checking

Online banking

Set your schedule

Once you have registered the accounts you wish to pay online, the next step is to schedule payments. Your creditors receive your online payment in one of two ways: electronic payment or check. If the company is set up to accept electronic payments, your payment is automatically debited from your account and deposited electronically into their account. If the company can't accept electronic payments, your bank issues a check based on your online payment instructions.

Most bill payment sites include a payment activity page that lists all of your payments and their status -- scheduled, pending or processed.

Be aware that companies sometimes change the billing address or your account number without warning. It's important to check your statement each month to verify those details as well as your transactions.

Security

You'll have a user name and password to access your online account. Just as with any information used to access any other financial account, you should keep these codes secret. Your bank will tell you what to look for -- usually an icon of a locked padlock -- to ensure you're accessing your account over a secure line.

You should also beware of a scam called phishing where crooks send out e-mails that might look exactly like e-mails from your bank. These e-mails often claim that some account or personal information is needed. You're asked to click on a link and fill in the information. As a hard-and-fast rule, never click on a link in an e-mail and then divulge account information. Call your bank -- don't use a phone number supplied in the e-mail -- and ask if the e-mail is legitimate.

Whether you bank online or prefer the old fashioned way, you receive a statement every month that details transactions and account status. In the next section, you'll see why you should take time each month to carefully review your statement.

Did you know ...
The number of online banking customers increased to nearly 40 million in the fourth quarter of 2005, according to comScore Networks, which measures and analyzes consumer behavior. That was a 27 percent increase over the previous year; online bill paying increased 36 percent during that time.

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