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Banking

Managing your bank accounts

Putting your money into a bank account doesn’t mean you can forget about it. It’s your money so you should make sure it is being looked after in the way you want.

There are lots of different bank accounts so make sure the one you have is right for you. If it’s not, think about switching. You could save money in fees and charges.

Online and mobile phone banking

Banking online or from your mobile phone or tablet is a convenient way to access your bank account if you want to pay bills, check your account balance or transfer funds. Here are some things you should consider before using this service.

Compare BPAY fees

Many stores and businesses allow you to make payments online through your bank. This is called BPAY. Banks may charge you a fee for each bill you pay using BPAY. Find out from your bank how much this is per bill, and then compare it with other bank accounts to make sure you get the best deal. You can’t get a chargeback if you made a BPAY payment using a credit card. A chargeback is when a transaction can be reversed in some cases where the merchant or shop does not provide you with the goods you paid for.

Check the BSB

If you transfer money to other people or companies through online or mobile banking, you should double check that the BSB number (which stands for Bank State Branch) and account numbers are correct. To check the BSB you can use the Australian Payments Clearing Association’s Search BSB tool.

Only use secure networks

To prevent fraud and identity theft when using online or mobile banking, never use public computers or free wireless hotspots. When you access your bank accounts make sure you completely log out. Always check your credit card and bank statements for unauthorised transactions.

Secure your phone

Some mobile banking services offer to text you account updates. If your phone is lost or stolen someone can easily access your account information by reading your messages.

You can secure your phone by:

  • Treating it like a wallet and keeping it with you at all times
  • Using a PIN or password to lock it
  • Deleting account updates as soon as you receive them
  • Not saving passwords on your phone

Any message you receive from a bank that asks you to click on a link is most likely a scam. Always type in your bank’s website yourself rather than following links.

Government guarantee on deposits

The Australian Government has guaranteed deposits of up to $250,000 in Authorised Deposit-taking Institutions (ADIs) such as your bank, building society or credit union. This means that this money is guaranteed if anything happens to the ADI.

The cap applies per person and per ADI. So if you have $250,000 with one ADI and $250,000 with another, then both of your deposits are guaranteed. If you have more than $250,000 with one ADI then only up to $250,000 is guaranteed.

In the case of joint accounts, each account holder is entitled to an individual guarantee up to $250,000 after each account-holder’s share of the joint account is added to other deposits held in their name.

The guarantee applies to all ADIs incorporated in Australia, including Australian-owned banks, foreign subsidiary banks, building societies and credit unions.  To check which banks are covered by the guarantee see the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority’s list of ADIs.

The types of accounts covered by the guarantee are: savings accounts; call accounts; term deposits; current accounts; cheque accounts; debit card accounts; transaction accounts; personal basic accounts; cash management accounts; farm management deposits; pensioner deeming accounts; mortgage offset accounts, either 100 per cent or partial offset that are separate deposit accounts; trustee accounts; retirement savings accounts; and first home saver accounts that are deposit accounts.

For more details see APRA’s FAQ: Authorised Deposit-taking Financial Claims Scheme.

If you see this seal on letters or brochures relating to your account, you’ll know that your account is covered by the guarantee.

This is an example only – you may see it in other colours. Your financial institution does not have to use or display the seal. If it chooses not to display it, that doesn’t mean your account is not guaranteed.

See the ASIC website for the rules on how the seal can be used.

If you are not sure whether your account is guaranteed, ask your financial institution.

What you can expect from banks

The Code of Banking Practice and the Mutual Banking Code of Practice set out the standards you can expect when dealing with a bank, credit union and building society, including rules about:

  • Fees and charges and other terms and conditions
  • Privacy and confidentiality
  • Account statements
  • Direct debits
  • Chargebacks on credit cards
  • Debt collection
  • Complaints handling
  • Lost or stolen cards

For more information about these codes and to download copies, visit the codes of practice webpage on the ASIC website.

Make a complaint about your bank

If you are having problems with your bank we suggest you contact the ADF Financial Services Consumer Centre first.  We can then provide you with any assistance and guidance on how to complain.

If you have entered into a bank account contract after 1 July 2010 and it is found to be unfair, the Australian Consumer Law protects you. To find out more see ASIC’s webpage on the Australian consumer law – unfair contract terms.

