Bank accounts help us manage our day-to-day finances, but if you don’t know how they work or don’t use the services they offer you may be overpaying. Don’t pay for services you don’t need or use on your bank account.

You can make sure you’ve got the right bank account for you by asking your bank the questions below. They’ll help you identify what services your bank offers and how and where you can use the services you need and where you can save on charges.

What is my fee and what does it cover?
Your bank is providing you a service so they will charge a service fee. Some banks have a fixed monthly fee of say R60 a month, some will charge a fee based on the number of times you transact. Ask what the fee is and what it covers. A monthly fee may cover the basic service of having a bank account and a certain number of transactions. If you transact more you could pay more. So ask your bank to be specific about what’s included in the monthly charge and how much extra you pay for extra services and transactions.

How can I pay lower charges?
Don’t be uncomfortable to ask this question. There are a lot of banks out there and they want your business. So you can ask them how you can negotiate a better fee.

Where can I transact?
Your bank may have branches where you can walk in and be helped by a teller, you may choose to use the ATMs or the bank’s app, or you may choose to do your banking at the place where you shop. Did you know that banks offer different services at each of these places and can charge different rates for these transactions? Ask your bank where you can do your banking and what the costs are at each place.

What do I pay to transact at different places?
This is really important if you want to keep your bank charges low. Find out where it is cheapest to transact. It might be more convenient to use an ATM, but also more expensive than walking into a branch. Some banks offer low transaction fees at certain shops, for some banks it is cheaper to transact on internet banking or an app. Check the charges of each of these options. Then plan your banking so that you use the cheapest option.

How does your app work and how much data does it use?
Apps are great – they allow us to send and receive money at any place and any time of day on our phones. It’s like having a mini-bank in your pocket or handbag. But we have to pay the data costs. Ask your bank how much data their app usually uses for each transaction, how long transactions take and how to use the app if you need some assistance.

Do you have internet banking I can use in your branch or a safe place?
Internet banking should be cheaper and is very convenient, but we don’t all have access to a tablet or computer to use internet banking. Some banks have internet banking stations in their branches that you can use which might save you time. Ask your bank where these are and how safe they are.

Are payments and deposits immediately available?
Payments may be immediately available when transactions are between the same bank, but in most cases you pay a fee for an immediate deposit or payment and it can be expensive. If there’s an emergency you may not have an option, but if you can, try to avoid paying these fees.

Where can I deposit cash and how much do you charge?
Do you know how much you pay to deposit cash into your account? It can be quite expensive! Usually it is an amount per R1 000 deposited, such as R10 for every R1 000. Ask your bank where and when you can deposit cash and how much each option costs.

What happens if there is an unauthorised debit order on my account?
Unfortunately some crooks submit debit orders to bank accounts without getting permission from the account holder. South African banks are starting to move to a system called Debicheck that will check with the bank account holder before any new debit order goes off. In the meantime check your bank account regularly and ask your bank how quickly an unauthorised debit order can be reversed, what you need to do to reverse it and avoid charges.

What happens if a debit order bounces?
If it happens that a debit order is submitted and you don’t have enough money in the account for the debit order, what will your bank do? Will they let a debit order go through and ask you for funds or bounce the debit order? When will they tell you that a debit order has bounced? Will this affect your credit record? Banks can charge a substantial amount for a bounced debit order and overdrawn bank account. You can ask the company submitting the debit order a few days before the debit order date to stop it before it bounces so you can avoid the bank charges.

What do I do if my bank account is hacked or my card stolen?
Ask your bank what you should do if there are unauthorised transactions on your account. Banks should have a fraud hotline you can call if you have a problem. Ideally you want it open 24 hours a day.

What is your cut-off time for transactions?
Did you know that although you can bank 24 hours a day on your app, not all transactions take place 24 hours a day? For example, most banks have cut off times for deposits to reflect the next day. So a 7pm cut-off time for deposits would mean a deposit made at 7:30pm would not reflect the next day, but only in two days’ time. There may be a delay if you deposit on the weekend, so ask your bank when that will reflect in your account.

How do I keep my password and login details safe?
Cybercrime in bank accounts is on the increase. So ask your bank what their tips are for using apps and internet banking so you avoid crime, and how to use free Wi-Fi safely.

Can I put my own limits on withdrawal amounts?
You can stop criminals drawing large amounts from your bank account by setting daily and monthly withdrawal limits. Some banks will allow you to put your own limit on withdrawing funds. Other banks set a general limit that applies to all account holders. Make sure your limit is right for you.

Getting the best from your bank
Getting to know all about your bank account can have real benefits. Once you’ve asked and answered these questions, you will be empowered to get the very best out of services your bank offers, and at the lowest rate.