out on was the American Express Small Shop reward. (See shameless plug below—AMEX is my ultimate favorite card!) This one gave a hefty $5.00 back for each total purchase of $10.00 or more if you used the AMEX card at a designated ‘Small Shop.’ There was even this cool graphic-type map on the AMEX website that gave the location and distance from your home of these small businesses. The Small Shop promotion was a nice way for AMEX to capitalize on your shopping while also encouraging consumer spending at small businesses during the Coronavirus. Fortunately, I signed on just in time and was able to accrue $20.00 in savings. Ironically, the grocery store that I frequent was listed as a Small Shop making it really easy and convenient to take advantage of this reward. Take heed, check your accounts often, and sign up for those promotions.
Apply for an American Express Card with this link. We can both get rewarded if you’re approved!
Ugh. Let’s just say that if I had taken my own advice during the summer I would not have been late on two credit card payments. I was only about 3 days late but credit card companies are not messing around with late payments—and if you think they are more lenient during the Coronavirus situation you can think again. My problem began in March at the beginning of the pandemic. I was late on my American Express Card. I called the company and they noted that I had no other recent late payments and so they reversed the late fee. What you don’t realize, however, is that it doesn’t end there. Customer Service Rep’s are instructed not to reverse the interest charge and that is where the fines really add up.
Despite making a payment in full only three days after the due date I was assessed a $28.00 late fee and an interest charge of $37.32. The interest charges continued into the next month (they explained to me on the phone, why this is the policy, but honestly I was too irritated with myself to understand) and I was charged another interest fee of $30.86.
Recently, I was obviously more savvy and though the late fee, this time $29.00, was not credited back to me because of my late payment in March, I had a lower interest charge of $16.11 based on the amount that was due, but I also went in and made a random payment about a week later to keep the following interest charge down to only .48 cents. Whew.
The bottom line is that you want to pay your bill on time. This second late payment was only 1 day late. It led to a raise in my APR and potentially lowered my credit score. Sitting on the sidelines and moaning ‘Woe is Me’ seemed easy but pretty pathetic so I went poking into my account and found that I was not properly signed up for email reminders. I took the time to sign up for those. Since I signed up I’ve been getting email updates about my spending and other information that may inevitably be worth the late fees. Still, being late is so avoidable and so annoying, so keep your nose in your account often to prevent late payments.
As a side note, it is always important that you call and ask the company to take off as much of the late fee that they can. Most of the time you’ll get a large chunk credited back to you and it will be worth the effort.
From this encounter, I learned it is a good practice to check your accounts at the very least on a weekly basis. Further, I’ve found that paying my credit card more than once a month might be a good practice for someone like me who tends to get disorganized quickly. I pay online and at any time I can go into my account and make a payment. This keeps me up to date and allows me to use my card in a way that is closer to that of a checking account—while still benefiting from the cashback bonuses and other significant perks that a credit card offers.
And before you think a credit card is not a good thing —I went ahead and added up all of the cashback money that I’ve earned this year just by using my American Express Card, and the total is…. wait for it…. $908.07!
So, despite the late fees, interest charges, and annual fee of $95.00, I am still way ahead when it comes to using this card—and the year is not over yet.
Budgeting is my Achilles heel. It really is—I’m just not a detail person. Instead, I err on the side of being very frugal and I’m a huge proponent of DIY, Curb Alerts, Craigslist, and the Holy Grail—Free Piles. Having said that, I have noticed that the more I check my accounts and the more time I take looking over purchases, the more likely I am to cut the fat out of my spending.
But, budgeting your spending is not the whole enchilada. A certain amount of your money pie should be going to some type of savings—preferably another account that earns high interest. I currently use TAB Bank for their Kasasa checking which yields 2%. In order to get this high interest rate, I need to follow the rules of the account, which includes a monthly deposit and 15 debit transactions over $5.00. To make sure I’m on track, I go online a least weekly and make sure I’ve met my quota.
Ideally, the bulk of your cash should be earning interest and the remaining leftovers should be invested (I like stocks, but I also max out our HSA and Roth IRA first.) All told, very little of your spending money—if any—should be earning you nothing. Having a regular check on your accounts lets you know when you can move money up your ladder of investing.
If you have money invested in the stock market, keeping up on your account—as well as stock prices—puts you in the fortunate position of buying when prices dip. For this, you need to have money easily accessible so that you can act fast. The more you visit your accounts, the more agile you become working with online transfers and purchases, giving you a greater chance of getting a good deal.
Regularly checking your accounts allows you to quickly notice when something just doesn’t seem right. Over the years, I’ve found numerous errors on my accounts. I’m proud to say that I caught them relatively quickly and was able to get them easily fixed. Two of those mistakes were bank errors. One was a check deposit of $2500.00 that was credited as only $25.00. Luckily the bank fixed that quickly. The second error was a double charge for just over $5.00. The bank handled that one quickly as well.
Another mistake that I found was on my mortgage payment. I attempted to “get ahead” by mailing two payments. Somehow this confused the company and they credited, then uncredited both checks. Horror of horrors! Again, it was a quick call and a quick fix. I should add, that I found all but one of these mistakes in the middle of the night when I was having bouts of insomnia—I don’t believe in taking pills so I often get a lot of my bills done during those times and I guess you can say it paid off! Bills Not Pills!
Finally, a good reason to keep in tune with all of your accounts, including your email account, is theft. It’s something that has become increasingly commonplace, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic when desperation runs high and sneaky thieves have extra free time on their hands. Add to that the vast anonymity that the internet brings and you have a veritable Petri dish just ready to breed underhanded behavior.
It’s always good to call if you notice suspicious activity on any of your accounts. But, beware, some of that activity can include small, incremental amounts that often go unnoticed. I recently heard about a number of cases where the Robinhood app had been hacked via the client’s email. The hackers got access to the client’s email and then requested a password change on the Robinhood account. I’m imagining this happening in the early hours when most of us are sleeping. In this particular scam, the trademark method of these thieves was taking out small amounts before biting off the whole account. I’m hoping these victims did not keep all of their money in one basket!
According to Bloomberg News:
‘Any of us could have our brokerage account hacked if we do not take precautions to protect ourselves,” said Mark McCreary, chair of the privacy and data-security practice group at Fox Rothschild, a law firm based in Philadelphia.
Digital traders should change their passwords frequently, experts say, and avoid unfamiliar WiFi networks. They should be sure to have two-factor authentication enabled, which requires a secondary code to sign in.
But more than anything else, even savvy users could benefit from simply paying more attention to the flurry of emails, texts and other messages that flood their devices.‘
Honestly, I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Have a great week!