Transaction accounts

Your everyday account

Just about everyone has an account with a bank, credit union or building society to receive pay or basic benefits, take out cash and pay bills. Banks call these savings accounts but they are really ‘spending’ or transaction accounts because you pay different fees depending on how and when you take out your money.

The trick is to find a transaction account that costs you less in fees and suits your everyday spending habits. Here are some things to think about when choosing a transaction account.

Compare fees and charges

Different accounts charge different fees. Your bank may charge you:

  • Monthly account keeping fees
  • Automatic Teller Machines fees (for your bank’s ATMs and even more for using another bank’s ATMs)
  • Phone banking fees
  • EFTPOS fees
  • Internet banking fees
  • Branch fees

Think about how you like to access your money and then find the account that offers the lowest fees for your preferred method. For example, if you like to withdraw small amounts of money from an ATM, you need an account that has very low or no ATM fees.

You can easily compare hundreds of transaction accounts and their features at RateCity.

Read our case study on transaction accounts where twin sisters Genevieve and Caitlin have very different ways of using their transaction accounts.

Smart Tip

Only keep the money you need to cover your everyday costs in your transaction account. Put the rest of your money in a savings account and watch your savings grow with the extra interest.

Interest charged on overdraft

Check the fees charged if you withdraw more money than is in your transaction account. This is called going into overdraft. You could be charged a set fee for each transaction you make when you go into overdraft, or you could be charged interest on the amount that goes into overdraft. Sometimes, both penalties may apply.

Banks usually charge higher fees and interest rates for overdrafts than for personal loans. It is important to keep up to date with your account balance to make sure you have enough money for bills and for automatic payments like direct debits.

Use a debit card instead of a credit card

You may have seen advertisements for debit cards that are offered through your bank account. These cards let you pay for things over the phone or on the internet with your own money. Previously, you could only pay this way with a credit card which can be much more expensive.

Visit RateCity to compare different debit cards and their transaction fees and charges.

Keep your bank account safe

Never tell your PIN or account code to anyone, including a friend or family member. Don’t record it on your card or with something you keep with your card. If you do either of these and there is an unauthorised transaction on your account you won’t have any right to get your money back.  Most unauthorised transactions happen because a person gave someone else their PIN or code. For more information see unauthorised transactions on your bank account.

It is also not a good idea to use your birth date or a recognisable part of your name as your PIN, because this makes it easy for others to guess.

Check your transaction account statement every month to make sure your bank is charging you correctly and that there are no unauthorised fees or transactions. If there is a transaction that you did not make, contact your bank, credit union or building society immediately.

Banks regularly offer new accounts with more competitive features. You should look closely at the fees and features of these new accounts and consider switching bank accounts if you find an account that’s better suited to your needs.

Case study transaction accounts

Genevieve and Caitlin’s banking habits

Genevieve and Caitlin are identical twins. They look alike but they have very different ways of dealing with their money.

Genevieve likes to keep her money in the bank, rather than her wallet. She only ever withdraws $20 at a time from the ATM. She feels if she carried more money around, she would be tempted to spend it on things she didn’t really need.

Genevieve has found an account that is perfect for the way she likes to transact. Her bank doesn’t charge anything for using its ATMs and this suits her perfectly.

On the other hand, Caitlin hardly ever uses ATMs. She likes to withdraw her money using EFTPOS. Her transaction account does not charge her for any EFTPOS transactions and she knows this saves her money.

Different accounts suit them because of the different ways they like to take out their money from the bank.

Savings accounts

Growing your savings faster

Savings accounts are specifically designed to help your savings grow faster. They offer a higher interest rate than basic transaction accounts. Some also make it harder for you to access your money so you are not as tempted to dip in. With more money saved, you will be able to take that dream holiday or save the deposit for your first home sooner.

Here is some information on how savings accounts differ from other accounts and how to choose the right one for you.

How savings accounts are different

Savings accounts offer a higher interest rate and can help you save by giving you less access to your money.

Most people choose an online savings account, which are convenient because you can easily transfer money from your transaction account into the savings account. Online savings accounts encourage you to leave your money alone so it can grow through compound interest. Some savings accounts even reward you with higher interest if you make regular deposits into the account. You can search and compare savings accounts at RateCity.

