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As routine financial tasks move online, you may have fallen out of the habit of banking at a branch office. If so, receiving a paper check can be a hassle, requiring a special trip just to deposit it.

Thankfully, mobile depositing is now widely offered by banks and credit unions, allowing you to put that refund from the cable company or birthday check from your uncle into your account without having to go to a branch.

How it works

Financial institutions that offer remote depositing generally do so through smartphone apps. Although the procedure can vary, in most cases you start by endorsing the back of the check, the same way you would if you were depositing it with a teller or at an ATM. The app prompts you to snap photos of both the front and back of the check and send them through the phone to your account provider.

If you have multiple accounts at the same institution, you'll need to select the one you want to receive the money. Most of the time, you'll be asked to enter the amount you're putting in. The app usually has software designed to read important information from the photos, such as account and routing numbers and the amount of the check. But having you punch in the dollar figure reduces the chance of a software error that accidentally moves $20 into your account when the check was for $200, for example.

Is it risky?

Ideally, the same privacy and security safeguards are in place whether you're conducting a transaction online with your computer or logging in with a mobile app. Depositing a check by phone is no different. Financial institutions are refining and improving online security practices all the time, and their customer service departments can answer questions if you're concerned.

You can decrease your risk of having your personal financial data stolen by changing your passwords frequently, using an authentication code on any mobile device you use to access your financial accounts, and avoiding using unsecured Wi-Fi networks at cafes, hotels and other public places.

What's the downside?

If the camera on your phone isn't of good quality, it may be hard to take a clear enough picture. To improve your chances, lay the check on a flat surface like a table, and make sure it's well-lit. Some apps require the image to include all four corners of the check, so make sure you're not cutting off part of it when you take the photo. To be safe, allow a small margin around it.

In many cases, there are restrictions placed on money deposited by mobile app. Some financial institutions limit the total dollar amount you can put in this way each month, or won't accept individual checks over a certain amount. Sometimes, these limits are lower if you're a new customer, and you're allowed greater freedom to deposit checks with the mobile app after you've had your account for a while.

Although paper checks are becoming less common, you may still receive them from time to time. Having the option to deposit them with your smartphone eliminates a lot of the associated inconvenience. This will only be more true as the technology improves.

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