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Are you late to the online banking game and nervous to begin? Here’s how to start slow and reap the benefits

Here are some tips to consider if you're ready to finally make the switch from banking in-person to online.

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If you're still waiting in line at your local bank branch to make transactions or writing checks and mailing your bills, it's time to finally make the switch to online banking in order streamline your finances and even save a little bit of money (not to mention a lot of time).

You may be reluctant to perform your banking online because of concerns like security, account management or maybe you just don't adequately understand how to utilize your bank's app or website. Rest assured: Online banking is secure and convenient, so long as you implement safeguards to your accounts.

Select spoke with experts about how to embrace technology and get comfortable online banking.

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How can online banking streamline your banking experience?

Imagine not having to wait in line at the bank or scramble to find a stamp every time you need to pay a bill.

"Using online or mobile banking is convenient – you can bank from just about anywhere," says Erin Scheithe, senior program coordinator, consumer education with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). "You can check your account balances in real-time, which may help you notice and report unauthorized charges more quickly."

This technology allows you to deposit checks, pay bills and transfer funds safely and easily from anywhere you choose. "Online and mobile banking allow you to manage your finances on your schedule," says Scheithe.

This technology isn't new, so late adapters don't need to feel like they're digital pioneers.

"Online banking has been around for more than a decade, and banks and credit unions are improving their online and mobile experiences regularly," Scheithe continues.

What are the benefits of online banking?

When you bank online, you can enjoy many of the same benefits you get from visiting a physical branch, including the ability to deposit checks, open and close accounts as well as pay bills, transfer money and more.

And in some cases, you can even save money by switching to an online bank. When these banks don't have to pay for commercial real estate space, they often pass the savings on to customers in the form of fewer fees.

Select reviewed the best no-fee checking accounts and many of the top choices are from online banks. The Discover Cashback Debit Account, for example, offers customers 1% cash back on up to $3,000 in debit card purchases each month. That's up to $30 cash back per month and $360 annually.

While 1% is lower than the cash-back rate you'd receive with one of the best credit cards, it's great for debit cards, which typically don't offer rewards programs.

Since Discover is an online bank, there are no physical locations. However, it provides 100% U.S.-based customer service representatives that are available 24/7 and access to over 60,000 fee-free Allpoint and MoneyPass ATMs.

There is no minimum deposit required to open a Discover Cashback Debit Account, and overdraft protection is free (which is hard to find).

How to get started

If you're thinking about trying online banking, but you've been dragging your feet, the first barrier could be fear. This is a valid concern, but your bank has sophisticated security features in place.

"Consumers should feel confident using their bank or credit union's online banking platform as long as their devices are secure, and they are accessing the platform from their bank's website," says Scheithe.

Experts suggest taking small steps so you get familiar with how the apps or online portals work.

"You can ease into using online banking services by regularly checking your account balances, depositing smaller payments [via your smartphone] and setting up automatic bill payments and direct deposits," says Alissa Van Volkom, head of consumer deposits, products and payments at TD Bank. "These steps will help customers ease into the online banking experience."

What can you do to maintain a high level of security?

There are steps you can implement to make sure your accounts and personal information remains secure. Here's what you can do:

Be mindful of fraud schemes

If you receive emails or text messages with links requesting you log into your online banking account, don't click. Instead, go to the website you know is correct and log in there to avoid any phishing or other fraud attempts, says Scheithe with the CFPB. And, if you have questions about emails you receive, you should call your bank or credit union to verify any messages you receive.

Be thoughtful with your log-in credentials and passwords

To maintain the integrity of your accounts, be sure you create a unique username and secure password for your online banking account. Don't share your password with anyone, and don't pick predictable passwords like your birthday, your pet's name or children's names. You might also want to consider a service like LastPass, which can create a secure password for you.

Subscribe to account alerts

It's always beneficial to sign up for account alerts so you'll be notified of any transactions or log-in attempts made to your account. "You can receive alerts by email, text message and push notification when there's a charge, refund or other transaction on your account, when a balance transfer or payment has posted, to get balance and available credit limit amounts, when a payment is due, or when a payment has posted," says Sonali Divilek, head of digital products and channels at Chase.

Be an educated consumer

There are a myriad of materials available to understand how to keep your accounts safe. "On our website, we provide customer education about fraud and scams, phishing attempts by text and how to avoid them, as well as additional tips," says Divilek.

Create individual log-in credentials

Even if you share an account with a partner or family member, make sure you have separate access to your online or mobile banking system, cautions Scheithe with the CFPB. To further secure your account, take the time to add passwords to your digital devices. "Make sure your devices — computer, laptop, tablet and mobile phones — are password protected or locked," Scheithe says.

Use your banking institution's educational resources

Your bank or credit unions may have videos or instructions on how to get started online banking.

"If you'd like a little more help, consider setting up an appointment with a customer service representative at your local branch – and don't forget to bring your mobile phone or tablet so you can download the app and ask questions as you walk through the set up," says Scheithe. "Or call your bank's customer support line. Many banks have dedicated staff who can answer questions about the online and mobile banking experience."

What are the real advantages for consumers to embrace online banking?

Most banking services available at your brick-and-mortar branch are offered via online banking, including bill payments, transfers and deposits and reviewing account balances. "While we have witnessed an early adoption of these services, the pandemic accelerated the adoption and digitization process further," Van Volkom with TD Bank says.

A good percentage of customers are also sticking with these services, she says, as they embrace the efficiency, convenience and accessibility offered by online banking. "The advantages really boil down to having your financial needs addressed anywhere you want, and anytime you want," she says.

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Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.
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