If you are saving for a home, consider getting a first home saver account.

Compound interest

Compound interest is like double chocolate topping for your savings. You earn interest on the money you deposit, and on the interest you earn – so you earn interest on interest. The more money in the account, the more interest you earn.

How $20 a week can turn into $48,000

If you deposit $20 a week into a high interest online savings account, earning 6% interest, from the day your child is born, in 21 years they will have over $43,000. Don’t you wish your parents had done that for you!There are also savings accounts specifically for children that reward your child for making regular deposits.

However, it is important to understand how income earned in these accounts is treated for tax purposes. Check with the Australian Taxation Office to see how these accounts are taxed. Setting up one of these accounts with your child can give you the chance to talk to them about the value of saving.

How to find an account that’s right for you

To decide which savings account is best for you, compare these features:

  • The interest rate, how regularly you receive the interest and how long any honeymoon or introductory interest rate applies
  • Minimum and maximum account balances
  • Account keeping fees
  • What interest you lose if you withdraw money and what rewards you get if you deposit money regularly
  • Whether a linked account is required

You should also check whether the account is offered by an Authorised Deposit-taking Institution (ADI). ADIs are regulated by Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) so your money is safer with them. Check whether the institution offering the account is on APRA’s list of Authorised Deposit-taking Institutions.

Remember, online savings accounts may give you less access to your money than ordinary transaction accounts.

If you’re a low income earner you might qualify for a savings program, offered by some charitable organisations.

Paying tax on your savings

Remember that any interest you receive from your savings account must be declared in your tax return. For more information, see the Australian Taxation Office website.

If you are serious about trying to save, open a savings account. You can take advantage of their higher interest rates to help reach your savings goals sooner.

First home saver accounts

Help you save for your first home.

If you are saving for your first home, a first home saver account is a good way to help you reach your goal. The government will contribute an extra amount that is a percentage of your savings each year.

These accounts have a few rules so it’s important to make sure they are right for you.

What are first home saver accounts?

Unlike other savings accounts, a first home saver account can only be used when you are saving to buy or build your first home.

The government will make a 17% contribution on the first $5,500 you deposit each year. This means that if you deposit $5,500 in one financial year, you will receive $935 from the government.

Some of the main features of these accounts are:

  • The interest you earn on the account is only taxed at a rate of 15%.
  • You have to save at least $1,000 each year over at least 4 financial years before you can withdraw the money. These 4 years do not need to be consecutive.
  • The maximum account balance is capped at $85,000 but this cap will be indexed in future years. After your savings reach this level, only interest and earnings can be added to the balance.
  • The money has to be used for your first home. If it is not, it is added to your super and you can’t access it until you are retired or can meet another condition of release, such as death or permanent disablement.
  • If you buy your first home before the 4 year period is up, you can withdraw the money in your account at the end of the 4 year period to put towards your mortgage. You will not be able to make any more deposits once you have built or bought a property.

First home saver accounts are available from:

  • banks
  • building societies
  • credit unions
  • friendly societies
  • life insurance companies
  • super funds

To get an account all you need to do is contact one of these providers. Make sure you read their product disclosure statement before you sign up.

Are first home saver accounts right for you? First home saver accounts earn high interest and you get a government bonus to put towards your deposit. Make sure you think hard about your future needs before opening a first home saver account. If, for example, you decide in 3 years that you’d rather move overseas or put the money into a new business, you won’t be able to immediately withdraw the money from your account. The money will be transferred to your super and you won’t be able to access it until you are retired or can meet another condition of release, such as death or permanent disablement.

Consider all your savings options. You may prefer opening a different kind of savings account that is more flexible than a first home saver account.

Saving with your partner

First home saver accounts can only be opened by an individual, so if you are saving with a partner you should each open an account. You will only have to wait until one of you reaches the 4-year savings mark to withdraw from both accounts, provided your house is bought in both your names. If you both have accounts, you will also both be eligible for the government contributions.

You may use your first home saver account to buy a property with a partner who has previously owned a home as long as you are a registered owner and this is your first home.

