When I was a sophomore in high school, my dad encouraged me to apply to a two-year internship at a bank. As a junior teller, I would be able to perform most of the functions of a regular bank teller, with a few exceptions. The job wasn’t necessarily in line with my passions or interests, but it was a great opportunity to learn a little something about finance and banking, so I went for it.
I got the position and, while I was not the most impressive of junior tellers, I was exposed to the inner workings of a bank while holding my first long-term job. I also learned a few seemingly simple lessons that a shocking number of adults seemed to struggle with, even in a very well-to-do Seattle neighborhood.
Here are some of the lessons I quickly learned through many struggles and uncomfortable confrontations:
1. Know your account’s fees
While your bank may summarize the fees that are associated with its various accounts, it is your responsibility to understand the individual fees that apply to your account of choice. Not only should you be sure to read up on the different types of fees related to your account, but you should also understand how often each fee is exacted.
A good example is the loathsome overdraft fee — be sure you know how much your bank charges for each instance of overdrawing your account, and if there are daily fees for each day your account is overdrawn (in addition to the per-transaction fee you pay each time you make a transaction that overdraws your account).
2. Know your minimum
Some accounts are attractive because advertisements declare they don’t require a minimum balance to open, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the account has no minimum balance. Be sure you understand if a minimum balance applies to your account at any point in its lifecycle. Also, be sure you understand any penalties you may incur for failure to meet your account minimum.
3. Follow your activity online
While this may seem like the most glaringly obvious tip of all, an alarming number of people claim ignorance when it comes to bank activity. Online banking is usually free for most accounts, and it’s wise to get in the habit of checking your activity daily to make sure you know about all transactions clearing your account. This makes it easier to catch any unauthorized activity and to monitor your spending and balance levels rather than keeping a rough tally or relying on older methods like balancing your checkbook (which may fail to incorporate debit/credit/automatic transactions).
4. Understand the rules behind reversing fees
Depending on your bank and branch location, there may be situations in which your bank will reverse certain fees you’ve accrued. If your bank is willing to reverse fees in particular instances, it is helpful if you physically go to the branch at which you opened your account and speak to a branch manager.
Branch managers at the location you opened your account are usually the only people authorized to reverse any fees, so it’s generally a waste of time to go through other channels first. Also, most managers don’t reverse many fees for their customers unless it’s an unusual situation or “just this once,” so don’t count on this happening too frequently, or you’ll be setting yourself up for disappointment.
5. Know your regular payments and how they differ from swipe-purchases
As automatic payments become the norm in bill-paying, it’s essential to keep track of the amounts of your automatic payments and the dates on which each payment occurs. Always attempt to adjust your balance as necessary on the business days that precede each automatic payment.
Finally, some accounts give you the option of denying clearance on transactions that won’t be covered by your account balance. The idea is that you won’t receive overdraft fees because you haven’t authorized transactions to clear if you can’t cover them with your existing balance. However, these options don’t apply to automatic transactions, only to purchases you make by swiping your debit card or entering your card information in fields online. Be aware of this distinction, as automatic payments will clear your account, whether or not you have sufficient funds to cover them.