Creating Your Money Management System

As you start to take more control of your personal finances, you will want to have a system in place regarding how you manage your finances. Your money management system will help support your goals and foster your financial independence. 

Expanding on your financial literacy and fostering confidence in your financial capabilities will lead to increasing financial independence from your family and other support systems. This new found freedom means it is imperative to identify a system in which you can manage your money on your own in a way that works for you.

An efficient money management system encompasses several different factors ranging from who you bank with to how you protect your identity. Other considerations you will want to identify include: 

  • The accounts you will store your dollars in 
  • The type of cards you will use to pay bills and manage transactions 
  • Whether or not you will use apps and other fintech to maintain your system

Keep in mind that your system does not have to be complex to be successful! Keep it simple and manage your money in a way that works best for you.

The first step in creating your money management system is deciding the financial institution you will work most closely with when it comes to depositing and withdrawing money as well as other significant decision making like borrowing and investing. 

Location: Brick vs Click

Start by determining your need or want for physical access in the form of a brick and mortar building. Individuals new to managing their own money or who may have limited access to their normal assets, such as students studying at Duke from other countries, may prefer to have a local entity store their money. This may allow for streamlined access to your funds as well as resources in the form of customer service agents to utilize when faced with questions or concerns about your finances. 

There are several financial institutions close to Duke University's West and East Campuses: 

  • Bank of America
  • Chase Bank
  • Duke University Credit Union
  • First Citizens
  • PNC Bank
  • Truist Bank
  • Wells Fargo Bank

Map View of Financial Institutions near Duke University's East Campus

Map view of banks near East Campus


Resource Spotlight: Banks vs Credit Unions 

Umbrella terms like financial institution or banking generally refer to one of two entities: Banks or Credit Unions. Each have their own benefits and downsides when it comes to managing your money. Refer to NerdWallet's Credit Unions vs Banks: How To Decide guide and learn more about your banking options with both types of institutions.

In a growing digital age however, many folks find that they can manage their finances using banks or credit unions from their hometowns and home countries, or even from financial institutions with strictly an online presence. Online banking has grown in popularity and may offer nearly the exact same services as physical banks or credit unions. 

As you reflect on the institution you want to work with, the following questions may help you determine the best bank or credit union to use as part of your money management system: 

  • Is there a specific requirement to be a customer or member? 
  • Is there a customer or membership fee?
  • Is there a required minimum account balance? 
  • Does the bank offer a mobile app?
  • Is there free, sponsored access to your credit score?
  • Is there a fee for using ATMs? 
  • Does the bank charge a fee for wire transfers?
  • How soon are deposit funds available? 
  • What’s the policy for overdrafts, and does the bank offer overdraft protection?
  • What's your liability in the event of fraudulent account use?
  • Is there a charge to request paper checks? 

After you have determined the financial institution you will be working with, the next step is to clarify how you will use your account, specifically the roles both your checking and saving accounts will play within your personal finances.

Checking Accounts

Before the use of plastic cards became the dominant way to make purchases, paper checks were commonly used during transactions. Especially when facilitating large purchases where it would be impractical or unwise to keep significant sums of money on hand, checks were a great way to manage money in a streamlined, responsible fashion.

In due time, the accounts that paper checks drew from became known as checking accounts. Although using checks happens sparingly now, the term has persisted and the accounts that you will use to store your money for regular, everyday use will more often than not be housed in a checking account.

Checking accounts are purely used for easy storage and access; there is no interest accrual and there are very few restrictions on how much of your money you can utilize at any given time, though some banks may require you to keep a small, minimum amount in the account, typically between $25-$50.

In short, these types of accounts are best for maintaining your cashflow: depositing regular paychecks and housing your income in addition to facilitating your purchases and managing your bills.


Saving Accounts

Saving accounts on the other hand are best used to store dollars that you do not intend to use on a regular basis, only for specific instances like emergencies, transitional life events, or impending deadlines.

These types of accounts are truly designed for saving money: you may be limited in how often you can make withdrawals and your balance typically accrues a small amount, less than .10%, of interest. A savings account is an ideal place to store your Rainy Day Fund or other monies that would best be suited to remain liquid- easily accessible and quickly converted to cash when necessary.

Savings accounts allow you to keep your money within reach if you need it but without the same ease of access as a checking account.


