While online banking grows in popularity among civilians, it is a process many service members have been using for years. The availability of banking 24/7 is an ideal prospect for families with a deployed family member. Reconciliation of shared checking accounts can be near impossible when a family member is away; online banking helps by making transaction history available from anywhere in the world.
Many online banking programs are now designed to offer online bill pay, a service that allows customers to set up regularly occurring debits from their account to pay cell phone, car payments and other monthly bills. A good tutorial of this process is offered here: http://infocenter.bankofamerica.com/ic2/online-banking/bill-pay/.
As a PFM, you are probably used to encouraging service members to do their research before opening an account. Bankrate.com is an excellent resource that allows users to comparison shop for bank services (such as online access), interest rates and locations before opening an account. Service members will be able to find a bank that best suits their family’s needs.
Suggesting military families open accounts with military-affiliated credit unions or banks increases the likelihood that the financial institutions understand the military lifestyle. Military credit unions also offer a bevy of services, and are always located on or near military bases. Member-owned credit unions also usually offer higher interest rates on savings accounts and lower rates on loans than shareholder-owned banks. And, in case you were not aware, the Navy Federal Credit Union now serves all four branches of the military and offers specialized accounts. Large national bank with locations around the country can also a good strategy, as military families relocate frequently.
However, for all of its advantages, online banking does require vigilance to protect user’s account numbers and personal information. Here are seven steps you can suggest to military families so they may conduct online banking, safely:
1. It is important that computers used for online banking have updated operating systems, web browsers and security features. Be certain that installed anti-spyware, anti-malware and firewalls update automatically and are turned on.
2. Be cautious about conducting online banking in wi-fi hotspots where Internet access is shared among several users. Ask if the network is secure and what security measures are in place.
3. Be sure banking and other online transaction sites begin with “https” where the “s” stands for “secure.” Sites might also use a padlock or key symbol to show their site is safe. However, scammers can re-create these symbols, so if a site looks unusual or functions differently than usual, use caution and log off.
4. Use strong, unique passwords and keep passwords hidden. Strong passwords typically contain a combination of lower case and upper case letters as well as numbers. Do not use any part or combination of your name, birth date, or, common words. Change passwords every 90 days and use different passwords for different accounts.
5. Log out after completing online banking and clear the Internet history.
6. Keep account numbers and banking information in a safe, secured location, in the event that passwords are forgotten or online access is otherwise denied.
7. Be skeptical of emails from your bank requesting account numbers or passwords. Delete and call the bank for confirmation. A reputable bank will never ask for this information through an email.
What tips can you suggest for service members to keep their banking information safe?