When out and about, you can take care of a number of financial to-dos with your bank’s mobile app. But if cell coverage is spotty, or you simply want to check how much you have to spend — or if you don’t own a smartphone — there’s another way to manage your finances.
Text banking lets you access basic information via text message, like account balances or nearby ATMs. It’s generally free, except for what your cell phone provider charges per message, and is offered by most large banks and many smaller banks.
We’re not suggesting doing away with your mobile banking app, but text banking can serve a different, still useful function. Here’s more.
Text banking features
Let’s say you’re out to dinner with friends and want to make sure there’s enough money in your account before you offer to pay the bill. Or you tried to buy a sweater but your card was denied, and you want to quickly check your balance and transaction history. When you want simple answers fast, text banking gets you that information in seconds.
Services vary from institution to institution, but text banking generally allows you to:
- Check your account balances.
- Check your transaction history.
- Get the addresses of nearby ATMs and branches.
- Fetch the due date for your credit card bill.
Some banks allow you to transfer funds between accounts, which is great for quickly moving money to avoid an overdraft. Text banking can also include alerts sent to you by your bank if it suspects there’s been fraudulent activity on your account.
How text banking works
To sign up, go to your bank’s website or call its customer service line. Once you’re enrolled, you can text short commands to a designated number to get an automated response with information you request.
For example, text “BAL” to get a text within seconds with your account’s current balance. Text “HIST” to receive the last handful of transactions you’ve made. Text “ATM,” plus your ZIP code, and you’ll get a list of addresses of ATMs in the area. Again, be aware that standard text messaging rates apply, and that some commands, the ones asking for greater detail, might trigger multiple texts.
And don’t worry about memorizing all this shorthand. Most banks have a command like “MENU” that will send you a list of available commands. It shouldn’t interfere with your encyclopedic knowledge of emoji.
These commands are “pull” communications, which means you are initiating and extracting information from your bank. But text banking also include “push” communications, or texts initiated by your bank, such as fraud alerts or authentication codes when you want to, say, reset your personal identification number. To sign up for push alerts, contact your bank. With both, you can text “STOP” or some similar command to cease receiving messages.
Mobile banking vs. text banking
Again, if you own a smartphone, your mobile banking app can do everything that text banking allows, plus a great deal more. So why even consider using text banking?
For one, most text banking services limit you to receiving nonconfidential information — your account balance but not your account number, for instance. And because notifications come through the phone network and not over the internet, say through a public and unsecured Wi-Fi network, using text banking can be safer than a smartphone app.
Here’s more on how text banking and mobile banking stack up:
|Advantages of mobile banking||Advantages of text banking|
|• You can do more advanced tasks, like paying bills, depositing checks and budgeting.|
• You can get more precise ATM and branch locations using maps.
• You don't need to remember several commands.
|• You get faster access to basic account information.
• You have a better chance of getting the information you need when connection and/or coverage is spotty.
• Fewer security risks compared to mobile apps.
A word of caution
Like most banking services, or really almost any kind of digital communication, text banking has its share of scams.
Beware of text messages that say there’s a problem with your account or that your ATM card needs to be reactivated. Phishers use tricks like these to get consumers to reveal confidential information. Never give out information like account numbers, PINs or your Social Security number in response to an unsolicited text message. If you receive a suspicious text, report the incident to your bank and to FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.
You needn’t choose between text banking and a mobile banking app. Having both text banking and a mobile app available on your phone expands the banking services you can access on the go.
Amber Murakami-Fester is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. NerdWallet writer Spencer Tierney contributed to this article.
This article was updated on June 2, 2016. It was originally published May 28, 2015.