The advent of online banking, which is now provided by a majority of banks and credit unions, ushered in a tremendous increase in efficiency for consumers by reducing time required to manage bank records, balance a checkbook or visit a branch office to execute a transaction. All of your banking information is available in a matter of minutes on your personal computer. Despite theses advantages, there has always been the underlying limitation: online banking is just a glorified ledger. In many cases, consumers must still compare the online banking interface with their personal calendar of expected bills and payments to ensure funds will be available for future bills. All of that has changed with PNC Virtual Wallet: a calendar-based, multiple-account approach to managing your finances.
Virtual Wallet Accounts
When you sign up for a PNC Virtual Wallet, PNC opens three accounts named “Spend,” “Reserve,” and “Growth.” These unique accounts are designed to help you spend, save, and grow your finances. This might sound complicated at first, but Virtual Wallet simplifies it by placing all the information together into one screen.
The Spend account is designed as a flexible account to use mainly for your everyday living expenses. Along with the Spend account, you will receive a brand new Virtual Wallet Visa Check Card that you can use to make purchases (these purchases are deducted from your Spend account) or withdraw money at ATMs worldwide from any of your accounts. Your Spend account is what you’ll use to pay bills by check or through Online Bill Pay, as well as make your everyday purchases. Best of all, it works in harmony with your Reserve account. (Update: PNC has introduced a “Performance Spend” account. Learn about the difference between Spend and Performance Spend.)
The Reserve account is designed for short-term savings and also functions as your primary Overdraft Protection account. If you’re at risk of overdrawing from your Spend account – a situation Virtual Wallet calls a “Danger Day” – money will automatically transfer from your Reserve to your Spend, free of charge. Otherwise, the Reserve account offers a built-in “wish list” which offers a way to set a small saving goal for individual items like a laptop, sofa, new mattress, digital camera, etc. Bigger purchases such as a house or honeymoon, can be saved up for in your Growth account.
Growth is a long-term savings account which also acts as your secondary Overdraft Protection. The interest rate on this account makes it even more appealing than many Money Market accounts. Put money into your Growth account to save up for bigger purchases down the road – a car, down payment, or college loan payments.
Virtual Wallet Features
What makes Virtual Wallet unique is the suite of free built-in features such as Online Bill Pay, Overdraft Protection, Reminders, thousands of free PNC ATMs, AutoAlerts, a high yield savings account, the ability to quickly transfer funds between accounts and a Quick View summary of all your expenses. I’ve compiled a basic list of the features (and stipulations) of the Virtual Wallet account below:
- Free check writing – 3 hand-written checks are allowed each month. There is no limit on checks sent via the online banking interface or checks sent for scheduled bills.
- Free use of PNC ATMs – Yes
- PNC fees for non-PNC ATMs – 2 ATM fees reimbursed per month
- Other bank fees for non-PNC ATMs – No reimbursement
- Interest on Spend account – No
- Overdraft Protection – Yes; included with no setup or transfer fees. If you overdraft on your Spend account, money will be transferred from your Reserve or Growth accounts, in that order.
- Minimum to open account – $25
- Bonus points on PNC Points VISA credit card – Yes
- High yield interest rate on Growth account – 0.85% APY on balances up to $24,999.99. The portion of any balance exceeding $24,999.99 is 0.25%. Also, as of 9/12/2011, the interest rate on the growth account with be contingent on 5 credit or debit card transactions/month.
- Free check orders – first set only (this is the set of checks you are sent when you open the account)
- Monthly service charge – There is no monthly service charge.
In addition to everything listed above, PNC Virtual Wallet has unique functionality, which really sets it apart from other online banking systems. PNC has clearly put serious amounts of research and thought into what consumers need from their online banking. Let’s explore the more unique capabilities of Virtual Wallet which will help you manage spending and start saving money.
The Virtual Wallet calendar provides a visual way to track your spending and income on a daily basis. Instead of manually tracking your income and expenses, using the Calendar provides a concise view of all information in an easy-to-understand format. The Calendar lets you get bill reminders, check your balances, see past activities and future payments, mark your paydays, and see any upcoming Danger Days.
