Bank Jargon 102

by Spencer Tierney 26. June 2014

Banking Terms

Do financial statements baffle you? Do your eyes glaze over when your banker seems to be speaking another language? Chances are you aren’t up to speed on the latest bank jargon. Once you decode these common bank terms, you’ll be in a better position to manage and grow your assets.

Available Balance

You may have noticed that deposited funds aren’t reflected immediately on an online bank statement or paper receipt. That discrepancy occurs because your available balance refers to the total account balance minus any uncollected funds or restrictions. Checks that still have to be cleared won’t show up. Additionally, if your account has any debits pending or other restrictions, your available balance will be less than the full amount deposited to the account.

Understanding an available balance is vital because it reflects the accurate amount of your usable cash. Always refer to this figure when writing checks or paying bills online to avoid overdrafts or bounced checks.

Credit Card Balance Transfer

A balance transfer allows you to move your outstanding balance from one credit card to another, usually to reduce the interest rate or enjoy a period of no interest at all. The promotional rate only applies for a fixed period and you may have to pay a balance transfer fee.

Balance transfers can help you pay off debt faster and with less expense.

Certified Check

When you make a major purchase, you may be asked to pay by certified check. A certified check is a check drawn from your account that’s guaranteed. Your bank will certify a check on your request, with a bank official’s signature. This signature guarantees that your signature is genuine, that you have sufficient funds in your account and that these funds have been earmarked to pay this check. Most banks charge a fee for a certified check. See the 1st Mariner Bank Schedule of Charges for details.

Understanding certified checks ensures that you’ll be able to make purchases that require them without unnecessary delay or complication.


When a borrower has insufficient credit, he or she may need a co-signer for credit approval. A co-signer promises to pay a loan or satisfy a financial obligation if the primary account holder defaults. A co-signer’s legal responsibilities may include the full amount of the debt as well as interest, late fees and collection costs.

If you don’t have good credit, finding a co-signer may help you borrow money and establish credit. If on the other hand, someone asks you to co-sign a loan or credit card, a clear understanding of what this obligation entails is essential.

Frozen Account

If your account is frozen, this means you won’t have access to that money until the bank unlocks it. Accounts may be frozen due to liens, court orders, legal processes or dispute over account ownership.

Knowing why accounts are frozen may help you avoid this experience. If your paychecks are directly deposited to an account that gets frozen, you’ll need to stop this direct deposit immediately for continued access to your pay.

Traditional Individual Retirement Account (IRA)

Traditional IRAs are retirement savings accounts that are tax-deductible up to certain specified limits. You can’t withdraw these funds without penalty until you reach age 59½. Once you withdraw money from your IRA, it becomes taxable income.

Investing in an IRA may significantly reduce what you owe in income tax today, while helping you save for retirement.

Loan-to-Value Ratio (LTV)

LTV is the ratio of the amount you’re borrowing to the actual value of your purchase. For example, if you need to borrow $450,000 to purchase a $500,000 home, your LTV would be 90%.

The lower your LTV, the more likely you’ll be able to negotiate good interest rates and loan terms.

Payable-on-Death (POD) Account

A POD account allows you to designate a beneficiary who’ll inherit this account after your death. During your lifetime your beneficiary has no access to your account.

Converting your bank accounts to POD status assures that your assets will automatically belong to your loved ones when you pass, with no danger of a probate delay.

Power of Attorney (POA)

A POA is a legal document that authorizes one person to act for another. It may be a general authorization or a specific one defining a time period, act or event.

If a loved one becomes too ill to manage finances, he/she may grant you power of attorney to make important decisions for him/her or make payments from his/her bank accounts. Even a healthy person may use a POA, such as the case when you’d want to grant your accountant power of attorney to obtain certain financial documents on your behalf to resolve a tax dispute.

Spencer Tierney is a staff writer for NerdWallet, where he covers all aspects of personal finance.

If you found this article useful, be sure to check out these related articles:

Bank Jargon 101

5 Ways to Reduce Your Credit Card Debt

Debt to Income Ratio: What It is and How It Helps (or Hurts) Your Chances of Getting a Loan

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