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Are You Ready to Embrace Online Banking?

This primer may get you off the fence — and on your laptop

How long might it take to register my account online?

Gentile: That depends on your financial institution. In many cases, it's as simple as filling out a short form online. You'll need some information at your fingertips, including your account number (or, as referred to at many credit unions, your member number) and some other identifying information, so the institution can tell it's really you signing up for your account. It's a process that, in many cases, takes only minutes.

Will it cost me more in fees to handle my banking online?

Fitzpatrick: Many virtual banks, like Ally, don't charge monthly maintenance fees. Since we don't have expensive branches, we save money on operating costs compared with traditional banks.

Almand: Most brick-and-mortar banks and credit unions also prefer you use the online and mobile banking tools they provide because it allows them to meet your needs without having to keep a branch open 24/7. Often, the services are free.

(If you choose a virtual bank, which doesn't have its own branches or ATMs, find out if you will be charged a fee to withdraw money from the ATMs of other institutions. Some do, some don't and will reimburse you for ATM fees other banks charge you. Visit the bank's website or contact a bank representative to learn more about its fees for services.)

How would I make my check deposits?

Gentile: ATMs are still quite popular for making deposits, although some experts predict they have seen their best days, particularly with the popularity of remote deposit capture — a service many institutions have adopted. With a scanner or fax and a computer, members scan their check for deposit and send it electronically from anywhere. Customers can also use the camera on their mobile phone to take a picture of a check and send it electronically to the bank or credit union for deposit, using an app on their phone. (Check with your bank to see if this service is available to you.)

Almand: With mobile remote deposit capture, customers can also safeguard information with the same security as online banking while allowing them to retain the original copy of their check.

What can you tell me about banking with my smartphone?

Gentile: Again, convenience rules — you can conduct your financial business wherever you are, rather than at your desk or kitchen table at home. As mentioned earlier, many institutions offer free mobile phone apps you can download that allow you to check your balances, deposit checks, transfer money and pay bills.

How safe is my financial information with online banking?

Hughes: Financial institutions are held to a high standard when it comes to protecting your money and personal identity information. Federal and state regulations require banks and credit unions to use multiple layers of protective security in their online banking systems, and the regulators who assess these institutions check to make sure your bank is meeting their stringent security requirements. Your bank has a vested interest in making sure its online banking systems, whether PC- or mobile-based, are safe and secure. Delivering financial services through electronic channels is a cost-effective and competitive way for your bank to do business, so it will place strong emphasis on securing those systems and making them safe.

However, you as an individual also play a role in making sure that your financial information is safe. While more and more banks are starting to deploy security technologies that try to assess if anything is wrong with your device before allowing you to log in to online banking, it's still very important to be sure that the computer or mobile device (wireless phone or tablet) that you use for online banking is secure.

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