Other Accounts To Consider- High Yield Savings Accounts

In addition to your main bank account, you may decide to maintain other accounts as part of your financial system.

Many individuals have struggled with the ability to stick to their savings goals when their savings accounts and checking accounts are managed by the same online platform or mobile app. When faced with an experience or item you really want but don’t necessarily have the money to afford, it can be tempting to simply transfer money from your savings account to your checking account.

In this scenario, you may find more success in preserving your savings account if those funds are slightly out of reach, and stored in a separate savings account with a separate financial institution altogether. This new account could be through another physical bank or credit union, or with an online account specifically designed for savings. These types of accounts are commonly known as High Yield Savings Accounts.

High Yield Savings Accounts work the exact same as your traditional savings account, but offer you as the account holder a higher rate of interest on your balance. Compared to a traditional savings account that may offer between .05-.10% of a return, High Yield Savings Accounts may offer closer to .75%-1.00%. The dollar for dollar gain that you earn on this type of account may not be all that noticeable long term, but for money that you will have ample lead time before using yet still need to remain fairly liquid, such as money in an Emergency Fund, High Yield Savings Accounts may be a great option to consider.


Whether you are buying online or shopping  in-stores, another factor of your money management system to determine is the type of product you will use to facilitate purchases: debit cards, credit cards, or a combination of the two! 

While using cash may have a time and place within your money management system, you may find that the use of physical dollars and coins is becoming obsolete compared to how commonplace paying by card has become. 

So, what are the differences between debit cards and credit cards and when might you choose to use one over the other? 

Debit Cards

As noted in the previous section, paper checks were at one time the preferred alternative to cash for shopping and completing transactions. Nowadays, debit cards are the first substitute to cash most folks are introduced to. Debit cards work similarly to paper checks: the funds you store in your checking account are directly connected to a debit card you use. A swipe of your card at the grocery store deducts the amount from your checking account. With a debit card, your purchasing power is the same as what you have in your account- if you try to spend more than what you have at the time in your checking account, the transaction will not go through.

The use of debit cards has no impact on your credit or reputation as a borrower, and it generally does not cost anything to obtain a debit card. Fees associated with debit cards will be limited, however some financial institutions may assess a fee for certain transactions with the debit card, namely the use of ATMs outside of the bank or branch network.

Credit Cards

The only similarity you will find between a Debit Card and a Credit Card is that they are both pieces of plastic that enable you to make purchases without the use of physical money in hand. Outside of that commonality, credit cards are much more complex and oftentimes come with a word of caution before using than debit cards.

Credit cards allow you to use money that is not your own- credit cards allow you to purchase through a line of credit. This line of credit can vary in amounts, but for first time credit users typically ranges from $500-$1,500. As a credit card user, you have the ability to spend up to your approved line of credit. The catch? Eventually, you will need to pay back what you have borrowed from the line of credit. If you pay off your statement balance by the due date, the amount you spent in one month’s cycle of the line of credit, then what you spent of the line of credit is all you will be responsible.

However, if you use more of the line of credit than what you have at your bank, you probably won’t be able to pay off your full balance. Whatever portion of the balance remaining that you weren’t able to pay down carries over to the next month’s billing AND will begin accruing interest. The Annual Percentage Rate (APR) or interest rate on credit cards is notoriously high, with some credit cards charging over 20%! This is where the risk of using credit cards comes into play. If you are someone who is prone to impulse spending or you aren’t always the best with knowing how much you can afford to buy in a given week or month, then you could be prone to charging more money than you have on your credit card, which will inevitably cost you more in the long run thanks to that high interest charge.

So, what are the upsides of using credit cards? When used responsibly, credit cards are arguably one of the best ways you can build a credit history and demonstrate that you are a trustworthy borrower. Credit cards may also provide perks like cash back rewards or discounts on travel. These benefits however, should be looked at as secondary reasons to use a credit card; the primary purpose for a credit card in your money management system should be first and foremost a tool to maintain your credit.

USING Debit & Credit Cards in Your Money Management System

After reviewing the differences between debit cards and credit cards, it’s time to identify the roles these cards may play in your money management system.

When first starting out with our own money management system, it’s probably best to utilize your debit card during a majority of transactions. If not directly connected to your checking account, expenses like rent, student loan payments, and auto insurance should drive through your debit card. These types of items may restrict the use of credit cards as means of payment anyway, in addition to being foundational components of your budgeting and spending priorities.

