Text Banking and Alerts - Even Easier than Online?

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In a world of fancy apps that let you deposit checks from your mobile phone, it might seem archaic to use text messages to check your bank account balance. But there are some very good reasons to rely on that old-fashioned technology to help you manage your bank account.

The main benefits of text banking are that you can stay up-to-date on your account (without manually checking in on things) and you can accomplish simple tasks quickly.

Why Text?

You can always login to your bank’s website or use an app – and you can probably get more done that way – so what do you gain by using text messages? Texts are fast and simple:

  • No need to log in with a username and password – just send (or get) a quick message
  • No need to click past promos pitching bank products that you don’t need
  • The data transmission is minimal, which helps when connections are slow
  • You don’t need to use your data plan at all (although you will need a texting plan)

Staying Up-to-Date

Text messages are probably most useful for keeping tabs on your account. It’s wise to monitor your accounts by logging in periodically and reviewing account activity. This helps you find out about problems before they get out of hand.

Unfortunately, logging in (usually to find that all is well) takes time and effort. It’s easier to set up alerts that you’ll only get if certain situations arise.

Different banks allow you to set up different rules, but many of them update you to important events in your account.

Low balance alerts: find out when your account balance falls below a certain threshold (you can often set this threshold to an amount that you’re comfortable with). This helps you avoid bouncing checks and missing electronic payments (which helps you avoid late fees and overdraft charges), plus you’ll hear about fraud and errors before they run your account dry.

Large withdrawals: you might also want to know when money leaves your account and where it goes. If so, set up a rule that sends a text for every withdrawal – or just the ones above a certain dollar limit. However, be aware that thieves sometimes keep fraudulent withdrawals small so that they go unnoticed (and repeated withdrawals can add up). It’s still a good idea to log in periodically to review transactions. You need to notify your bank promptly for certain protections against fraud and errors.

All transactions (or just withdrawals): want to be notified about every transaction in your account? Some banks offer this feature. Just be sure you don’t train yourself to ignore these messages if they’re too numerous.

Login notifications: your bank can let you know if somebody logged in to your account, or if somebody logged in from a new device.

Debit card use: if you’re worried about your debit card number being stolen, look for alerts telling you when the card number was used or if the card was denied.

Account changes: most banks automatically send a confirmation of any account updates, but it’s a good idea to sign up for as many of these possible. For example, you’ll want to know if anybody changes the username, password, email address on file, or security questions.

Likewise, a new mailing address or an unexpected change to paperless statements can be a sign of identity theft.

More Advanced Features

For anything beyond the most basic inquiries, you’ll need to use your bank’s app, website, or customer service number. But if your needs are simple, a text message might be faster and easier: type a few characters (sometimes as little as three), and get the information you need in seconds. When banks allow you to send requests by text, they almost always allow you to check your balance. At some banks, you can even transfer money between accounts.

Before you Enroll

To start banking by text, contact your bank (call customer service or check online) for signup instructions. You’ll need your mobile phone handy during the process. You’ll need to set things up before you start using the service.

If banking by text sounds good to you, keep in mind that nothing is perfect.

Privacy: how private is your phone’s screen? Other people might see messages from your bank (such as your account balance or monthly payment) if your phone is sitting in plain sight. Likewise, anybody with access to your phone could scroll through historical messages and see all of the texts you’ve received recently. They might even be able to send requests to your bank. If this concerns you, use a password on your phone and set it up to hide messages when your phone is locked. Alternatively, you can have alerts sent to an email address instead of your phone.

Fees: text messages might be less expensive than using your bank’s app or mobile website. However, you’ll need a texting plan that allows you to send and receive a sufficient number of messages.

Scams: once you get used to communicating with your bank by text message, it will be easier to fall for SMiShing scams. Remember what you signed up for, and ignore (and report) any other messages that claim to be from your bank. Your bank will never ask for your Social Security Number, date of birth, username, or password via text.

Beyond texting: text messages are a quick and easy option for frequent inquires and updates, but options might be limited. If you need to do more, you’ll need to go online. Use your bank’s app for depositing checks with your phone and finding nearby ATMs, and use the website for setting up bill payments.