Banking With the Road Warriors

RVers have the freedom to travel to any location, any time they want a change of scenery. However, like any army, travel is limited by the supply line. An RVer without convenient banking services while on the road is as tied to geography as those poor souls without an RV. RVers have a number of options for taking care of their banking and investment needs. Each case is obviously unique, but the following suggestions should help in planning a banking strategy. An RVer's independence on the road depends mainly on the comfort level with, and trust of, technology. The most basic level of on-the-road banking is to authorize a trusted family member or friend to handle simple needs like bill payments and deposits. Ideally, RVers would enjoy worry free travel with nothing but a debit card and a credit card for money. Unfortunately, such an arrangement leaves the RVer dependent and vulnerable. The designated family member could be incompetent, or dishonest, and RVers would find themselves in an uncomfortable bind. Most financial institutions allow remote banking services perfect for customers on the road. Many more are beginning to provide mobile banking as a service. Banks today are consolidating into multi-state, sometimes nation-wide, networks to compete. RVers are no longer tied to a specific branch or banker to meet their needs. Alternative financial institutions, such as credit unions and even brokerage houses now offer many of the same services as a traditional bank. “Our mission is to be every members primary financial resource,” said John Sahagian at Baxter Credit Union. “We do most of a bank’s functions to remain competitive.” Usually, bills arrive in the mail as a payment notice. Unfortunately, sometimes mail can be delayed while a relative, or a forwarding service, transfers mail to an RV park's campground mailbox. The first step in highway banking is to reduce the volume of financial mail. Banks, and some of the larger, full-service credit unions, allow customers to transfer debts. If an RVer works with only one financial institution for a mortgage, loan, checking or savings account, IRA, and credit cards, almost all banking and bill payments can be done over the phone, online, or through an ATM. Unfortunately, servicing all finances through one institution can have a down side, the convenience may require a trade off in interest rates or service fees. Shop around for a bank suited to your needs. First, look for a bank with 800 number access to accounts. Each customer has a secret PIN number for security. Usually, larger banks allow customers to check account balances and transactions, transfer funds between accounts and even automatically pay bills like a mortgage or loan payment. With the growing popularity of electronic deposit, social security and pension checks can usually be deposited by computer, eliminating the need for the paper checks through the mail. The chosen financial institution should have a large ATM network as well. With recent mergers, some banks have multi-state networks. Look for a card with the Cirrus or Plus network. That way, you have nationwide access to cash. A debit card is a new twist on ATM banking. The same card that deposits in an ATM and withdraws cash can be used at most stores in place of a check. The money is directly withdrawn from a checking account. Travelers no longer need large sums of cash or try paying with a check from an out-of-state bank. One word of warning, study each bank’s rules for ATM fees, or any type of fees. Despite the bad press, most banks do not use ATM fees to gouge customers. They design the fee structure to guide customer behavior toward the most cost effective banking style. Recently, a bank in Chicago introduced a $3 teller fee for all transactions that could be conducted through an ATM, like deposits or cash withdrawals. The design was meant to encourage customers to use the more convenient, cheaper ATM banking services instead of the high-overhead branch teller. In spite of the nationwide criticism, the plan worked and most customers changed their banking habits to use ATMs. The bank reduced their overhead, and the customer learned to use a more convenient system. When a customer takes responsibility to know the rules and not rely on a bank to take care of everything, convenient services like ATM banking can be conducted with little or no service fees. Some bills cannot be consolidated with a single financial institution, such as a home gas or electric bill or an insurance payment. Usually, creditors offer an 800 number or website to check balances. Instead of waiting for a bill to arrive via mail, call the number or visit the website, find out the payment and mail a check from the road. Be sure to include the account number on the check. A second option would be to set up a separate checking account with a trusted family member or friend as a signer. When bills come in, they can pay them with the limited funds in the account. Transfer replacement funds from your main checking account when the checks post to your bill paying account. That way, an incompetent or dishonest “helper” can only do limited damage. Investments can be handled in much the same way as the debts and banking needs. Larger brokerage houses can consolidate mutual funds or securities onto a single statement. Again, the connivance may require some sacrifice on returns. Shop around to find the best balance of convenience and performance. A brokerage house usually offers 800 number or website access to accounts, with the PIN number security restriction. Like banks, larger brokerage houses may have nationwide branches for transactions requiring the human touch. The same caution applies to brokerage houses as well, however. Study the institution’s rules and modify behavior to fit the fee structure. With some intelligent banking and investing, convenience need not be at the cost of high service fees. On-line banking, while incredibly convenient at home, is not quite ready for RVers yet unless they can find Internet access in an RV park. With a computer, on-line customers have access to all account transactions in a visual format much easier to use than an automated phone line. Internet security is handled by a secret PIN number and encryption of data. With mobile banking, you have the similar problem of having cellular coverage where you happen to be camping. A computer banker is not necessarily any more vulnerable to fraud as a traditional mail or person-to-person customer. The best defense is always vigilant attention to financial resources. “Security was a concern for us,” said Daniel Hubbard, Senior Manager in Corporate Communication at Charles Schwab, Inc., when discussing the development of their on-line investment service. “We’ve developed extensive security and encryption programs to protect our customers.” Here is a sneak peak into the future for the high-tech road warriors. Soon, maybe as soon as six months, a laptop computer in an RV will be connected to a digital phone service for remote modem access. Security will not be a problem since, unlike a cell phone, a digital phone uses encrypted data via a satellite to communicate. Essentially, the digital phone will serve as a miniature secure satellite link. Visionaries foresee the day when an actual building called a bank, as well as retail stores, will be obsolete. People will be free to pursue more interesting concerns than running errands. Starry eyed idealism aside, with some market research and planning, RVers today can conduct most financial needs automatically. The mobility of an RV is now matched by the freedom from geographical limits to the daily administration of life. Who says you can’t take it with you! Search for Woodall's inspected RV parks.