Avoiding overdrafts, bounced checks, should be a number one priority to all those who have checking accounts. The amount of money that you can be charged by the bank and by the merchant who takes the bounced check can be staggering. If too many of these overdrafts show up at one time, you can find yourself several hundreds of dollars (or more) in arrears just in penalties and fees. You may even have to go to court to get things back to normal, and lastly, your bank may cancel your account. There is nothing good about overdrafts.
So, how can you avoid bounced checks and overdrafts?
The answer to that is good management. If you know what funds are in your account, you are less likely to make a mistake which can cause an overdraft.
The first step to preventing overdrafts is to use your checkbook register when you write a check or make an electronic transfer from your checking account. The register is the fastest way to keep track of what you have outstanding and what your current balance is in your checking account. An important issue with keeping the register up to date is to make sure that you also include any service fees that are automatically deducted from your account. This might include such things as your monthly fee for the account, if there is one.
Modern technology has allowed us to use many forms of electronic money transfers and these can cause bookkeeping problems for those who do not maintain good records. Some of the electronic methods that we use that affect our checking account balance include debit cards, ATM withdrawals and deposits, online money transfers and deposits, as well as online purchases.
Many of these methods result in very fast transactions with our checking accounts. In some cases, the transactions can be almost instantaneous and it is very important that we know that we have the funds in our account when we make these transactions. Electronic transactions where there is not enough money in your account can result in non-sufficient funds penalties just like written checks, and those fees can add up very quickly.
You may want to ask your bank about overdraft protection systems that they may offer to their customers. These allow you some leeway in the event you write a check and do not have the funds to cover it. There are usually overdraft fees that you have to pay if you write a check that is short, but these fees are less than what you would normally have to pay if you did not have the overdraft protection.
Some banks will allow you to link your savings account to your checking account. If overdraw your checking account, the bank will automatically move money from your savings account to your checking account in order to cover the check. You should ask your bank about transfer fees for this service as this is not always a free service.
Another option is to link your checking account to your credit card. Not all banks will do this, but some will. With this type of linkage, the amount of the overdraft will be covered by the bank but it will result in a cash advance off the credit card. You will normally have to pay the cash advance fees, but, again, it can keep you out of trouble by honoring the check.
The best advice is to always keep a close eye on your checking account balance and to make sure you account for all charges and fees that will affect your balance.