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How to Maximize Your Free Checking Account Bonuses & Benefits

Online banking, mobile apps and touchless payments have made managing day-to-day finances through your free checking account easier than ever. Whether you’re opening your first account or want to switch to one with better benefits and bonuses, check out these eight ways to maximize your free checking account.

Your checking account is where all the action happens. Money flows into and out of this financial account where you complete many of your basic financial tasks. It’s the primary account for regularly depositing, withdrawing and transferring funds. Money can be accessed by paying with a debit card, using an ATM, writing checks and visiting a branch, as well as through online transfers and mobile payment apps.

The purpose of a checking account is typically for short-term money management, whereas a savings account is for growing money that is generally untouchable (unless there is an emergency, or you’ve reached a financial goal to use it for). You may be familiar with a checking account, but do you know how to maximize it? Learn about its features and get tips on how to use it to your advantage.

Choose the Right Banking Partner

Not all checking accounts are created equal. You’ll want to open a free online checking account that doesn’t come with hidden fees or requirements, like maintaining a minimum balance. Also, you may want to ask the financial institution the following questions:

  • Is there overdraft protection or another overdraft coverage option?
  • Is my money insured and safe?
  • What ATMs can I use without a fee?
  • Will I get any perks, rewards and/or bonuses for opening a checking account?
  • Are there any fraud protection measures?

Sign Up for Online Banking and the Mobile App

Online banking or a banking app provides convenience for taking care of financial tasks such as: conducting transactions; depositing a check; reviewing statements; transferring money; accessing your financial details; paying bills; contacting your credit union; checking your account balance to prevent insufficient funds (which you can do with one tap using the Desert Financial app) and monitoring your account for any suspicious activity. Protect yourself from fraud by signing up for alerts, and if you catch a fraudulent transaction, immediately report it to your credit union.

Go Electronic

With online banking, you can download your statements and pay bills electronically. Online banking typically lets you set up auto-pay so you don’t have to worry about due dates or missing a payment. You may also be able to set due date reminders, check pending payments and see recent payments. Digitizing your banking also eliminates paper bills and statements you get in the mail, which can help lower your risk of fraud and identity theft in case someone steals these documents.

Consider Overdraft Protection

Overdraft protection ensures that a transaction will go through successfully, despite insufficient funds, by linking your checking account to a savings account, qualified line of credit or credit card. Triggered by a negative balance, it transfers money from one of those accounts, which prevents an overdraft or non-sufficient funds (NSF) fee. Keep in mind, you will likely have to pay a fee to use the overdraft protection service to cover the amount. Overdraft protection may also be worth the service fee since you could be charged with a penalty by a merchant for a declined transaction. This is why it’s important to check your balance periodically.

Use Direct Deposit

Direct deposit has become the standard for getting paid by an employer — it’s more convenient than receiving a check to deposit into your checking account. Otherwise, you can also deposit a check or cash into an ATM or by stopping by a branch. For electronically depositing, moving and receiving money, use online banking, the mobile app or mobile payment apps like Venmo or Zelle. It’s also a good idea to set up automatic transfer deposits into savings to help you stay the course with building up your reserve.

Start a Budget

Using your checking account to budget helps ensure you stick to it and stay disciplined since money is taken out in real-time. With a credit card, it’s easier to go over your budget because you don’t have to risk running out of money and falling below a zero balance. Splitting your expenses into two checking accounts can also help manage your cash flow: One for fixed expenses (e.g., mortgage, bills and loan repayments) and another account for variable (i.e., the cost of items varies month-to-month) and discretionary (i.e., nonessential items) spending.

Learn the Benefits and Do’s and Don’ts of Using Your Debit Card

If you use your checking account to budget, then your debit card is your primary spending tool (aside from cash). A debit card helps you spend more consciously and cautiously, which helps to avoid overspending into debt. Along with debit’s benefits, there are some precautions to take. Check out our list of debit do’s and don’ts on how to use your card responsibly.

Set Up Your Digital Wallet

One “debit do” is to link your debit card to a digital wallet for a cashless and contactless way to pay. Digital wallets, such as Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay, allow you to make a transaction by simply and conveniently waving your smartphone in front of a compatible sales terminal. A digital wallet is also more secure:

  • Your passcode, fingerprint or face ID is required to access the app
  • You don't have to carry your physical cards with you and risk them getting lost or stolen
  • Mobile payment apps secure transactions with fraud-protected technology

If you’re a minimalist or love new tech features, then switching to a digital wallet may be the right move for you.

The checking account, where you frequently manage your money and financial tasks, is the more active counterpart to a savings account. Using your checking account and debit card for expenses and purchases helps avoid excessive spending and debt. Just make sure you don’t get into the savings-to-checking transfer habit or turn to your credit card to cover funds you don’t have.

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The material presented here is for educational purposes only, and is not intended to be used as financial, investment, or legal advice.