Picking a BankEdit
When you set up a checking account, ask for the student account which doesn’t have a monthly fee. Pick a bank that has good ATM access- Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Washington Mutual (the latter offers free checks) are good candidates. When making your decision determine what kind of fees there are. Also, check to see how easy it is to have a parent deposit money in your account if you are lucky enough to have parental financial support. Some banks will allow a parent to deposit a check in your account at a branch office without your signature on the back of the check. This is especially important if you need money right away and your parents do not live in the area. When establishing a new account, if you say that a friend with an account at the same bank company referred you, the bank may give a small amount of money to you and your friend as a thank you for the new account. If your ATM card has a VISA or MASTERCARD logo it is a check/debit card and can be used like a credit card. But realize that each time you use your ATM card, money will be automatically taken out of your checking account. If you lose your card, call your bank as soon as possible to report the lost/stolen card. Keep a copy of the bank phone number on the back of your card at your residence. You probably will get your money back eventually but your bank account can be depleted rapidly. On the other hand, a credit card charge doesn’t have to be paid until the monthly statement and you are not liable for fraudulent charges.
If you don’t need checks right away – it is cheaper to order checks online – Currents is one company that has an on-line site. Don’t order a lot of checks (try ordering one box) since it is easier to pay bills electronically (you don’t have to worry about stamps or finding a mailbox). To order checks you will need to indicate your personal information, the name of your bank and its address, the bank routing number, your account number and the check start number (ie 1001). If you are lazy documenting when you wrote the check, to whom and for how much on the check register it might be worth the few extra bucks to order duplicate checks which leaves a copy of each check you write.
When possible it is easier to pay bills electronically at your bank’s on-line site. You can also send checks electronically to an individual. You need to be careful that you schedule adequate time for the money to reach the destination or, depending on the bill, you may be hit with a late fee and finance charges (credit cards). The on-line site for bill pay will give suggestions on when to send a payment. Paying the major credit cards at their on-line site is more convenient. You can schedule a future payment just like on the bank site, but you can even make a payment (that is not late) on the date it is due.
If you qualify for one, it is very useful to have a credit card but it is very important to pay your card on time and to pay off the entire bill with each monthly statement. If your payment is late you will be hit with a late fee and a finance charge that will show up on the next two monthly statements. The finance charge for late payments can kill you. If for some reason your payment was late and you are assessed a late fee - you can try calling the credit card company and give them your "hard luck story" and "beg forgiveness" and sometimes they will cancel the late fee (you will probably still need to pay the finance charges).
To prevent fraud, it is probably best to sign the back of your credit card and also write "check ID".