Business - Banking on the go: Mobile options multiply

By Candice Choi

AP Personal Finance Writer

NEW YORK (AP) -- Smart phones let you watch NFL games, read books and check email. Now a full suite of mobile banking services is just a tap away too.

In the past year banks have significantly expanded their mobile offerings as more customers seek on-the-go services and concerns about wireless security ease.

As with credit and debit cards, banks limit liability for fraudulent transactions reported within two months. Such security guarantees are helping broaden the adoption of mobile services. Bank of America, the country's largest bank, says 17 percent of its online banking customers already use mobile services such as texting or apps for smart phones.

"Most banking is just text and numbers. So to some extent, banking is really ideal for mobile use," said Jim Bruene, founder of Online Banking Report.

Here's a look at what's available.


Text alerts to notify account holders about large transactions or low account balances is nothing new. But now customers can also use text messaging to proactively review balances and transactions.

It's the most basic mobile service offered by Bank of America, Chase, Citi and Wells Fargo. Once enrolled, customers can text certain commands to perform common functions.

At Bank of America, for example, customers can text "BAL" to "MYBOFA" to see if there's enough money in an account before they reach the cash register. At Wells Fargo customers can also text a zip code to get the locations of the nearest ATMs.

To protect against identity theft, the information sent to customers doesn't include names or account numbers. Banks don't charge for the service but standard text rates apply.


One reason mobile banking is becoming more widespread is the availability of apps, which are downloadable programs designed for mobile devices. Apps are easier to navigate with mobile phones than websites that might not be properly formatted.

Bank of America, Citi, Chase and Wells Fargo offer apps for the iPhone. Bank of America and Wells Fargo also offer apps for the Android, BlackBerry and Palm devices. It's worth checking what's available even if you're with a smaller regional bank or credit union, as apps have become so widespread.

Apps let customers do most of the tasks they can perform on a computer, such as viewing transactions and paying bills. Select tasks, such as transferring money to an outside account, generally aren't available on apps.

One app function that may soon become more widespread is the ability to make a deposit by taking a photo of a check. USAA, which provides insurance and banking services mainly to military veterans, was among the first to offer the option. But Chase also began offering the capability through its iPhone app this summer.

Those who have accounts with several banks may also be interested in the apps for the Android and iPhone from the budgeting website As with the online version, the apps are for tracking purposes only; users can't pay bills or transfer money.

Quick Pay

One still relatively rare mobile service is the ability to make payments by passing a phone over a scanner. This is primarily available for Citi credit card holders right now.

Citi card holders can request a MasterCard PayPass sticker to attach to the back of their phone. The idea is that customers won't have to fumble through their wallets to pull out cash or a credit card. They also don't have to sign for purchases less than $50.

The PayPass sticker can be used at about 230,000 stores including Best Buy, CVS and McDonald's.

Bank of America is testing a similar service with select customers in New York City starting next week. Customers insert a chip into their iPhone or BlackBerry that lets them make payments by waving their phones over a scanner. The bank declined to say how many customers are testing the function or when it will become more widely available.


It's not exactly banking but another service that lends itself to mobile use is PayPal. The online payment service lets users securely send and receive money. PayPal offers apps for the Android, BlackBerry and iPhone. Another option is to check balances and make payments through text messaging. There's also a site,, that's formatted for mobile web browsers.

Setting up a PayPal account is free but payments made from a credit or debit card incur a fee of 2.9 percent plus 30 cents. So the fee for sending $100 would be $3.20. The sender could pay the fee or opt to pass it on to the recipient for personal payments. For purchases of goods or services, the fee is automatically passed on to the merchant.

There is no fee for personal payments drawn directly from bank accounts or PayPal balances.

Published: Mon, Sep 13, 2010