A checking account is a useful tool for paying bills and covering expenses when using a debit card. Thanks to online and mobile banking, it’s easier than ever to track debit and credit transactions. But how often should you monitor your checking account?
According to a Lexington Law survey, 36% of Americans say they review their checking account daily, while 30% check it once weekly. There are several good reasons to keep a close eye on your banking activity, particularly if you’re concerned about preventing fraud or minimizing fees. If you’re just getting started with your first checking account—or you’re wondering whether your current banking habits could use some improvement—these tips can help.
- More than a third of Americans check their bank accounts daily, while nearly 20% check in with their accounts less than once a month.
- Checking your bank account regularly can be a helpful way to spot potentially fraudulent activity.
- Keeping an eye on your checking account can also help you avoid costly banking fees.
Benefits of Monitoring Checking Account Activity
If you’re paying bills and spending regularly, then your checking account likely isn’t static. Money moves in and out, so looking at your account can be helpful in several ways. Here are some of the top reasons to stay in tune with your checking account.
Catching Fraudulent Activity
Bank account fraud can cost you big bucks, and it’s becoming an increasingly significant problem for banks and consumers alike. According to the American Bankers Association’s 2019 Deposit Account Fraud Survey Report, bank fraud totaled $25.1 billion in 2018. Check fraud accounted for $1.3 billion in losses, while debit card fraud losses totaled $1.2 billion.
Keeping an eye on your checking account regularly can help you spot potentially fraudulent activity and prevent financial losses before they happen. For example, an identity thief may obtain your debit card number and make a small test purchase hoping that you won’t notice. If the purchase goes through, the thief could then make larger purchases against your account.
That’s problematic, because debit cards don’t have the same fraud protections as credit cards. If you report your debit card lost or stolen before anyone uses it, you’re not responsible for any fraudulent purchases, according to the Federal Trade Commission. However, different rules apply once a fraudulent purchase happens.
Then your liability follows these guidelines:
|If You Report||Your Maximum Loss|
|Before any unauthorized charges are made||$0|
|Within two business days after you learn about the loss or theft||$50|
|More than two business days after you learn about the loss or theft, but less than 60 calendar days after your statement is sent to you||$500|
|More than 60 calendar days after your statement is sent to you||All the money taken from your ATM/debit card account and possibly more—for example, money in accounts linked to your debit account|
Watching for Excessive or Hidden fees
Banking fees can eat away at your balance, and monitoring your checking account can help you avoid triggering certain ones, such as overdraft fees and returned payment fees. A single overdraft fee can average around $34, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, so it pays to stay on top of your banking activity to make sure you’re not in danger of being hit with one.
If someone makes unauthorized transactions with your debit card number but your card isn’t lost, you’re not liable for those transactions if you report them within 60 days of your statement being sent to you.
For example, say you deposit a check using mobile check deposit. You assume the money will clear your account in one to two business days, so you pay your bills, buy groceries, and fill up on gas using your debit card. However, the check ends up taking five days to clear your account and, in the meantime, all those transactions post, putting your balance in the negative.
That could mean paying substantial overdraft fees if any of your payments are returned for insufficient funds. Checking in with your bank account to make sure the check had posted would have been an easy way to avoid that.
Aside from overdraft fees, there are other banking fees to pay attention to, including:
- ATM fees (including surcharges from banks other than your own)
- Monthly maintenance fees
- Minimum balance fees
- Paper statement fees
- Balance inquiry fees
As of first half of 2021, the average banking customer pays $167 in checking account maintenance fees every year, excluding overdraft and ATM fees. That’s not exactly a fortune, but it’s a decent amount of money that you could add to your emergency savings fund or use to pay down debt each year.
Monitoring your checking account can help you spot these and other fees your bank may be charging you. You can also track your balance, which can help you avoid putting your checking account into the red and racking up expensive overdraft fees.
Some banks can charge you multiple overdraft fees in one day, with or without a limit; in some cases, the bank can add an excess overdraft fee once you incur a certain number of overdrafts.
Better Managing Your Financial Life
A third reason to monitor your checking account is simply to improve your financial situation. According to a poll from 2019, thirty-three percent of Americans, for example, don’t follow a budget plan. And 74% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, according to an American Payroll Association survey from 2019.
Either of those situations could spell trouble if you run into an unexpected expense and don’t have an emergency fund or at least a little extra cash in checking to cover it. Monitoring your checking account can help you better identify where you can cut back expenses, so you can start saving money.
How Often Should You Monitor Your Checking Account?
Not monitoring your checking account can be expensive in more ways than one. In terms of how often you should monitor your checking account, the answer is entirely personal. Still, it’s safe to say that only checking in once a month probably isn’t enough if you want to minimize fraud and fees, and stay on top of your finances.
If you’re not used to monitoring your checking account regularly, you could ease into it by logging into your account once or twice a week. From there, you could graduate to once a day. For instance, you could scan your account activity in the morning or at the end of the day to see which debit and credit transactions have posted. It’s a simple way to keep up with your running available balance compared to writing everything down in a checking account register for account reconcilement.
What should you monitor for? When reviewing your checking account activity, first scan for any transactions you don’t recognize. Then, check to see if any deposits or payments you’ve scheduled have posted, followed by your recent purchases. Finally, look through your accounts to see which fees, if any, your bank has charged.
At least once a month you should check your personal information, including your email and phone number, to make sure those things are up to date. Also, you may want to change your mobile and online banking password every three to four months. Choosing a new, unique password regularly could make it that much harder for identity thieves to access your account.
Tips for Monitoring Your Checking Account
There are several steps you can take to stay on top of your checking account and save time when managing your finances:
- Sign up for online and mobile banking access if you haven’t yet, so you can log in and check transactions on the go.
- Consider linking your checking account, savings account, and credit card accounts to a mobile budgeting app, so you can see all of your account activity at a glance.
- Set up banking alerts to notify you when a new credit or debit transaction posts, when a failed login attempt occurs, or when changes are made to your password or personal information.
- Pencil in a date on your calendar to review your online statement. You can also request paper statements, but you should check first to see if there’s a fee for that.
Remember, if you see a fee that you weren’t aware of—or an activity that suggests fraud—get in touch with your bank right away.
Lexington Law. "Poll: How Well Do Americans Keep Track Of Their Finances?"
American Bankers Association. "Deposit Account Fraud Survey."
Federal Trade Commission. "Lost or Stolen Credit, ATM and Debit Cards."
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "CFPB Unveils Prototypes of "Know Before You Owe" Overdraft Disclosure Designed To Make Costs And Risks Easier To Understand."
MoneyRates. "Checking Account/ATM Fee Survey: 1st Half 2021."
PR Newswire. "Survey Finds Majority of Americans Live Paycheck to Paycheck."