The screenshot above shows just a week’s worth of information from the monthly Calendar view. Looking at this week, I can quickly see the following information:
- A Spend account balance of $1,922.20 on April 3, 2011
- One uncashed check for $10.00
- Pending deposit of $75.00
- Single scheduled payment of $41.15 on April 6, 2011
- Recurring scheduled payments of $180 and $250 scheduled on April 8, 2011 (automatically recurring payment indicated by revolving arrow icon)
The Calendar can show information at the monthly, weekly, and daily levels. I’m a visual person and find the Calendar view to be incredibly helpful. The red/green color template and transaction icons, like the revolving arrow, make the Calendar very intuitive and easy to comprehend at a glance.
Bill Pay is a great tool to make sure you pay your bills on time. You can set up all of your recurring bills within PNC Online Bill Pay, and they will be paid automatically. PNC sends a check on your behalf and there is no fee involved. Payments can be scheduled at any imterval; they don’t have to be monthly.
If you want to pay a bill, go to the “Account Detail” screen in PNC Virtual Wallet, click on the “Add” button, and select either “Schedule Bill”, “Add Check You Wrote”, or “Add Pre-Authorized Payment.” A scheduled bill can be a one-time payment or recurring. The “Add Check You Wrote” option refers to a physical check. The purpose of this would be to add the check to your Calendar to so you can track its impact on your account. You would “Add Pre-Authorized Payment” if you scheduled an automatic payment through another company such as a utility payment or credit card payment. For both the “Add Check You Wrote” and “Add Pre-Authorized Payment” options, adding those payments to your Calendar does not send any money directly from your account. The purpose of these functions is to keep all information on your Calendar current so you can plan ahead and not lose track of payments.
PNC Virtual Wallet always thinks two weeks in advance. If you do not have sufficient funds to pay a bill in the next two weeks, PNC Virtual Wallet will add big red icons to the upcoming days to draw your attention to your balance. These alerts are meant to warn you of an upcoming overdraft situation. They’ll remain on the Calendar until there are sufficient funds in the Spend account to meet the next two weeks of scheduled spending. To remedy this situation, you can manually transfer money from your Reserve account or change an upcoming payment.
The Money Bar is a horizontal bar, shown on the Quick View and Account Detail screens, which represents the balances of both the Spend and Reserve accounts. In addition, the Money Bar shows the amount of money “Scheduled Out” – i.e. allocated to various scheduled bills or pre-authorized payments – over the next two weeks.
From the screenshot, you can see there is $481.15 scheduled to be paid from the Spend account over the next two weeks. Also shown as “Free,” is the remaining $1,441.05 in the Spend account. The free amount can be used to pay bills later in the month, moved to another account, or spent. My only gripe with the Money Bar is that it’s not true to scale. In other words, the orange “Scheduled Out” section is basically the same width as the green “Free” section even though the “Scheduled Out” balance is less than one third of the “Free” balance. At first glance, it’s not always obvious whether there is more money scheduled out or free. Considering the thoughtful design of the entire Virtual Wallet interface, I’m surprised the sections are not true to scale. Despite this flaw, the Money Bar concept is excellent and provides a clear picture of how spending money is allocated.
Wish List and Reserve Items
As money is added to your Reserve or Growth accounts, you can set aside some of the money for specific items you’re interested in but can’ t afford right now. After you’ve saved up enough money, you can transfer the money to your Spend account and purchase the item. To help you keep track, each item has a progress meter below it telling you how close you are to reaching your goal.
Reserve Items are anticipated future expenses such as textbooks, annual gym fees, or graduation gifts. These are different from items on the Wish List since you will inevitably need to make these expenses and they have a firm due date. The due date you set for Reserve Items is also reflected on the Calendar – just like everything else.
The Spending Zone is a screen which can show spending among certain categories – i.e. gas, education, restaurants, utilities, bank transactions, etc. – for the purpose of comparing across ten months. This screen can also be used to search for any transaction that occurred during the last ten months.
The Spending Zone also has a budget management feature which can be used to set a monthly budget for certain categories. Email alerts can be configured to automatically email you when you’re approaching or exceeding a particular budget. I have to say that the budget functionality of PNC Virtual Wallet is underwhelming in the sense that it’s buried on the Spending Zone screen. If PNC is serious about budgeting, then the budget should be integrated into the Calendar and the Money Bar. If you need a budget to manage spending, I recommend using an alternative such as Mint.com or a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet.
