According to new research from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 51 percent of Americans bank online, and more than one-third do so using their mobile phone. This trend is growing, as younger and more educated folks are more likely to do so.
There are some security concerns with online banking, but you can address them with simple measures. Make sure to access your account only from your personal, private computer, which should be running up-to-date software systems and antivirus protection. Avoid clicking on any emails that look like they’re from a bank; you should navigate directly to the website of your bank or app. And, monitor your account balances. Some of the apps mentioned below can flag suspicious activity.
Just about every bank has a website to monitor spending, set up automatic payments, transfer money from checking to savings and more. If you’ve been hesitant to try banking online, here are some painless ways to get started. Recommendations are based on multiple reviews and reports.
• Best conventional banks for online use
Citi and WellsFargo have each topped ratings from Global Finance magazine, Consumer Reports and Forrester for the ease of navigability of their websites. They have special features (such as instant spending charts that put your spending into categories), automatic bill pay, and tools for budgeting and setting savings goals. Citibank even lets you link your accounts from other financial institutions so you can look at them all in one place. And they have apps for the iPad and iPhone.
• Best online-only banks
Yes, it is possible to do all your banking with no physical branch visits. Typically, online banks offer higher rates for savings accounts, and they waive ATM fees so you can take out cash wherever you want. Consumer Reports rates Capital One 360, formerly ING Direct, as its top online-only bank, while Ally Bank, a unit of Ally Financial (the former GMAC), advertises great customer service and ranks high on Bankrate for savings (currently at 0.84 percent APR).
• Best budgeting websites
To manage money on your computer, you don’t necessarily need to use fancy software or even go online. Plenty of people use regular old spreadsheets for tracking expenses and keeping books.
However, if you want a few more bells and whistles, the consistently highest rated site by consumer publications is Mint.com, owned by Quicken. The budgeting site is free to use, supported by advertising offers. It fetches all your transactions from every checking, credit and investment account, categorizes them and shows them all in one place. The budgeting tool allows you to set spending targets in each separate category, and then it alerts you when you go over. You can also get email or text alerts in case of a low balance in any account, or an unusual fee or overdraft charge. I’ve been using it since 2009 and the alerts can come in handy.
The newer site YouNeedABudget.com was recently voted tops by readers of the blog Lifehacker. For $60, you get a software package that will guide you step by step through tracking every dollar you earn, spend and save, adjusting budget projections as you go. YouNeedABudget.com claims its users experience a median net worth increase of $3,300 after nine months.
• Best financial mobile apps
The sites and services mentioned all have their own apps. You might also want to check out Check (formerly Pageonce), rated tops by PCMag, which allows you to schedule a bill payment or quickly check balances. And Spendee (www.spendeeapp.com) is a well-designed expense tracker worth considering.
Anya Kamenetz may be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.