I was reading a news item a few days ago about how many people do their banking online. I was a little surprised by the results of the study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project. Overall, 44 percent of Internet users do their banking online.
Almost half the people who have an Internet connection bank online, which is a giant leap from the number who did so two years ago. But I had thought the number would have been much higher.
Maybe that’s because I started banking online long before most people had even heard of the Internet, even before it existed in its current form. I started paying nearly all my bills online in 1988 using a computer program called CheckFree and a slow modem.
But now, almost everyone has heard about online banking. It’s impossible not to know about it given all the promotion it’s been given by even the smallest of banks. Yet less than half of those who are online choose to do their banking in that manner. It’s puzzling.
Consider the logic. I, like most people, have my payroll check deposited directly into my checking account. The funds are available early in the morning every payday, so I don’t have to make a trip to the bank to deposit a check.
During the two weeks prior to each payday, I get the usual array of bills. I still get many of them via regular mail, but many companies now let you opt for e-mail billing. I choose that option whenever it’s available.
So every time I get a bill, I simply go to my online banking page, click the “Bill Pay” button, and schedule the payment for the due date, which is always after the date of my next payday.
I used to dread sitting down at my desk, sifting through all the paper bills, filling out the checks, addressing the envelopes, licking the stamps, and making a trip to the mailbox. With online banking, I don’t have to do any of that, and I haven’t done it for years.
It’s not just paying bills either. I no longer get bank statements. I don’t have to sit down with my calculator and reconcile my account every month. My statements come online and every couple of days I can log on to my account and see which deposits and debits have cleared. Balancing my bank statement is a thing of the past, and I don’t miss it.
Another puzzling thing that came out of the Pew study was that the majority of those who do their banking online were more than 27 years old. Only 38 percent of those 18 to 27 bank online. Typically, it’s the younger crowd that are the online trailblazers.
Still though, the numbers are up from the 30 percent who did online banking in 2002. Mostly, it’s because more and more people have come to accept that Internet banking is safe. I can vouch for its safety; I’ve never had anyone breach my account during the 17 years I’ve been doing my banking online.
There are, however, some caveats for those who have online bank accounts. The most important thing to be aware of is “phishing.” That’s when some lowlife tries to steal your personal information by pretending to be your bank. But disaster can be easily avoided by never giving out personal information using e-mail.
And always make sure you are on your bank’s real Web site before filling out any forms that ask for personal information. You can do that by going to the site via your own bookmarks instead of clicking on a link embedded in an e-mail message.
With bank cards, Internet shopping, and online banking becoming more prevalent, it may not be too long before paper checks become quaint artifacts from the age of paper. Already, it’s annoying to wait in line at the cashier behind someone who still writes checks. Even cash is becoming more obsolete.
When vending machines begin accepting plastic, I’ll know that electronic funds transfer will have become the standard for performing transactions. And that will be just fine; I hate carrying change.