Are you tired of paying fees to conduct your banking activities? Learn about the costs and fees (both hidden and obvious) associated with personal banking so you can avoid them and save your money.
Americans Pay Billions in Overdraft Fees
As the 2012 report Still Risky: An Update on the Safety and Transparency of Checking Accounts showed, when it comes to the banking industry there are still many practices which have a negative effect on consumers' wallets. According to the study, in 2011 alone, Americans paid over $29.5 billion in overdraft fees.
The study reports that bank fees continue to rise and can be difficult to understand. The best way to cut banking costs is to identify the common fees and charges that might apply to you, and then do what you can to avoid or reduce them.
How to Cut Banking Costs
You don't have to simply accept bank fees. There are steps you can take in order to save your money.
Request Fee Reversals
There is nothing wrong with asking for clarification of unfamiliar charges that appear on your bank statement or other banking documents. To resolve the problem:
- Pick up the phone and call the customer service desk of your branch or bank, or visit them in person. Ask for an explanation of the charges, and request a reversal. Be pleasant but persistent, and if necessary, ask to speak to the customer service supervisor or branch manager to resolve your request.
- Follow-up with a letter if a phone call is ineffective.
As long as your accounts and other business (for example credit accounts and investments) are in good standing, politely remind the staff that you are a full-service and long-time loyal customer. If all of your banking is with one institution, they may think twice about losing all of your business over something like a $25.00 overdraft charge.
Comparison Shop to Find a Free Checking Account
Compare the fees, charges, and services of your bank against the competitors, but make sure you are comparing similar account packages when looking at the price. How many transactions does your monthly service charge include? What is the minimum balance? How much for additional transactions? Don't be afraid to ask for a better deal based on your existing or potential business with the bank.
If you are comfortable with online banking, visit the websites for the following financial institutions, all of which offer free bank accounts:
- Ally Interest Checking Account is administered online and does not require a minimum deposit to open. There are no ATM fees at select locations and deposits can be made electronically via the eCheck deposit tool.
- PNC Virtual Wallet Spend Account offers free ATM reimbursements and cash rewards to account holders via the PNC Purchase Payback program.
- Capital One 360 Checking grants account holders free access to over 38,000 ATMs nationwide and the ability to make deposits with CheckMate.
- Bank of Internet USA Rewards Checking Account enables consumers to open an account with a minimum deposit of $100. Account holders also enjoy unlimited ATM reimbursements, cash-back incentives and a free debit MasterCard.
- Bank of America MyAccess Personal Checking Account is free with qualifying direct deposits or a minimum balance of $250. Account holders can also accumulate funds through the Keep the Change Program.
- BB&T Bright Banking is free with direct deposits of $500 or more per month.
- Citibank Basic Checking offers account holders the opportunity to earn incentives through ThankYou Rewards. No minimum fee is required and the checking account is free with one direct deposit and one bill payment per month.
- HSBC Choice Checking account holders receive a debit MasterCard and optional overdraft protection with qualifying direct deposits or a monthly balance of $1,500 or more.
- Suntrust EZ Checking is free with 10 or more qualifying transactions per month. Account holders also receive identify theft protection on their accounts.
Are you willing to give a smaller bank a try? Try a community bank or a credit union, which typically offer basic, no-frills free checking account. Credit unions are also well-known for offering fewer fees than larger banks, but membership in these institutions can be limited.
To search for a local credit union visit Findacreditunion.com.
Does your bank offer a free checking account if it is bundled with a credit card, loan, line of credit, mortgage, or other bank accounts? Bank of America, Chase, and US Bank all offer the option of a free checking account with a savings account, so ask your own bank about this option.
While you are at it, ask about reduced interest rates on your borrowing needs. If you are a full-service customer, you may be able to save even more money.
Avoid Overdraft Fees
Overdraft fees can be some of the most expensive costs associated with banking if you aren't careful when managing your money. The standard fee for overdrawing ranges between $20.00 and $30.00 across American banks and checking accounts, according to the Federal Reserve System. To avoid these fees:
- Avoid overdrawing your account by exercising proactive money management.