Larger variable expenses such as groceries and utilities may also make sense to funnel through a debit card- since what you may spend on these items could fluctuate month to month, having direct management through your debit card may make it easier to be mindful of the spending amounts.

So where might your credit card come into play? Smaller, fixed expenses like your phone bill, gym membership, or streaming subscriptions may be better candidates to use your credit card far. The bills for these items reoccur at the same time every month for the same amount, which make them easy to plan for. As you demonstrate responsible use and become more confident with how to manage your credit card, you may be able to transition other spending categories to your credit card, but start small! Even just one $20 streaming service paid for and managed with a credit card can have a big impact on your credit.


The digital age has brought numerous changes to how we manage our money. Online banking and personal finance apps have become increasingly popular alternatives to visiting physical branches and tracking expenditures by hand.

Purpose of Banking & Personal finance apps

A majority of banking and spending apps allow users to connect multiple accounts that are monitored real time. Whether you are someone who strategically uses multiple checking accounts, have established separate savings accounts to meet specific goals, or are looking to watch the progress on a number of investment accounts, financial technology oftentimes aims to give users centralized access to their financial system.

Additionally, many of the money management platforms give you as the user an opportunity to curate specific spending guidelines or saving benchmarks with alerts or notifications that can be deployed at various frequencies to help individuals stay on target and make it more likely that you achieve your money goals. It can be easy to go about our routines and daily choices without our financial goals in mind. Push notifications and other alert methods can help bring your goals to the forefront of decision making and better align your choices with your articulated goals.

Regardless of the type of app you use, you will want to identify if the following security features are present: 

128-bit SSL encryption

​Establishes a secure connection, using SSL certificates.  These certificates have a public and private key and together they encrypt the connection to keep it safe from hackers. 

Has security scanning with VeriSign

Provides firewall protection, and added security.  

Offers multi-factor authentication

A method of computer access control in which a user is granted access only after successfully presenting several separate pieces of evidence to an authentication mechanism – typically at least two of the following categories: knowledge (something you know), possession (something you have)


considerations when using financial technology

However, the streamlined ease and one-stop-shop experience that financial technology brings also comes a unique set of security risks and vulnerabilities. The type of access you allow money management platforms to have with your finances means you could be at risk of a data breach, identify theft, and fraud. Certain steps can be taken to mitigate or decrease the likelihood of these types of pitfalls, such as setting up multi-factor auth or using password managers, but you are always putting yourself at some kind of risk in terms of your information being comprised on one of these platforms. Check out the subtopic below, Ways to Protect Your Accounts & Cards, for more information on keeping your financial system secure!

So, how do we juggle the pros and cons of using personal finance technology? Start by identifying the ways in which this technology will support your money management and help you reach your financial goals. If you can come up with alternatives that provide the same functionality as these apps, like using pre-loaded debit cards to curb spending, then there may not be a need to use a supplemental budgeting app or tracker. You will also want to do your research on the platform you are considering bringing into your financial system. Similarly to the link that is highlighted on our Budgeting In School subtopic page, many blogs and article posts will compare the top personal finance apps, making it easier to do the research on each platform before deciding to use it. If you determine that implementing a personal finance platform in your money management system would provide significant benefits, then be sure to take the time to use multiple security measures to protect yourself from fraud. 


Imagine waking up one morning to find your bank account has been emptied by a stranger who had been patiently collecting your personal information and waiting for the right time to strike. You might also find your credit in tatters due to maxed out accounts you never even knew had been opened in your name.

You would probably feel angry, scared, and violated… but what are the chances of this happening to you?  Higher than you might think: a 2020 survey by Javelin found that 1 in 20 Americans  were victims of identity theft.  Identity theft occurs whenever your personal information is used without your knowledge for fraud or other criminal activity.  With the proliferation of electronic transactions and massive electronic databases that are periodically hacked into, stolen, or compromised, you need to know how to protect yourself against identity theft and how to recover if someone targets you.

How does identity theft happen?

