My first baby is 18 now. She's taken her last ever class in public school. In just a couple of days, she'll be walking across that stage wearing a "gown" that matches the ones around her, and a square hat.
She's chosen her college. We've signed a housing contract for her, and she's in correspondence with someone who is likely to be her roommate in the dorm.
That makes it kind of real.
It's coming home to me, and to her, that she's not so much a kid anymore.
Friday, we took one more step.
Armed with a check that represented a birthday money gift from her grandparents, we went to the bank. That's not an uncommon thing, actually. We do that every year, every time anyone gives her a birthday check (or holiday check or....). However, this time, we did not go to the teller. This time we did not deposit the check into her savings account, we did not withdraw a small portion of that check to give her some cash to play with, and no part of that money got pulled to deposit in her College Savings Account.
This time ... before we even went to the bank, we had a few discussions about which bank we would go to for this next step. And this time, the decisions were all up to her. Here's what she had to consider
1. This is her checking account. She will have control over it. She'll be able to put money in and take money out any time she wants to do anything she wants.
2. The ease of putting money in and taking money out depends in part on a local branch for your bank.
3. There appear to be NO banks with branches in both our home town and the town in which her college sits. We have confirmed that there are NO banks with branches both in our home town and the on the campus where she'll be living, working and spending her money.
4. If she gets an account that is solely her account, regardless of the bank she chooses, she will almost certainly have to pay fees to the local bank at CollegeTown every time she withdraws cash using an ATM.
5. If she gets a joint account with one of her parents, we can get one of the accounts for older folks like us with multiple accounts and loans etc. at the bank. With one of those accounts, she will not have to pay fees to use any ATM in the United States -- even and especially the ones in the Student Center at her college campus.
6. If she gets a joint account with one of her parents, her parents will have access to her account - which means we can look at the balance, we can see where she spends money, in theory we could take money, and we can deposit money easily.
Her first reaction, at which no one is surprised, was that she didn't want her parents to have access to her account. But when the time came, she chose to get a joint account with me at our bank - those ATM fees started sounding scary.
And so, we went to the bank, bypassed the tellers, and sat down with one of the Personal Banking Staff, made decisions, and opened a checking account.
We discussed how to use a check register, and why, even if you do have online banking, you really want to USE the check regiser.
Why is that, you may ask?
If you USE the check register, and record every withdrawal (check or ATM or debit card use), and tot up the BALANCE with EVERY transaction, you'll always know how much money you have in the account.
If you don't use the check register, but rely instead on the online banking screen, you will not get accurate information. This is not to say that the online screen is lying to you -- it's just that the online system doesn't have all the information all the time.
Sure, and ATM withdrawal will show up darn close to right away. But checks don't (especially if you mail them). Unless the people to whom you gave the checks bank at one or two of the GIANT banks, they still have to take the checks to their physical banks, which process them and send them off to the issuing bank (i.e. your account) (sometimes via Federal Reserve Banks), which have to process them -- it can be days or weeks before they show up in your account. Relying on your online balance ignores outstanding physical checks.
And... even though using your debit card feels a lot like using the ATM (swiping and all that), sometimes the debit card transaction doesn't get sent on to YOUR bank for a day or two. Really small stores may not run their transactions for a couple of days. So, the $35.00 you spent on that adorable bracelet you bought at the farmers market may not show up in your account for three or four days. Relying on the online banking numbers might get you to spend more than you actually have...
And ... if you USE your check register reliably, you can easily balance your checkbook when your bank statement arrives. This is also a good thing.
Why? if you keep your register religiously, what's the point of balancing things??
Well... once in a blue moon the bank makes a mistake. When that happens, being armed with your check register can help you spot it -- so that they can fix it.
But more likely, you'll transpose a number somewhere. You'll write a check for $25.38 and enter it into your register as $23.58. That means your register thinks you have $1.80 more than it does. Imagine this if we move the decimal point left. OUCH. You'll catch that if you balance your check book. AND... since they also tend to give you at least IMAGES of your checks, you can verify who is right.
So.... lesson one: your check register is your friend. USE IT.