4 must-have mobile banking app features

Closeup of smartphone touch screen

The mobile banking revolution looks like it's here to stay.

More than 10 million people use mobile banking services today, and according to Forrester Research, that number will grow from 12% to 20% of adults by 2015.

The number of mobile banking applications developed specifically for owners of iPhones, Android-powered phones and BlackBerry smartphones is also growing daily.

If you decide to take the plunge into mobile banking, your first step is to find the bank that best fits your needs.

Not all banks offer mobile banking services you will want. Be wary, because there are some duds out there. Some apps do nothing more than locate the closest branch or ATM.

Others aren't even true apps at all. They offer up the phone's native browser or SMS text messages as their version of mobile banking. Keep looking for a true mobile banking app that is downloaded to your phone. That's where you will find the best advances in banking technology.

As you search for just the right app, here are 4 features to look for:

Feature 1. Security

Have you been slow to jump on the mobile banking bandwagon because of security concerns? This is understandable. After all, what happens if you download a mobile banking app, then lose your phone?

Fortunately, there are a few simple steps you can take to improve security. For instance, you should never use a public Wi-Fi signal when banking. You can protect your phone in case it is lost or stolen by setting a password and enabling your phone for a remote memory wipe.

It is also important that when you download a mobile banking application, you are downloading the bank's version and not an imposter. The easiest way to check is to visit the bank's website for the download instructions.

Your bank also has to do its part to protect your banking data. A bank can prove to you it is serious about security by using 128-bit encryption for secure transactions and never storing your username or password on your device.

Look for a bank like Wells Fargo, which makes this promise clear in the Mobile FAQs section of its website.

Feature 2. Check balances and transfer money

Bank fees can be a real killer. One little mistake can lead to big late fees or overdraft fees.

Mobile banking apps can help you avoid fees and stay on top of your finances.

This way you don't have to wait for a monthly statement or need a computer to check your deposits, cleared checks and money transfers. Pick a mobile app that will do all that and more, anytime and anywhere.

For example, ING Direct's mobile banking app allows owners of iPhones, Android phones and BlackBerry smartphones to easily transfer money between checking and savings accounts. You can even make a payment to another account at ING Direct or another bank as long as you have the account details.

Feature 3. Remote bill pay

Do you think the ability to pay bills with a smartphone is overrated?

Consider the case of Bonnie, a part-time architect and full-time mom who lives in St. Louis. She uses PNC Bank's mobile banking app several times a week to pay her family's bills and check account balances.

She has even used her iPhone to pay bills and transfer money while waiting to pick up her kids from school.

Most mobile banking apps will let you set up vendors to make it easy to pay recurring bills like credit cards, utilities and even your mortgage. Find an app that allows you to pay bills like these on the fly.

Feature 4. Deposit checks

You can use your phone to deposit a check to your account with a new banking service available on a growing number of mobile banking apps.

To use the service, you simply take a picture of the front and back of the check with your phone's camera. The image is then submitted to your bank for deposit.

This feature can be a real time-saver, as well as help you earn more interest on your funds that are sitting in your checking or money market account.

The mobile app by Chase Bank for iPhone and Android owners offers a free service called Chase QuickDeposit. All it takes is two camera clicks, and you will get an instant confirmation your deposit was made successfully.

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