  • Accessing public records
  • Infiltrating personal computers through the use of spyware that users accidentally download
  • Hacking into computer networks and databases
  • Offering bogus jobs that require personal details in the application
  • Exploiting IT/customer service insider access to account holder information
  • Guessing password reset answers
  • Using limited personal information to obtain additional information or passwords from customer service
  • Obtaining checks in order to learn bank account numbers

What Should I Do If My Identity Has Been Stolen?

If your identity has been stolen you need to act fast to minimize potential liability and damage to your good credit.    Here are some immediate steps you can take to limit your exposure.

  • Check your credit report for fraudulent activity. You can get a free credit report from Annual Credit Report, a site sponsored by the three credit agencies.
  • Often times when there's a data breach, the company that's been hacked will offer free credit monitoring.  Take advantage of the offer and enroll. 
  • Place a security freeze with all three agencies.  This will stop access to your credit records, which prevents creditors from opening up new credit cards, loans, etc. in your name.  Of course, this also prevents you from opening new accounts, but you have the ability to turn off (thaw) your credit freeze by notifying the agency.  For  more information, here are the links to security freeze information for each agency:
  • Change your passwords and use different ones for different sites.
  • If you have online accounts that offer multi-factor authentication, and you haven’t taken advantage of that extra security feature, please do so.
  • Report the theft and develop an action plan using the Federal Trade Commission's website 

How can I protect myself from being a victim of identity theft?

There are several steps you can take to decrease the chances of becoming a victim:

  • Limit how often you give out your personal information except when it is required and you’re sure you can trust the person asking for it
  • Be skeptical of anyone who calls you and asks for personal details, no matter who they claim to be
  • Don’t let people steal your mail, especially if you receive “prescreened” credit card offers; when you go on vacation, contact USPS to put your mail delivery on hold or have someone collect it for you
  • If you don’t care to receive prescreened credit card offers, opt out to prevent unauthorized use (call 1-888-5-OPT-OUT)
  • Check your credit card statements, bank records, and credit report to ensure that there is no unauthorized use taking place
  • Consider placing a freeze on your credit proactively before you have been victim of identity theft
  • Don’t dispose of any papers listing your SSN or other private information without properly destroying (shredding) them
  • If an employer stores your sensitive personal information, ensure that there are policies in place to protect and properly dispose of your information

Resource Highlight: All members of the Duke community have access to a membership account through 1Password, a password management service. Learn more about this benefit on the IT Security Office's site.

What about your Social Security number (SSN)?  Divulging your SSN is inevitable: employers, schools, financial institutions, utility companies, and anyone you want to perform a background or credit check all have a legitimate need for your SSN.  But sometimes the need is questionable, and in such cases, you should ask the following:

  • Can this process be completed without using my SSN?
  • Why do you need my SSN and how will you use it?
  • How long will you keep my SSN on record and how will you ensure its secrecy?

Further, you should avoid carrying your SSN in your wallet or storing it in an unprotected file on your computer.  Avoid emailing your SSN to anyone, as you never know how secure it will be in someone else’s email account.

The internet has made shopping, banking, and communicating incredibly easy.  With this great convenience, however, comes great peril.  Here are some additional tips for using the internet safely:

  • Do not store credit card details on your computer
  • Do not store credit card details with retailers in case their database becomes compromised
  • Do not use public computers to enter sensitive personal information
  • Select passwords that are difficult to guess (hint: your birthday is an obvious guess)
  • Do not assume that a link always directs to the URL displayed on the page; mouse over the link without clicking to see the real link and ensure you’re not falling into a trap
  • You’re probably not the first to question a dubious website; as an alternative or supplement to checking a website’s logos, you can search for something like “is [website] legit” or “is [website] a scam” and you should be able to find numerous consumer reviews of the website and its trustworthiness

Additional Money Management Resources


NerdWallet-5 Strategies To Make Your Money Work For You

Check out this video by Nerd Wallet for some ideas on different money management systems you can adopt to improve how you manage your finances and ensure your dollars are being optimized to their greatest potential! 

Link to YouTube Video

Dive Deeper- How Systems Support Goals

Learn more about how systems can support goals and listen to a brief interview with James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, a proponent of fostering systems as a means to achieve success!

Link to Video on Goals & Systems

Take A Closer Look- Banking 101

Visit the Better Money Habits educational platform to view blogs, tips, videos, and other resources all about banking and creating your money management system.

Link to Better Money Habits- Banking Resources