Case study: Alex and Tony have found their dream home

Alex and Tony each have their own first home saver account. Alex has been saving at least $1,000 each year for 5 years while Tony has only had his for 2 years. But because Alex’s account has been open for 5 years, they satisfy the 4-year rule. They can combine their savings to buy their home.

The risks of only having one account

Opening one first home saver account with someone can be risky. Think about what will happen if the relationship ends and you decide not to buy a house together. If the account is in your name, how will you repay the money they have saved? If the account is in their name, how will you get your money back?

First home saver accounts can be a really good way to maximise your savings for your first home. Make sure you understand all the rules of these accounts to decide if they are right for you.

Joint accounts

One account, two names

Opening a joint account with your partner is a huge commitment and one of the biggest decisions you will make in your relationship. Only do it if you completely trust them to responsibly access the money, in good times and in bad.

Here are some tips to work out whether a joint account is right for you.

Risks of joint accounts

It’s not a good idea to open a joint account with someone you have just met as you are giving them access to your money. Joint accounts are only suitable for people who trust each other deeply, like a family member or your long-term partner.

Be very wary of anyone pressuring you to open a joint account. People do have money troubles and may see you as a way to help solve their financial problems.

If you open a joint account which offers credit, and one account holder racks up a large amount of debt they can’t pay back, you both risk having a bad entry on your credit report. You are also legally responsible for paying off the debt.

Case study: Costa’s girlfriend takes him for a ride

Costa works interstate a lot. He decided to open a joint account with his girlfriend, Jenny. The joint account meant he wouldn’t have to worry about paying his bills when he was away as she would arrange it for him.

A few weeks later, Costa checked his account to make sure his boss had paid him that week. He was shocked to find there was no money in the account. Costa tried to contact Jenny but she would not return his calls. He rang his bank and found she had withdrawn all his money. She could do this as it was a joint account that did not need his permission for withdrawals.

After this bad experience, Costa got a separate bank account and decided to set up direct debits for his bills. It would be a long time before he trusted anyone with his money again.

Benefits of joint accounts

People often open a joint account because they pay fewer fees with one account than two. It can also make joint payments like mortgage, rent and other bills easier to manage.

Joint accounts work well for people who spend money in a similar way. Both people should agree how and when they will deposit and withdraw money, to meet the same goals.

If you are thinking about opening a joint account, ask yourself:

  • Do I trust the other person completely even if times get tough?
  • Do we communicate well about money matters?
  • Do we have similar goals for our money and similar spending habits?
  • What is our objective in opening a joint account? Is there a better way to achieve this objective?

A shared account for shared bills

One way to make things more convenient for you and your partner would be to keep your money in separate accounts but open one shared account for your shared bills. Discuss with your partner what bills you will pay with your shared account and how much you each will contribute.

Types of joint accounts

There are two types of joint accounts.

Both to sign

This type of account only allows transactions to be made when both parties sign. For example, if you don’t agree that your partner should spend money from the account on a new motorbike, they wouldn’t be able to access the money without your agreement. If you are worried about security, this may be a good option for you.

Either to sign

This account allows both parties to transact independently of each other. This is a less secure option because one person can withdraw and use the money without the approval or knowledge of the other.

Case study: Missy’s ex-husband empties their bank account

Missy was married for 5 years before she and her husband decided to separate. They had over $10,000 in a joint account that they used to pay bills and save for their children’s education. A couple of weeks after the separation, Missy’s card was declined in the supermarket. There was no money left in the account and she couldn’t pay for her groceries.

Missy rang her bank to complain only to find out that her husband had emptied the joint account. Their account allowed either to sign, so her husband hadn’t done anything illegal by emptying the account. Missy talked to a lawyer who told her she would have to fight to get her money back, which could take years.

Additional credit cards on your account

Your credit card provider may offer you the option of having additional cards for family members. These are not strictly joint accounts and the primary credit card holder is usually solely liable for the debt. For more information see credit cards.

Think very carefully before opening a joint account. Communicate openly with the other person to make sure you both have the same financial goals. Don’t be pressured into opening a joint account as you could lose your money.

Direct debits

Automatic bill payments

Direct debits can help you organise your finances. Make sure you understand how they work and what to do if you want to cancel them.

