The one page that most BoA banking center people are going to use is the Account Activity page. This has a list of transactions and a number called the “Available Balance.” As you may have gathered by reading this so far, the “Available Balance” does not reflect purchases made with a debit card that were signed for (I learned this little detail by pestering a phone representative, not through my pouring through the website), holds or, of course, pending checks.

(In the old days, I remember that all checks sent through Bill Pay were deducted from Available Balance immediately upon being sent even if not presented, which I much preferred. I don’t think there is an option to switch that on with the bank.)

There is a small link in the upper left corner of the page called “Available Balance History.” On this page is another set of transactions that appears quite similar to the first page, but with two columns of figures, each of which is topped by different numbers. One number is your account without holds, one with—but neither of them is the actual “available balance.” At least, in my experience, neither of these numbers always matches up with the “available balance.”

Occasionally, I have had this number be larger than my available balance, and occasionally smaller. And despite the fact that it is called a “history,” it is in fact often more current than the information on the Available Balance page of the site. It’s not presented as the go-to page for information on the site, but rather as a way to gaze on the past—but if you make a lot of purchases for which the company has put a hold on a sum of money from your account, you won’t see any note of it on the Available Balance page. It will show up here.

There is another section of the site that appears to combine this information called My Portfolio, but I don’t know how to use it. I assumed it was for people who had investments, stocks, property, etc.—hence the term “Portfolio”—and not for poor writers like me who don’t own anything and never use the term “portfolio” in relation to money.

However, on glancing at it, I notice that it presented yet another image of how much I was worth. Here is the breakdown:

  • Account Details—checking: $136.77
  • Account Details—saving: $7.5
  • Account Balance History w holds: $111.78
  • Account Balance History w/out holds: $111.78
  • My Portfolio: -$104.19
  • Accounts Page: $0 (but this is obviously not true)

If you add the two figures from Account Details, $7.59 to the -$136.77, you would get -$129.18, yet another number.

The My Portfolio number comes from adding the small amount of money I have in my savings to the number on the Account Balance History page (both being the same this time, I don’t know which exactly). So, with all of these numbers flying around—it seems the My Portfolio figure is the most accurate, if still off considering the disappeared pending checks—maintaining a sense of your balance when you are getting very low is difficult, if not impossible.

It should be noted that, in all of my transactions with customer service through the phone and in chat, none of them have suggested I activate My Portfolio. (I confirmed this once again, in my final chat session, below.) The lead page for My Portfolio when it is not activated suggests that it is only of use to people with stocks and investments, which is why, until I started researching this paper, I never set it up [endnote 22].

Consequently, the Available Balance History is geared more toward letting you know what went wrong—i.e. arguments in favor of the bank when you are on the phone with customer service. Visual information on what the user was seeing on the day he or she made the bad transaction is not available, and is entirely masked by this screen.

Of course, this is the way it is with most websites, though sites like Facebook let you look back at the history of what you have done exactly as it looked when any transaction was made. This feature—while admittedly hard to implement—would be good for presenting cases by customers, not to mention as a way to educate the customer in what went wrong [endnote 23]. The only way to keep a record of what it was you were looking at on the day of the bad transaction is to do a screen capture.

This post is a section of Bank of America Online Banking: A Critical Evaluation. This essay is also available as a book which can be downloaded for free at Lulu (where an inexpensive, not-priced-for-profit print edition can also be purchased) and at Scribd. The table of contents for the blog version of this essay can be seen in its entirety here.