Financial Fitness

How to bank when you can’t go to the bank

How to bank when you can’t go to the bank
Posted at 11:13 PM, Jun 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-23 23:13:20-04

It’s a tough time to do your banking if you prefer going to a branch. Hours have been cut at many locations, and social distancing guidelines mean bank lobbies are limiting traffic — assuming they are open at all.

For customers who absolutely need to visit branches, banks are taking steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Sean Potter of Minneapolis, who blogs at My Money Wizard, saw these precautions during a recent meeting at his local bank. “It was awkward because I had an appointment with the relationship manager, and we still had to maintain 6 feet of distance even though we had to review the same documents together,” he says.

Potter appreciates that the branch was trying to ensure his safety, but says he’s now considering other ways to bank. “From now on, it’s online or on the phone,” he says.

Here are some ways you can bank without leaving home, along with safety tips if you do need to venture out to a brick-and-mortar branch.

Explore online options

“A lot of banking can be done with the click of a button,” says Brian Milton, head of retail banking at Union Bank. Union and most other banks and credit unions have robust websites and apps you can use for many banking tasks.

Deposit checks. With mobile check deposit, you can snap a photo of a paper check and submit it online, via app or your bank’s secure website.

Pay bills. With online bill pay, you can log in to your bank’s webpage and enter the name of the recipient and their contact information. Your bank handles the rest by making an electronic funds transfer or mailing a paper check.

Apply for an account. Opening a new checking or savings account can be as easy as going to a bank’s website and submitting an online application. To apply, have your driver’s license and Social Security number handy to prove your identity.

Sign documents. Some institutions use digital services such as DocuSign to prepare documents, including loan and account opening paperwork. They can be securely emailed to you, and you can sign them electronically by clicking highlighted prompts.

Request payment assistance. Need some leeway with loan payments? Some banks are allowing customers to request arrangements online, including delaying due dates for bills, temporarily reducing monthly payments or asking for fee waivers.

Or pick up the phone

Keep your bank’s customer service number nearby. You can use it to speak to a real person about account questions or issues.

For example, some banks have announced that customers can call and request to waive non-sufficient funds fees, overdraft fees and monthly service charges.

But keep this in mind: If you’re faced with steep fees, it may be better to simply switch to a cheaper bank. Online-only institutions, for example, tend to have low or no monthly service fees, and some offer toll-free customer service numbers staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. To learn more, read our primer on online banks.

Bank safely at a branch

If you still need to visit a bank branch, here are some ways to protect yourself.

Get it on the calendar. “Before you visit your local branch, it’s a good idea to call ahead and schedule an appointment,” Milton says. He adds that doing so helps branches manage occupancy and social distancing requirements.

Calling ahead can also help the bank make sure it has a staffer on hand who can help you with a specialized transaction or request, he says.

Consider drive-up services. Some banks have drive-up lanes where customers can receive the same services offered inside a branch, such as making cash deposits and withdrawals, and getting money orders, all at a safe distance from other people. You could also withdraw cash from an on-site ATM without the need to interact with a teller.

Bring your protective gear. Since you’ll be touching screens, door handles and other public surfaces, consider bringing hand sanitizer or wearing gloves. If you do need to step inside a lobby, you may also be asked to wear a mask for everyone’s protection.

Accept the changes. Steve Turner, a publicist in Chesterfield, Missouri, says he visits his local branch a few times a month to make business deposits. “There are signs on the floor showing where people should stand to keep their distance,” he says. Turner has also noticed there’s less small talk with the tellers, and reasons it’s because everyone is wearing a mask. He believes these changes will remain for a while. “It was odd at first, but now it seems like a new normal,” he says.

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Margarette Burnette is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: mburnette@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @Margarette.