- On a scheduled frequency
- When you pay a bill
- When you “Punch the Pig”
With the scheduled transaction, you choose a specific amount of money to be transferred automatically from your Spend account to your Growth account on a regular basis. This could be weekly, monthly, yearly, etc. I recommend choosing the day after payday so you are immediately putting away money for savings before getting a chance to spend it. The second option, paying with each bill, lets you transfer the amount you choose (as low as $1.00) from your Spend account to your Growth account every time you pay a bill online. This is a great way to automatically add to the Growth account. You can consider it a reward to yourself for paying a bill on time. The last option, “Punch the Pig,” is a novel way of saving created by PNC. By simply “punching” – rather, “clicking” – the piggy bank icon at the top of the PNC Virtual Wallet interface, money (an amount designated by you) will be sent from your Spend account to your Growth account. You can design your pig’s appearance and determine if it’s always present or occasionally “surprises” you by appearing randomly. I recommend switching the configuration to surprise mode since it seems to make me more inclined to “Punch the Pig.”
The mobile access functionality of PNC Virtual Wallet is excellent. After you sign up for PNC Online banking and log in, click on the Customer Service tab, then click on Mobile Banking center under Customer Service. From there, follow the instructions for downloading and installing the Mobile Banking app on your particular phone model. An incredibly convenient feature for iPhone users is the ability to remotely deposit a check simply by taking a picture of the check and uploading it via the Virtual Wallet app. Refer to the following list of all supported phones:
- Apple – iPhone, iPod touch
- LG – CU400, CU405, CU500, CU500v
- Motorola – RAZR V3xx, RAZR2 V9
- Nokia – 6085, 6555, E61, E65, N73, N75, N76, N91, N95
- BlackBerry – 7130c, 8100 (Pearl), 8300 (Curve), 8310 (Curve w/ GPS), 8700c, 8800, 8820 (w/ WIFI)
- Samsung – A717, A727, A737, A747
- Sony Ericsson – K5501, K800i, W300i, W810i, W880i, W910i
- LG – VX8300, VX8340, VX8600, VX8700, VX9400, VX9800, Chocolate (VX8500), Chocolate (VX8550), enV (VX9900), enV2 (VX9100), Venus (VX8800), Voyage (VX10000)
- Motorola – KRZR K1m, SLVR L7C, RAZR Maxx Ve, RAZR V3c, RAZR V3m, RAZR V9m, W755, Z6c, Z6tv
- BlackBerry – 7130e, 8130 (Pearl), 8703e, 8830
- Samsung – A990, U410, U540, U550, U620, U740, Gleam (U700), Juke (U740), Flipshot (U900)
- LG – LX400, Fusic (LX550), Muziq (LX570), MM535
- Motorola – RAZR V3m, RAZR V3m (Red), KRZR K1m
- BlackBerry – 7130e, 8130 (Pearl), 8330 (Curve), 8703e, 8830 (World Edition)
- Samsung – A700, A790, A900, A920, M500, M510, M520, M610, Z400
- Sanyo – 3200, LX3800 (Katana), 5600, 6600 (Katana), 7050, 7400, 7500, 8300, 8400, 9000, M1, Pro 200, Pro 700
- BlackBerry – 8100 (Pearl), 8320 (Curve), 8700g, 8800
- BlackBerry – 7130, 8130 (Pearl) 8703e, 8830
Although this has been a comprehensive review of PNC Virtual Wallet, you can’t really appreciate the usefulness of this system until you sign up and use it to manage your money. I can understand the hesitation to switch banks and learn a new online banking interface. However, I am very satisfied with PNC Virtual Wallet and am happy that I switched to PNC to take advantage of this service. The Virtual Wallet online banking interface is quite intuitive, enabling a new customer get acclimated and choose their settings in very little time.
Using Virtual Wallet has reduced the amount of time I spend managing my finances and strengthened my money-saving strategies. I have recommended Virtual Wallet to other friends with various financial situations, and they found the service to be equally valuable. I’m not surprised that Virtual Wallet is becoming more popular, and I suspect other banks may overhaul their online banking interfaces to remain competitive.
If you would like to sign up for your own PNC Virtual Wallet account, click the following link: Sign up for a PNC Virtual Wallet account.