Online Business Banking: Making Sense of All the Services

by Elizabeth Sherman 2. June 2016

Are you still using paper checks to pay vendors? If so, you’re taking a big risk with your security.

Thieves who get hold of one of your checks can do more than just cash it and pocket the funds; they also have your account number and routing number. With that information in hand, they can easily print counterfeit checks in your name or make online purchases with your money.

If you’re not one of those people who look at your account balance every day, it could be a long time before you realize what’s happened. And your bank may or may not be able to get the money back.

Fortunately, there is a simple yet effective service called Positive Pay that can help business owners prevent such check fraud before it happens. Yet many businesses neglect using this service until it’s too late.

Here’s how Positive Pay works. Each day, you tell your bank which checks you’ve issued. As those checks are presented for payment, your bank reconciles the information you’ve entered and makes sure everything matches. If it does, the bank pays the check. If it doesn’t, an exception is created and the bank lets you know about it. You can then go online and determine whether or not you want to pay the check.

It takes just a few minutes a day and costs a fraction of what you might lose to fraud.

Positive Pay is just one way that the age of internet banking has made life easier and money safer for business owners. Yet for so many businesses, banking services exist that remain a mystery. Here’s a guide to some of the most common online business-banking options.

1. Information Reporting

The cornerstone to your online business banking, information reporting makes access to your account and its entire history from your computer and mobile devices easy. Anything related to your account is available: copies of checks, deposit tickets, what’s coming into your account tonight, any debits that are posting. 

With this (usually) free basic service, you can also manage your checks, transfer funds between your accounts, and check the status of any commercial loans you have through the bank.

2. Automated Clearing House (ACH)

This network for financial transactions makes electronically transferring funds between banks a breeze. With ACH, you can instruct the bank to pay a certain amount of money to a vendor, an insurance company, or your employees on a regular basis. You’ll be able to view these “standing orders” and then change or cancel them as needed.

Using ACH will save you time and make it easier to track funds transfers. It’s not for everyone, but most businesses who have employees, or who make a significant number of regular large payments should consider it.  

3. Bill Pay

For smaller onetime payments, look to Bill Pay services, which are usually free with basic online business banking. Using Bill Pay rather than cutting a physical check has several advantages. It’s quicker and almost fraud-proof, and you can set the day you want the bill to be paid. And don’t worry if the entity you’re paying doesn’t accept online payments. If they’re not in the network, your bank will cut them a check – you don’t need to do anything else.

4. Wire Transfer

The business world has operated at “real time” speed for some time now.  As such, you’re likely to find yourself needing to make real-time payments frequently. In these instances, Wire Transfer is your best bet. You can use it to set up a onetime payment or regular payments. And it provides the convenience of initiating transfers from your office rather than making a trip to the branch.

5. Remote Deposit

Depositing your checks at the closest branch probably sounds easy… until it isn’t. And think about this. It may take an hour to drive to a branch and then back to the office or to home. It takes 30 seconds to scan a check at your desk and another minute to deposit it remotely.

Talk It Over

The most important thing to remember when it comes to making the most of your online banking is to leverage the advice of your banker. I’ve noticed that many business owners may know the services available but may not understand them or think they are only for larger companies. While it can be said that certain services are better for some kinds of businesses more than others, the core business banking services will help businesses of any size. However, I’ve seen many businesses that pay for services they have little use for, while ignoring those they could benefit from.  The irony of making the most of your online business banking services is that it requires that occasional live conversation with a trusted advisor. For a conversation about what’s right for your business, let’s talk.

 

Best Ways to Finance a New Car

by Erica Starr 18. May 2016

So you've found your dream car, and now comes the hard part: paying for it. Most people don't have the means to pay cash for a new car.

Financing a car

That's why there are alternatives for financing. Here's a primer.

To buy or lease?

Leasing allows you to drive a nicer car without the hefty costs. You'll usually have lower monthly and down payments than with purchasing, as well as reduced repair costs since the average three-year lease expires before the vehicle's warranty does. You pay sales tax only on the portion of the car that you finance.

Here's the catch: You never really own the car. It's similar to renting a car for several years. At the end of the lease, you'll pay for wear and tear, as well as any miles that you drove over the limit, which is typically 12,000 to 15,000 a year. It can also be costly to terminate the lease early.

With a lease, you'll always have a payment. It's a great short-term option, especially if you like to buy and trade in cars regularly, but the costs add up over time. In contrast, when you buy, there will be — eventually and ideally — a period of several years when you aren't making a car payment.

If you tend to drive cars into the ground, buying is a better option financially. There is more flexibility in selling, you have no mileage charges, and you can save money in the long run.

There are advantages and drawbacks to both options, so consider your budget, lifestyle and driving needs before deciding.