How direct debits work

When you set up a direct debit, you are allowing a service provider, such as your private health insurer or your gym, to automatically withdraw money from your account at set times to pay your bills or make your loan repayments.

Direct debits or automatic payments can be a good way to manage your money. For example, Kitty set up a direct debit to pay her health care. She organised for the money to come out of her account the day after her payday. This meant she always knew she had enough money to pay the bill.

How to use direct debits

You can fix your direct debit at a certain amount, say $70 every period, or opt for a variable amount, where the merchant will deduct the exact amount of each bill. You can also choose if the direct debits come out at regular intervals or set dates. If you choose a variable payment make sure you always check your bill before the amount is deducted so you know how much is being taken out.

It’s a good idea to set a fixed amount if possible and a fixed date for your direct debits. Set it up for the day after your payday. This will mean you will always know exactly how much money is coming out and you will definitely have enough money in your account to cover the bill.

What could go wrong?

Before you set up a direct debit, make sure you trust the service provider. After all, you are allowing them to take money from your account. Even though it can be dull, read the service provider’s terms and conditions – it can save you pain and money in the long run.

Before agreeing to a direct debit ask yourself:

  • Do you trust the service provider you are dealing with? Be especially wary if you feel like you are being pressured into setting up a direct debit.
  • Do you know how to cancel the direct debit if you decide you don’t need it anymore?

Check your account and bills

Mistakes can happen so check each bill to make sure you aren’t wrongly charged for anything.

If you don’t have enough money in your account to cover the direct debit, you may end up being charged a dishonour or overdraft fee by both your financial institution and the merchant.

smart tip

Monitor your account so you know when money will be debited and how much you need to keep in your account to cover your bills.

How to cancel your direct debit

If you decide to cancel your direct debit, you should notify your financial institution in writing. Note in the letter what date you would like your direct debits to be cancelled and ask for a letter from your financial institution confirming your request.

Once your financial institution has received your instruction letter, it is obliged to make sure no more payments are debited from your account. They must also forward your instruction to cancel the direct debit to the service provider’s financial institution. It’s a good idea to also personally notify your service provider’s merchant in writing and keep a copy of the letter. You can use the template letters below.

If your financial institution does not cancel your direct debit and the service provider debits your account after you have requested it to be cancelled, your financial institution can’t charge you overdraft fees to cover the debit. If you are wrongly charged, you should make a complaint and your financial institution should reimburse your account.

If you need guidance in how to make a complaint to your financial institution, you may contact the ADF Financial Services Consumer Centre.

Cancelling a direct debit that is linked to a credit card

There are different requirements for cancelling a direct debit that is linked to a credit card. When cancelling these types of direct debits, you need to write a letter to both your financial institution and the merchant, to stop the direct debits.

Sample letters

Use sample letters prepared by ASIC to help you cancel your direct debit:

Sample letter to merchant to cancel direct debit

Sample letter to bank to cancel direct debit

Make sure you keep a copy of the letters for your records.

Dealing with problems

If you spot an incorrect charge or an unauthorised direct debit from your account, you should contact your financial institution as soon as you can. If you are unhappy with your their response, you can complain.

If you need guidance in how to make a complaint to your financial institution, you may contact the ADF Financial Services Consumer Centre.

If you are thinking of using direct debits, set them up in a way that fits your budget and set it up so the money is withdrawn on the day after payday. This will reduce the risk of not having the money needed in your account. Monitor your bills and accounts regularly to make sure the right amount is being debited.

Switching bank accounts

Making the switch

There’s no reason for you to stick with your bank account if you’re unhappy. Here we explain how switching is a simple three step process from 1 July 2012.

Find another transaction account

Look for an account that has lower fees, easier access, better service or a higher interest rate than the account you currently have.

If all your accounts are with one bank, check if you are getting their special package rate. If you switch one of your accounts you may lose this rate.

Before you open a new account, read the terms and conditions so you are aware of all the fees and charges. The last thing you want is to open a new account with higher fees than your current one.

Transfer your direct debits and credits

Once you choose a new account you have two options if you switch after 1 July 2012. Ask your new bank to help you switch or do it yourself.

