Accessing your credit union accounts gets easier by the day. Haven't caught up with all of the options? Contact the people at your credit union. Here's an overview:
- Online. Access your accounts anytime from your computer. It takes just a few minutes to enroll.
- Telephone. If you won't have Web access but will have a touchtone phone, check into audio response teller.
- Mobile banking. A smart phone or device will give you even easier access.
- Shared branching access. Enjoy your credit union's services away from home through a shared branching site or sites.
Don't let income sit in a P.O. box or force a friend to deal with your mail; switch to electronic deposits. Even Social Security participants can take advantage of this option. Direct deposit is safe and quick with no downside, says Gail Cunningham, vice president of public relations for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, Silver Spring, Md.
Pay bills electronically
The bills will keep coming. If you're having your mail forwarded, you could be late with payments. Issuers are only required to give a consumer 21 days to pay a bill. Forgetting to pay or paying late could result in a late fee, a ding to your credit report, or even a drop in your credit score. The solution: Electronic bill paying. Schedule recurring payments, advance payments, and even single payments.
When you travel extensively or move to your seasonal home, consider using these payment options:
Change account passwords each month.
- Cash. "It's good to have some at the beginning and end of a trip," says Dr. Mary Ann Campbell, certified financial planner and spokesperson for Index Credit Cards. "You may consider obtaining some local currency of your destination."
- Traveler's checks. "Credit and debit cards may be vulnerable to scams perpetrated by vendors," says Michelle Bernier-Toth, director of the Office of American Citizen Services and Crisis Management at the State Department, Washington, D.C. Some scammers keep a copy of your card and use it or sell it. When traveling, "it's probably prudent to use travelers' checks whenever possible," she adds. Learn more by finding your destination on the State Department's Country Specific Information page.
- Travel cards. They're similar to gift cards, but they can be loaded with higher dollar amounts and are not tied to an account.
- Credit cards. Check international transaction fees. "Alert your issuer regarding your travel destinations and timing," says Campbell. "This can prevent disabling freezing of your accounts if your issuer suspects fraud because of multiple charges in foreign lands. You might even carry two credit cards to have one as a backup."
- Debit cards. A debit card lets you pay from your credit union account. Don't keep all of your money in that account—if the card or number is stolen, the impact could be huge. "Debit cards carry more liability if you wait to report a stolen one," says Campbell. "In addition, rental car agencies don't like to reserve cars with debit cards." After you reserve a car with a credit card, you can use a debit card to pay for rental charges.
- ATMs. Save on fees. Find out if your credit union is in a network, such as CO-OP Network or Alliance One. Ask the folks at your credit union about ATM access on your travels.
- Wire transfer. The unexpected does happen. Get cash where you need it by wire transfer. Just be aware that this electronic funds transfer between financial institutions incurs a transaction fee.
Alert your credit card issuer to your foreign travel.
Simplify your financial tracking and budgeting. Look into:
- E-statements. Get quick access to your monthly credit union statement. You can download the files and leave them in your account for later reference.
- Online tools. With options like Mint, "you can view all your investments, credit and debit card transactions, as well as checking and savings accounts," says Aaron Patzer, vice president and general manager of Intuit Personal Finance Group, Mountain View, Calif. Also ask at your credit union about its online tools for members.
- E-mail alerts/texts. Using alerts is a good idea, says Cunningham. "Some will tell you when your balance is getting low, thus preventing an overdraft, while others can remind you when a bill payment is due," she says.
- Credit reports. AnnualCreditReport, the only service authorized for obtaining free credit reports, lets consumers check credit reports securely online, by telephone, and by mail. Space the timing of each of the three free annual reports throughout the year to stay up-to-date and monitor any identity theft attempts.
- Credit card tracking. Track purchases through your monthly statement and withhold payment if there's a problem, says Cunningham. "If you've paid with cash or a debit card, the money is gone immediately," she says. "There are certain protections that come with most credit cards, and consumers should be familiar with what their card offers."
Find the easy credit union access that's right for you.
"The biggest security problem that retirees may encounter when managing their financial transaction remotely is a lack of vigilance," says Michael Kaiser, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA), Washington, D.C.
- When accessing accounts: "You wouldn't let someone look over your shoulder when typing in your ATM PIN [personal identification number], so take the same care when accessing your accounts online," says Kaiser. He suggests only accessing the Internet via a secure network that requires a password. Don't access personal financial information from a public computer. "Ask your financial institution for additional ways to protect your accounts," Kaiser adds. "Use different passwords for each account and change passwords on a monthly basis."
- When using ATMs: In a foreign country, it's best to find an ATM that's secure, such as inside a bank, suggests Bernier-Toth.
- When paying bills: Don't access your personal financial information on an unsecure wireless network, says Kaiser. Have an up-to-date security suite installed; protect your account with a username and password that includes letters, numbers, and symbols; and fully log out of your account when finished.
Published December 23, 2010