Managing a checking account is so much fun. After all, what could be better than spending hours poring over your bank statements, accounting for checks you’ve written and bills coming out soon, and deciding how much you need to transfer to different savings or investment accounts? It’s the perfect way to spend a Saturday night. Right?
Well, perhaps not so much. In fact, just about anything sounds better than spending hours managing your checking account. The good news is, you really don’t need to devote your limited time on this planet to account maintenance. You can effortlessly ensure that all the money in your account does what you need it to by taking a few simple steps.
The first crucial step in making sure managing your checking account is effortless is to pick the right bank.
You don’t want to worry about finding an ATM you can use to take out money, maintaining a certain balance to avoid monthly maintenance fees, or getting hit with overdraft fees — especially because consumers had $7.7 billion in overdraft or insufficient funds fees in 2022 alone.
Look for a bank that doesn’t charge you for overdrafting or for being a customer, and that has a wide ATM network or that reimburses ATM fees. You’ll also want to check out reviews of the bank app on the Google Play Store or App Store to ensure you can manage most aspects of your account online.
If your account is fee-free, that’s immediately a lot less hassle for you even if you do nothing else.
Next, if you want to make it easy and effortless to manage your checking account, you need to know what the money within it should be doing. Specifically, you should know:
How much you’ll need to cover fixed costs, like your mortgage or rent and car payment.How much needs to move over to retirement savings or savings accounts targeting other goals like going on vacation or covering car repairs or other costs you’re saving up for.
Determining your fixed costs is easy. Just look back at the bills you’ve paid over the past few months and add up the amount that must come out.
And figuring out your savings targets isn’t too hard either. Outline your specific financial goals, being as detailed as possible. For example, if you want to have a $20,000 down payment for a house in a year, your goal would be to save $1,667 a month for it. If you want to retire at age 67 with $1 million and you’re 30 now, you could use the calculator at Investor.gov to figure out you need to send $252.49 a month to a retirement account.
Make a list of these fixed expenses and savings goals you want to devote money to, and build a budget around them.
The next step is to set up transfers of your money out of your checking account so it goes where it needs to automatically. You should set up automatic transfers for the following:
To your mortgage company or landlord for rentTo your creditors if you owe money for cards or a car paymentTo your utility providersTo anyone else you pay monthly bills to (like a streaming service or gym)To your retirement accountsTo your savings accountsTo your insurers
Basically, if you have an expense you need to pay out of your checking account, you should arrange to have it come out automatically. You can do that through your bank or through your brokerage firm or service provider — usually by filling out a simple form online.
You should typically arrange to have the money come out pretty soon after you get paid so you don’t have a chance to spend it on something non-essential. You might decide to have your mortgage and utility payments paid out of your first monthly check, for example, and to transfer money to savings and pay your creditors out of the second one. Your credit card company will likely allow you to change due dates upon request to make your payments better align with your pay schedule, or you can make sure the automatic payments are set up for well before the current due date.
Once you have automated everything you can — including deposits to savings accounts— you can feel free to spend whatever is left in your checking account. You’ll want to check in periodically to make sure that the automatic payments are going through and to see your balance, but doing that shouldn’t take more than a few minutes a month.
By following these steps, you won’t have to spend much (or any) time worrying about what to do with the cash in your checking account. You can get your Saturday nights back for other exciting things! Of course, if you’re old and boring like me, that probably means browsing Netflix for an hour to find something to watch before giving up and going to bed — but that’s still better than poring over checking account statements!
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