Ask your new bank to help

If you ask your new bank to help you switch they will contact your old bank to get a 13-month list of:

  • Direct debits (like gym membership or regular utility payments)
  • Direct credits (like your salary)

Your new bank will give you the 13-month list so you can decide which regular direct debits or credits you would like to move across to your new account. You can ask your new bank for help with this process.

You can also authorise your new bank to give all of the relevant payees your new account details.

Remember that the 13-month list will not include:

  • ‘Pay anyone’ payments (like ‘fortnightly baby sitter’ or ‘monthly gardener’ payments)
  • BPAY payments
  • Recurring payments where you have supplied your debit card number

You will need to sort these out yourself and your new bank can show you how.

Do it yourself

If you want to make the switch yourself you should request a 13-month list of direct debits and credits from your old bank and take it to your new bank.

Ask your new bank to inform your relevant payees (i.e. direct debit payees and credit organisations) of your new account details.

Make sure you take across to your new account all the payments you have coming out of your old account, including:

  • Payments for insurance policies, electricity bills and health insurance
  • Payments for personal loans or store credit cards
  • Annual subscriptions or membership fees such as gym memberships and childcare fees
  • Regular charity payments
You should also give your new account details to your employer, Centrelink and anyone else who pays you money.

Smart tip

Leave some money in the old account to cover any payments you may have forgotten. If you miss a payment you could be charged penalty fees.

Close your old account

You can close your old account once you have:

  • Transferred your direct debits and credits
  • Printed out your ‘pay anyone’ list and BPAY payments from your old online banking account
  • Notified all your merchants of your new debit card number or account number

It’s important that you eventually close your old account because even if it is empty you may still get charged account keeping fees.

Ring your bank and find out what you need to do to close your account. They normally require you to go to the branch in person.

Switching bank accounts is easy so don’t feel like you have to stay with the bank you’ve always been with. There are plenty of accounts to choose from that may better suit your needs.

Different Ways to Pay

Save money by paying differently

Normally we don’t think much about the way we pay for things. But did you know that if you pay by EFTPOS or cheque, you could be charged a transaction fee? These fees can add up over time and make a dent in your savings.

Next time you buy those new books, shoes or CDs, consider your payment options to reduce your fees and charges.

Paying by cash

Cash is usually the cheapest way to pay because you know exactly how much you have to hand over. With other ways of paying, you don’t know the real cost until you get your statement from your bank.

However, accessing cash can be expensive. Your bank may charge a withdrawal fee at their branches or ATMs, and it can be even more expensive if you use another bank’s ATM. Find out how many withdrawals you can make before you are charged a fee and how much the withdrawal fee is.

Paying by EFTPOS

Some banks charge you each time you make an EFTPOS transaction and this can add up to quite a lot over a year.

For example, Maria goes shopping twice a week and pays for her groceries, fruit and meat with EFTPOS. Her fees add up to $3 a week – more than $150 a year. And that’s just for groceries. Her fees will increase each time she uses EFTPOS to pay.

If you like the convenience of paying with EFTPOS, check that your transaction account is right for you. Some banks don’t charge anything for paying by EFTPOS and others may include it in the monthly account keeping fee, or provide you with a set number of free transactions per month. For more information see transaction accounts.

Find out more about contactless cards that you just wave or tap to purchase an item.

Smart Tip

Ask for ‘cash out’ when using EFTPOS. That way you only pay one fee for two transactions.

Paying online

Many businesses allow you to make payments online through your bank like ‘Pay anyone’ or BPAY. Find out more about online and mobile phone banking and shopping online.

Paying by cheque

Depending on what the type of account you have, most banks will charge you for having a cheque account and paying by a cheque. If you write a cheque for an amount that is greater than what is in your bank account it is likely your bank will charge you a dishonour fee.

Make sure you understand all the charges you could incur and keep a close eye on your account to make sure you always have sufficient funds.

Smart Tip

When you write a cheque, cross out the words  ‘or bearer’ so the cheque can’t be cashed if it is stolen.

Paying by credit

This can be the most expensive way to pay for things because of high fees and interest rates.

Find out more about contactless cards that you just wave or tap to purchase an item.

Paying by lay-by

In some shops you may be able to lay-by your purchases. This is where you pay off an item over a certain period of time. The shop keeps the item until you’ve paid if off completely.

