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Online and mobile banking tips for beginners

This blog was originally posted on April 3, 2020 and was updated on May 5, 2020.

If you’ve been on the fence about doing your banking online or through a mobile app, now is a good time to get started as financial institutions change their branch hours during the COVID-19 pandemic. Online and mobile banking allow you to handle your finances from the comfort of home.

Begin online banking with a few steps

As long as you have a computer or smartphone with access to the Internet and an account with a bank or credit union account eligible for internet banking, it’s easy to get started.

  1. Gather your account numbers

    Your account numbers should be on your paper statement. Your account number will also be on the bottom of your checks or deposit slips. They are needed to enroll your account.

  2. Find your bank or credit union’s website

    Look on one of your paper statements or on the back of your debit or credit card to find the website, rather than googling or clicking on links in an email or text. If you visit your bank’s website from your smartphone, you may be prompted to download the bank or credit union’s mobile app that you can use from your phone.

  3. Register for access to your bank or credit union's online banking platform

    The first time you visit, you’ll follow the prompts to create an online account. You will answer questions to prove it’s really you, choose a username and password, and set up security features and preferences . Be sure to create strong passwords and do not use the same password for all accounts. Don’t use information such as addresses and birthdays in your passwords. For more tips on how to create strong passwords read more on the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) blog .

  4. Log in and take a tutorial

    If it’s offered by your bank or credit union to learn your way around the platform.

What can you do with online and mobile app banking?

Most transactions can be done online or through your financial institution’s mobile app on your smartphone.

  • Check your account balances online at any time. You now can catch errors such as unauthorized activity earlier – without having to wait for your paper statement. You usually can notify your bank or credit union account of errors through the online or mobile banking app or chat functions.
  • Often, you can see deposits and charges that are pending, meaning they have not posted to your account yet. Note that for pending debit card transactions, the amounts you see may not be the same as the final amount that posts to your account. Be sure to check your bank’s or credit union’s funds availability policy before assuming that pending deposits are available for making payments or withdrawals.
  • Consider whether you would like to continue to receive paper versions of your periodic statements and other documents. Your bank or credit union may prompt you to go paperless while you set up online banking.
  • Most banks and credit unions allow you to set up automatic notifications to help you manage your account and alert you when any of the following happen: a direct deposit is received, a large payment is charged, your balance falls below a certain amount, your account is in overdraft, and more. Often, bank and credit union online portals offer you the ability to sign up to get these alerts via text, email, or both. These alerts can help ensure you stay informed without having to log in to your account several times a day.
  • Most banks and credit unions will allow you to deposit checks using your smartphone and a mobile app. You might not be able to deposit all types of checks this way, so check with your bank or credit union if you have any questions. The mobile app makes it easy to deposit a check in a few steps:
    1. Download your bank or credit union’s app on your smartphone if you haven’t already.
    2. Understand any rules your bank or credit union has about mobile check deposit.
    3. Follow the directions in the mobile app to deposit the check
    4. Hold onto the check for several days after deposit until you are sure it has posted to your account meaning that it is no longer pending and any holds your institution has placed have expired.
    5. Destroy the check once it’s cleared by shredding it or tearing or cutting it up.
  • If you need to transfer money between accounts, or even between financial institutions, your online banking or mobile app likely offers you options to do that. Make sure you understand the terms and conditions of your transfer and double check that you are using the correct account and routing numbers when making any transfers.
  • There’s a good chance your financial institution offers a way to send money person to person, too. Before you use any mobile payment services, check out our best practices guide to make sure your transactions are done safely. You can test it out by transferring a small amount, like a dollar, back and forth. That way you’ll be sure your money goes where you want and you receive money you’re owed.
  • Instead of writing checks and mailing them, you can pay most bills online or through the mobile app for your financial institution.
  • Banking online or through your mobile device is secure, as long as you follow best practices for keeping the information on your mobile device safe. Your financial institution may offer additional services to help you keep your account safe, including turning off your debit card if you suspect fraud. Check with your bank or credit union to learn more about additional protections they may offer.

How do I get help with online banking?

If you run into any issues, ask for help! If you need specific guidance, contact your bank or credit union directly. Customer service associates are available by phone, online chat, or video in some cases. The financial institution staff will help you set up your account and answer questions. They will also help you figure out what you can and cannot do online or through their app. Please note that during this pandemic crisis, many bank and credit union call centers are experiencing high call volumes and may be delayed in responding to inquiries.

Helping someone else bank

If you are a financial caregiver, either in a traditional formal role of managing someone else’s money or on an informal basis, speak with the person you’re helping and their financial institution to determine what you can and cannot do. Keep in mind that even during the current national health emergency, you’ll have to follow all of the required steps to have access to another person’s account. That could include having documents prepared, notarized, or other more formal steps – and it could take some time due to the large volume of consumer inquiries financial institutions are receiving. Our Managing Someone Else’s Money guides can be helpful.

Some banks and credit unions offer “view-only” online banking, which lets you see what’s going on without having access to the money. If you are a fiduciary, you may be able to gain online access to accounts and help manage money while observing social distancing or quarantine practices.

If you do need to bank in person, call or visit your bank or credit union’s website to see if your branch is closed, offering special hours for older customers or members, offering services in person by appointment, or serving customers through the drive-thru windows only.

Find more information regarding COVID-19 from CFPB

We’re working to continuously update information for consumers during this rapidly evolving situation.

We will publish all COVID-19-related information and blogs to our resource page. Information should be considered accurate as of the blog publish date.

See our COVID-19 resource page

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