Online Banking: How to Get Started + 7 Safety Tips

Senior couple on their laptop using online banking safety tips

If you’ve ever deposited checks in-person at the bank, you know how frustrating it can be to wait in a long line at the teller window. Have you thought about making the switch to banking online? Don’t be intimidated! Taking your banking to the web can help make your life easier and save you time. Plus, it can be done safely if you follow a few simple steps!

Getting Started with Online Banking

Signing up for online banking is typically a quick process that involves you filling out a form on your bank website. To find the form, look for “Online Banking” on your bank’s website. If you don’t see it, you can try searching for it in the on-page search bar.

You always have the option to call your bank for help, too. When you’re signing up, you will need to provide some basic personal information and your account number. There are no added fees.

How it works: With online banking, you can still go to a bank branch or ATM for whatever you need. But you can also handle all of that from the comfort of your home. Some banks even offer mobile banking apps you can download. Once your account is set up, you can monitor your activity 24/7, transfer money between your accounts, or set up automatic payments for your bills — all without stepping your toes into your bank. Here’s a quick example: If you need to deposit a check, you can use online or mobile banking services to scan or snap a photo of the check. For most institutions, the technology takes your scan or photo, and initiates the deposit into your account. Exact services will depend on which bank you have, so make sure to ask your bank what’s available.

Online Banking Safety Tips

Online banking provides a great convenience. But placing your personal details online can also be scary. What if your information gets in the wrong hands? Or what if your bank has a data breach? Luckily, there are things you can do to help protect yourself when you’re banking online.

Tip 1: Turn On Account Monitoring

Opt-in to account monitoring. This can be done in two easy steps:

  1. Make sure mobile banking app is configured to allow for updates and alerts on your smartphone
  2. Ask your bank if you can opt-in for fraud monitoring.

Banks can give you real-time notifications when changes are made to your account, or if strange activity is flagged by the fraud department. Large purchases or withdrawals? There’s a notification for that. Have an upcoming payment? You’ll get an alert. Changes to your online banking login information? The bank should send you a text, email – or even give you a call to make sure it’s you who’s changing your account details.

Tip 2: Be cautious with your emails

Don’t believe the emails that say you’ll get $1,000,000 if you respond with your bank logins or social security number. In fact, you should never give your personal information out over email. Most of the time, your bank won’t ask for your information like that. These scams, called phishing, are a way the “wrong people” try to get access to your accounts. It may seem like common sense, but some of these people are really sneaky!

Instead of clicking on anything in the email, just delete it. Sometimes phishing emails can contain files that could harm your computer. So deleting helps make sure you don’t accidentally click on something that could harm your computer or put your information at risk.

Tip 3: Use unique passwords

If you’ve had the same go-to password since you first got on the internet, it’s time to think up something new. The more unique, the better!

Experts recommend avoiding common terms or phrases, or using your personal information in your passwords. Most secure sites require a combination of four password elements:

  1. Upper case letters
  2. Lower case letters
  3. Numbers
  4. A symbol

If you’re stumped on a new password, try to make your old password unique. For instance, if your password was: September 2018, you could alter it to include more diverse characters: S3pt3mb3r#18.

Tip 4: Change your password regularly

You don’t need to change your password as often as you change your sheets, or even as often as you pay your end-of-the-month bills. But they shouldn’t be set up then forgotten about. A good rule of thumb is to update to your password every 60 days.

While changing your password frequently can make it harder to remember, it helps keep your accounts secure.

Pro tip: Use a secure app to keep your passwords in one place, or create a secure place of your own – like a spreadsheet or phone note. Just remember: never save your login and your password together to help prevent your accounts from being compromised. Anywhere you store saved passwords should not identify specifics about what the password unlocks or what the account user name could be.

Tip 5: Do your online banking at home

Don’t do your banking from Starbucks. Or anywhere with public Wi-Fi for that matter. Your secure network at home is the best place to do your banking if you’re going to access your bank account from a computer. If you’re out running errands, your phone (not on public Wi-Fi) is a safe way to access your bank accounts, too.

If you have to bank online using public computers, make sure to log off after you’re finished so the next person can’t access your information.

Tip 6: Log in directly from your bank’s website

Clicking on a link to your bank’s website from Facebook or in your email and then logging in isn’t as safe as going directly to your bank’s website. A link from another source could be a scam that was made to look like your bank’s website. Some links you see aren’t scams, but it’s better to be safe than sorry by going directly to the site.

One way to tell you are on a safe site is by looking in the left corner of the search bar on the top of the webpage you are viewing. Secure sites often have a green lock with the bank name or the word “secure” next to it.

Tip 7: Be specific with your security questions

When you set up your account and create security questions, be as specific as possible.

Make sure the answers to your security question can’t be easily found. If a question is, “What was the name of your first pet?” and you have 40 pictures of your dog, Sadie, on Facebook, it may not be as secure as you think!

Many banks have helpful, convenient online options for you to use. And spending less time dropping off deposits or requesting balances leaves you with more time to spend on the things you enjoy! You can guard against fraud or theft when you bank online in the same way you’d protect your car or home — by putting the right tools or alarms in place to keep you alert and safe. If you take the right precautions, online banking can become a positive, time-saving part of your life.

Still looking for information? Read more about the right ways to use the web, and get helpful online safety tips for seniors.