This is a good way to pay if you can’t afford the item right away because shops don’t charge you any interest (although there may be some fees and often a deposit is required). Make sure you know what happens if you make some payments but decide you don’t want to pay the rest off. You’ll need to find out if you will get your money back.

For more information about the lay-by laws in your state or territory, contact your fair trading organisation:

Gift cards

A gift card is a card loaded with an amount of cash. Find out more about gift cards.

Next time you pay for something, think how much you are actually being charged. If you like paying for things by EFTPOS or withdrawing money from an ATM in small amounts, make sure your account is giving you the best deal for making these transactions.

Online shopping

Stay safe

Whether we are doing the weekly food shop, booking holidays or buying that special gift, more and more of us are turning to the internet to buy goods.

Here are a few simple tips to help you stay safe when you shop online:

Check website and computer security

Smart Tip

Stay away from online stores that do not offer secure transactions. Look for an ‘s’ in the URL after the http to indicate it’s secure (https://www.).

Paying with a credit card can also offer you an extra level of protection, including the right to a ‘charge back’ if you fall victim to fraud. Talk to your financial institution if this happens to you.

Make sure your computer is secure by keeping your operating system and browsers current and use a good, up-to-date security or antivirus program.

Smart Tip

A secure payment site should have a picture of a closed padlock somewhere on the page. An open padlock means a webpage is not secure.

Check on the business and the product

Buy only from websites that you know and trust. If you have not dealt with the business before do an online search to check recommendations and feedback from other customers.

Check that the company has a physical address and phone number. You can check their details an online phone book. If the company operates from overseas, you might have trouble getting a refund or exchange.
An email address is also useful to know so you can contact them if things go wrong.

Products that are commonly ‘sold’ online as scams are smartphones and tablets, pets, pedigree dogs, horses and saddles, motorbikes, cars and boats. Be particularly careful when buying these items online.

Read the fine print

Read the terms and conditions of your purchase before you buy.

Closely check for:

  • warranty, refund and cancellation policies
  • expected delivery dates
  • the full cost of your purchase including shipping and handling, currency conversion and taxes

If the full cost is expensive then it may be cheaper for you to buy the product locally. And if a product looks very cheap be suspicious. Scammers will give cheaper prices than other sites to attract victims. Check the price against other websites.

Pay safely and keep records of your purchase

Keep a copy of any forms, emails, documents or webpages you have filled in, read or received. They are a record of the sale and will be useful if something goes wrong. If something does go wrong you may be entitled to a chargeback (information on ASIC’s Smart Money website). This means a transaction can be reversed in some cases where the merchant or shop does not provide you with the goods you paid for.

Don’t pay for the goods outside the website’s official payment system. Scammers will ask you to pay up-front via money order or international wire transfer. They will also send you to fake payment website so always check the URL.

Check your bank statements

Check your credit card statement every month to make sure your purchases are correct and there are no charges for things you didn’t buy.

Contact your card provider or bank as soon as you notice anything unusual. See more information about unauthorised transactions on your account.

Protect your privacy

Don’t give out your personal information unless you know why it is required and how it will be used. This information will be on the website’s privacy page. If this information is not provided, don’t buy from the website.

You should decline to give any personal information that is not compulsory to buy the product.

Keep your personal information safe when you shop online and always use official payment options.

Gift cards

Ins and outs of gift cards

A gift card is a card loaded with an amount of cash. It enables you (or the person you give it to) to buy goods and services. Some gift cards can only be used at select retailers, but some can be used anywhere that accepts major credit cards.

Here are a few things you should know about gift cards.

Treat them like cash

If you lose a gift card or it is stolen, you will not be able to replace it. So be very careful with your gift cards and treat them as you would cash in your wallet.

Check the expiry date

When you receive a gift card check the expiry date. You should use the total value of the card by the expiry date as the remaining amount is usually not refundable. You can check the terms and conditions on the issuer’s website or on the back of the card.

Getting ‘change’ from the card

When you buy something with the gift card, the retailer is required to give you the rest of the money back in cash, if they state this in the card’s terms and conditions.

If the terms and conditions don’t mention getting cash back as change, the retailer may insist on leaving the remaining credit on the gift card or giving you a credit note instead.

What if your gift card retailer goes out of business?