Can you use a credit card?

Most dealers allow you to pay only a small portion of a car's price with a credit card. Dealers have to pay a credit card transaction fee, generally 1% to 3% of whatever was charged on the card. Since dealers typically have a profit margin of only a little over 2%, they aren't interested in sacrificing it to a card company.

So should you put at least part on a card? It depends. If you can get a 0% interest card and you'll be able to pay it down during that introductory term period, it may be worthwhile. Otherwise, it's probably best to stick with a traditional loan.

What other financing options exist?

Don't confine your financing search to just the dealership. Your local financial institution is more likely to offer lower rates, which means less interest paid over the life of the loan.

With financing in hand, you can focus solely on getting the best deal and turning your dream car into your real ride. 

 

Related Posts:

What You Need to Know Before Buying Your First Car

The Ultimate Decision: Buy or Lease

The 5 Must-Haves For Selecting a Commercial Banking Partner

by Eric Johnson 21. April 2016

There’s much at stake when it comes to choosing a good bank for your business. More than just a payment processor and cash depository, an excellent bank is a business partner. Your banker should be a key advisor on everything from setting up bookkeeping to deciding whether to open up more locations; a “seal of approval” to potential customers and vendors; and even a gateway, opening doors to your community’s business circle and providing key introductions.            
     
That’s why we’ve put together these five tips you can use to find a bank that best fits your business.

1. Know Your Needs

Start with the basics: Identify what kind of checking and savings accounts you’ll need. Consider the number of transactions you’ll make per month and the lowest amounts you’ll keep in those accounts. If you plan on doing online business, do you want a separate merchant account for that? The types of business accounts banks offer – and how much they charge – vary widely.

Also consider if you’re going to need loans, whether you need local branches (do you have to make cash drop-offs?), and if you have online/mobile banking needs.             

2. Consider the Relationship

Whatever size your business is today, you’ll likely need advice and face-to-face interactions from your bankers as you grow.

If your bank is truly a partner, then you’ll want a partner who knows you. So ask some questions: Where are lending decisions being made, and by whom? Will you have an opportunity to meet with the person making the decision, or will decisions be made by a central authority in another city?

Can you speak with your banker when you need to, or will your questions by some call center? It’s easy for a bank to be there for you when business is good, but who will be there if things go cold for a while and you need advice about, say, smart ways to cut costs? Will your banker return your call? Will he or she know how to help you?

3. Consider Your Options       

Generally, you have four options: big banks, local banks, Internet banks, and credit unions. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.

National banks have lots of locations solid online services. However, they’re often disconnected from the communities they serve, won’t always make time for small or even mid-sized customers, and can be tight with their lending practices, especially during economic downturns.

Credit unions, on the other hand, are deeply connected to their communities and, because they are nonprofit, usually offer lower fees. However, they cannot always lend to small businesses and sometimes lack robust online features and mobile services.

Community banks account for 50 percent of all small-business lending, even though they control just 18% of all U.S. bank assests. That's becuase they gnerally offer the best and most face-to-face interaction, and they generally work hard to cultivate relationships with local businesses. Ineed, they can sometimes be your connection to local customers and vendors.       

4. Talk to Everyone                                          

Talk to your business peers and personal bank to get an idea of which business banks offer the best services and have the best reputations. If you can, get referrals to the banks at the top of your list. Referred customers are usually worth more and are more dependable. So they may be more likely to offer you better service and lower loan rates.

When you make on-site visits, look at the banker, not the bank. This is who you'll be working with. Again, you want a business partner, not a salesperson. Go in with a list of questions – and be ready to answer the banker’s questions. Consider this a two-way interview. Your relationship with your bank is a longtime collaboration, not a one-time transaction.

A great banker will introduce you to prospective clients and vendors; help you set up your accounts payable and receivable operations; and perhaps one day aid in your search for a controller or CFO. Can you see the person sitting across from you doing all that?

5. Reevaluate Regularly

Once you've chosen a bank, start building a relationship immediately. A solid collaboration leads to more likely loans at more favorable terms. It also leads to those critical ties to the local business community.

But don’t get too comfortable with your bank. As your business grows, a different bank may serve you better, so make a point to review at least annually whether your current bank continues to serve all of your needs.

When you do that review, ask yourself: When was the last conversation with my bank? What was it about, and who initiated it? When I call my bank with a question, do they call me back? How quickly? Do I actually like my banker?

According to a 2013 poll by Gallup, 32% of businesses were "actively antagonistic toward their bank. You don’t want to find yourself there.

A great bank is a rare and precious resource. So take time and effort to make this important choice. And to set up a conversation with one of our Commercial Relationship Managers, just reach out



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