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Chapter 3: Checking and Savings Accounts

An important part of financial independence is having your own checking and savings accounts. Some financial institutions offer teen accounts for people under 18, but if yours does not, chances are they do offer custodial or joint accounts if a parent co-signs.

Checking accounts
Because you will use it to write checks and pay for purchases and bills, having a checking account requires active management. There are several steps you can take to manage your checking account responsibly:

  • Be careful with your ATM and debit cards. Keep cards in a safe place, and never share them. Report lost or stolen cards to the financial institution immediately. Know your balance before making a purchase, and make sure that you have enough money in your account. To avoid paying unnecessary fees, only use your financial institution’s ATMs.

  • Avoid bouncing checks. A check bounces when there is not enough money in the account to pay the check. Typically, there are hefty fees charged for bouncing checks, so this is an expensive habit to have. Having overdraft protection, which prevents checks from bouncing, is usually cheaper than having to pay bounced check fees, but it is still not a good idea to overdraw your account. It can be a sign that your spending is not under control. Check your account balance before writing a check. Most financial institutions will let you do this over the phone or on-line.

  • Keep track of all of your transactions in your check register. It is one way to know what the balance is in your checking account, and it also allows you to see if any errors have been made when you get your statements. If you notice any problems when checking your statements, contact your financial institution immediately.

  • If available, take advantage of automatic bill pay. It is usually very simple to set up and free to use. When your bills come in, all you have to do is log into your account and enter the amount you owe. Click, and you’re done! It is faster than writing checks, and you’ll save on stamps.

Savings accounts
Using a savings account can help you save. People who leave their savings in their checking accounts often wind up spending the money. With a savings account, you can put the money in there and forget about it until you need it. What should you save for? As discussed in the first chapter, goals can be more easily achieved by regularly saving. It is also a good idea to save for emergencies and unexpected expenses, such as job loss, car repairs, and health problems. Aim to put aside at least two to three months worth of essential expenses.

If you prioritize your savings and treat it like any other important bill you have to pay, you will be more likely to save than if you wait and see what money you have left over at the end of the month. Deposit money in your savings account as soon as you receive your allowance or paycheck, or set up a regular, automatic transfer from your checking account to your savings account. Most financial institutions will allow you to do this.

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