When a retailer goes out of business they usually publically announce it so you will see stories about their insolvency in the media. You can also check if they are insolvent by searching ASIC’s insolvency notices.

Here are the things you can do when you hold a gift card from a retailer who becomes insolvent.

Make a chargeback claim

If you have purchased a gift card using a credit card you may have chargeback rights. This means you can sometimes get your money back from your credit card issuer. You should contact the issuing bank, building society or credit union straight away as there are time limits on making a chargeback claim.

Register as an unsecured creditor

If you have a gift card and don’t want to ask the person who gave it to you to request a chargeback, you can register with an external administrator or liquidator as an unsecured creditor.  The insolvency process will determine if you get a full refund, a partial refund or no refund at all.

Consider an offer to redeem the gift card

Sometimes a retailer will continue trading under the control of an administrator and the gift cards the retailer sold will be honoured. The administrator may place new conditions on the use of gift cards, like requiring you to spend an additional dollar for every dollar you redeem. If this is the case, you will need to work out if it is worth taking up the offer.

Whether you’re giving or receiving a gift card, it’s good to know what to look out for and what options are available to you if your gift card retailer goes out of business.

Unauthorised transactions on your bank account

Mistakes with your banking

An unauthorised transaction is one made by someone else using your account without your knowledge or consent.

Unauthorised transactions are rare (less than 25 in every million ATM and EFTPOS transactions). However, you should always check your statements to make sure that none have occurred.

If you find an unauthorised transaction, contact your bank, credit union or building society as soon as possible and make a complaint. This is important both to fix up the problem and to prevent any more unauthorised transactions.

The EFT Code sets down the rules around unauthorised transactions.

When you will get your money back

  • If a forged, expired or cancelled PIN or card was used
  • If there was fraudulent conduct by employees of your account institution or merchant
  • If the transaction took place before you received your card, PIN or code
  • If a merchant incorrectly debited your account more than once
  • If the transaction took place after you told your account institution that your card was lost or stolen or that someone else may know your PIN or password
  • If it’s clear that you haven’t contributed to the loss

When you won’t get your money back

  • You acted fraudulently
  • You didn’t keep your PIN or password secret
  • You unreasonably delayed telling your account institution that your card was lost or stolen or that someone else may know your PIN or code

Even in these circumstances the amount you are liable for is subject to certain caps.

The EFT Code

The EFT Code is a code of practice that virtually all banks, building societies and credit unions have signed up to and that protects you when using electronic fund transfers. It can protect you when you:

  • Withdraw money from an Automatic Teller Machine (ATM)
  • Buy goods or services on Electronic Funds Transfer at the Point of Sale (EFTPOS)
  • Do telephone or internet banking
  • Use your credit card over the phone or internet
  • Use a prepaid phone card

To download a copy of the code, and for more information, visit Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) code of practice on the ASIC website.

Contactless cards

Pay and go

Contactless payment technology is becoming more common. This fast payment method allows transactions under $100 to be paid for by a tap or wave of your card. Here we explain how they work.

How they work

Contactless cards have a radio antenna in the plastic which transmits information to and from the contactless checkout terminal.

How do you know if your card is contactless?

Cards with this feature are usually marked with a special logo or marking. If you are not sure if your card is contactless, speak to the card issuer.

Problems with your contactless card

Be sure to check your account statements closely. If you see any purchases that you didn’t make contact your card issuer immediately. See unauthorised transactions on your bank account for more details.

If the card issuer is a member of the Electronic Funds Transfer Code then you will have some consumer protection.

See no PIN no signature (information on ASIC’s Smart Money website) for more information on this new way of approving transactions.

You should speak to your card issuer if you have any concerns about your contactless card or you want to know more about the security of this feature.

CHECK OUT OUR OTHER HELPFUL GUIDES

Making Your Money Work

Once you have been able to generate some savings, the next step is to get your money to work for you. This includes having clear goals, using money wisely, and managing your loans, insurance and retirement savings.

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Budgeting

How much money is coming in and going out each week, fortnight or month? By taking charge of your money, you will ease money stress and feel more secure and in control.

READ MORE »

Saving

Whatever your circumstances, by working out your goals and starting a regular savings plan, you can begin to make your dreams become a reality.

READ MORE »

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