Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Do you need a zero balance account?

A zero balance account is an account that usually has a zero or extremely low balance. Businesses use zero balance accounts to manage cash by moving money into the account only when it is going to be needed for a specific purpose. For example, payroll accounts are often zero balance accounts. Businesses will move the funds necessary to cover payroll into the account right before issuing paychecks, and then as employees cash the checks, the balance will drop back to zero. Zero balance accounts let businesses keep cash invested until it is needed. Zero balance accounts also help reduce exposure to fraud because it limits the number of people who have access to other business accounts.

Zero balance accounts are useful whenever a business makes routine or predictable payments out of an account. The most common example of this is payroll, but other examples could include rent or vendor payments.

So the question is, “Do you need a zero balance account?” The short answer is that you do if a zero balance account will help you put idle cash to work. While it may seem to be a lot of extra effort, many banks that provide cash management services can help you automate the process.

There is another reason to consider a zero balance account, and this reason applies to all businesses. It also applies to people that do not own businesses. The reason is fraud. Do you bank or shop online or use a debit card? Have you set up automatic debit transactions with vendors? A zero balance account can protect you. Consumers have a measure of fraud protection when they use credit cards. Business credit cards may not have the same protections. Debit cards may offer fraud protections, but legal protections may be limited. There are also some issues with automatic debit transactions.

Here is how a zero balance account could work for you. First establish a new checking account. Use a checking account because savings or money market accounts often limit the number of withdrawals that you can make. Keep your existing checking account. You use the same financial institution where you normally bank. That will make it easy for you to make transfers as necessary, and it will limit your additional recordkeeping. Try to use an account that allows a zero or very low minimum balance and either no fees or small fees. Some financial institutions will combine the balances of all of your accounts for the purposes of calculating minimum balances. You should also choose an account that will let you set up automatic transfers.

Once you have the account established, link it to your debit cards and online banking. Use the new account for automated debits and other predictable transactions. If possible, unlink your debit card from your old account. You can set up automatic transactions that will transfer funds from your first account to your new low balance account to cover your routine transactions. When you know that you are going to be using your debit card transfer the funds to cover your anticipated transaction. The idea is to limit your exposure to risk by limiting the amount of money in your account. Another way that it works is that setting up a cash management process that requires regular attention also increases your awareness so that if you are a victim of fraud or theft, then you will be able to respond more quickly.

Does a zero balance account makes sense for you or your business?

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