Ten useful “life hacks” for checking accounts


The holiday season being what it is,we are all want to spend beyond our means.  Having been in the world of financial ruts for the better part of twenty years, I can safely say that most, if not all, of my financial hardships have been the result of poor choices.  I refuse to preach what I don’t practice, so there will no chastisement of the evils of credit and spending beyond one’s means.  Rather, I’ve chosen to take this opportunity to share some financial “hacks” that I’ve learned along the way.

  1. Watch those gas purchases:  It’s extremely easy to get caught in this overdraft trap.  You pay for a gas purchase, forget about it and then, three days later, boing!  The overdraft fees pop up!  Why?  Simple – you are one of the lucky debit card users who only get their card authorized for one dollar, instead of the classic $75-100 gouge of gas pump horror repute.  HACK:  learn your local gas station’s authorization rhythms, and use the one dollar as a means to bridge the financial gap between paydays without getting dinged.  Never do it more than 48 hours before your payday, and always write it down!
  2. Don’t forget those trial offer end dates: You see a great offer for free whatever, but it requires a check or credit card number.  First, make sure it’s accredited.  Next, make sure the authorization amount is well marked – it’s very easy to miss this, and it can cost you big money!  Finally, put an alert in your phone with the cancellation link or phone number clearly marked, and set it at least three days prior to the trial end date.  Get a confirmation number of the cancellation, a rep’s name, and always, always, always a confirmation email of some sort.
  3. Automatic is for cars, not checking accounts: Yes, it seems like a great convenience, and a wonderful way to get some freebies.  Here’s the problem – automatic payment dates are rather arbitrary, and often the merchant/vendor/creditor doesn’t tell what they are.  A five percent discount isn’t worth the giant overdraft fees incurred because you didn’t remember to enter that item.  When you have to make the payment, you tend to remember to write it down.
  4. Tracking is everything: I’m not referring to UPS or Fedex with this one.  I’m referring to keeping an eagle eye on your money, daily.  With the convenience of mobile banking and all the tools most banks now offer to online customers, there are zero excuses to not be able to balance your expenses out on a daily basis.
  5. Never rely on online banking statements to track spending: Always keep receipts or write it down!  If you aren’t good at this, withdraw cash – it’s actually a very effective budgeting tool to know how much cash you have on hand.  If you are good at writing into a checkbook register or entering daily purchases in your computer, then by all means do it!  If you have to, get a friend or family member to help you once a week.
  6. Know your bank’s terms and conditions regarding clearing and deposits: This is an extremely useful piece of knowledge to have, especially if you are good at understanding timing.  While most transactions are realtime, there are still some which lag.  Gas purchases, restaurant tips, and certain automatic payments have lag times.  Some banks allow you to overdraw your account at the ATM without penalty if you replenish the money by a certain time.  If you know how to time the withdrawal, you can do a fee and interest free, 12 hour cash advance.  Be careful with this one – if you don’t do it exactly right, you will get burned and nobody at your bank will help you.
  7. In some cases, PIN purchases are way better than check card usage: If you are buying something you have an inkling you have to return and the refund could be critical, consider using your PIN card.  With many banks, the refund is instant, where a checkcard can take 7-10 business days in some cases to get the money back.
  8. Social media gets results: All the major banks and financial institutions are worried about their online image.  Some banks have dedicated social media support teams whose only job is to help out disgruntled customers who hit social media when they can’t get satisfaction on the phone.  Be professional, factual and reasonable in your post – the more you are, the more likely you are to get the results you are hoping for.
  9. At some point, the bank will say “no,” so be prepared to accept it: While many banks could care less about their customers, there are some who bend over backward.  Unfortunately, that bending can only happen for so long.  If you have had a history of mistakes and problems and the bank has worked with you, a simply mistake that even the bank might acknowledge isn’t really your fault will be met with the infamous “terms and conditions” fallback argument.  Be prepared for them to not care, even if you argue you could go to another bank.  After all, you can always vote with your feet and your wallet.
  10. Finally, and most important, be polite: When a bank rep acts like a jerk to you, kill them with kindness, write down their comments, and get their name and employee ID if you can.  You can use this as ammunition should you decide to escalate your complaint.  Again, be polite and professional, never profane.  The second you express anger in a disrespectful manner, the bank will have every right to tell you to take a flying leap.

So, there you have it – some life hacks I learned along the way.  I hope you find them useful, and maybe a bank exec will see this and think “hmmm, this dude gets it, but why should I care?”

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