- Enroll in overdraft protection on your checking account.
- Set-up electronic alerts that warn you once the account reaches a certain level and is close to being overdrawn.
Eliminate Paper Statements
Don't pay extra for paper copies of your bank account statements. Print your electronic statements out at home monthly to keep costs low. Instead of paying extra to have your checks returned, order checks that come with duplicate carbon copies so you have a record of all the checks you've written.
Order Checks from an Online Printer
Ordering checks can be another costly bank charge, and the cost varies according to the bank, type of account you have and the type of checks ordered. Save money by buying cheap checks directly from the printer instead of through your bank. Here are two good examples:
- Checkworks.com charges $9.95 for a box of 150 checks, or $12.95 for a box of 125 duplicate checks.
- Check Advantage offers checks from $13.95 per box of singles.
Avoid Out of Network ATMs
Do you know how much money your bank charges each time you withdraw money from a bank machine other than one of theirs? Fees may range from $2.00 for Bank of America and Chase customers using ATMs in the United States, to as much as $5.00 if withdrawing funds at an ATM in a foreign country.
Customers often don't realize that each withdrawal also counts as a transaction, and if your account package includes a limited number of transactions you could soon find yourself paying an additional transaction fee.
Avoid this by:
- Limiting the frequency of ATM withdrawals - those fees add up quickly.
- Requesting cash back when paying for a purchase like groceries or a coffee using your debit card.
Most retailers don't charge for cash back if you are making a purchase; they simply add the cash withdrawal to your bill.
Other Common Bank Fees
There are many other bank account servicing fees that may not be included in your package. These fees can quickly eat up your balance if you aren't careful. Avoid these fees whenever possible to help you save money.
- Extra Transaction Charges: If you exceed your allowed number of transactions you will be hit with a charge for each extra transaction.
- Stop Payment Fees: Stopping payment on a check you've already written costs $30.00 at Chase.
- Fees for Preparing Money Orders, Bank Drafts or Travelers Checks: These fees range from $5.00 to $8.00 at Chase.
- Replacing Lost ATM Cards: The cost can generally range from $5.00 to $20.00 to replace a card, depending on how quickly you may need it.
- Check Enclosure or Check Imaging Fees: $3.00 per item at Chase
- Copies of Deposit Slips: $3.00 per slip at Bank of America
- Hourly Charges for Research: If bank staff carries out a historical transaction search it will cost you $20.00 per hour at Bank of America.
In today's world, paper records can also equal additional costs to customers. If you request statements, copies of deposit slips, checks, or any other paper records, there is a good chance you will be charged a fee. For example, Chase charges $6.00 for a copy of your paper statement.
Avoid Hidden Bank Fees
Some bank fees are harder to identify than others, and can come as an unpleasant surprise if you aren't prepared. The best way to deal with hidden fees is to ask if there is a fee for every service you request at the bank, and if possible, to confirm the fee (or lack of it) in writing before proceeding with your transaction or request. Some common "hidden" fees include:
- Loan Origination Fees: A fee charged (typically by a mortgage lender) calculated as a percentage of the loan. Chase charges 1 percent of the loan amount.
- Balance Inquiry Fees: Some banks, such as the Bank of America, charge a fee for a balance inquiry even if you do not perform a transfer, as stated in their Personal Schedule of Fees.
- Next-day Online Payment Fees: Citizens Bank is one of many banks to charge $10 for online next day transfers.
- Mail Return Fees: US Bank charges $5.00 for the second and each subsequent bank statement mailed to your address and returned to them as undeliverable.
- Telephone transfers or Bill Payment Fees: PNC charges $3 per transfer completed with the help of a customer service rep on the phone
Understand Your Account Fees
Do you know what that monthly service charge on your bank statement covers? In addition to the disclosed regular fee, transactions or banking activity throughout the statement cycle can quickly add more to your overall banking costs.
The services covered vary from bank to bank. Here are a few examples:
- Bank of America's basic no-interest MyAccess Checking Account is $12.00 a month, a fee that includes unlimited teller access, online, mobile and text banking. Additional service fees are outlined in the Personal Schedule of Fees. If you set up a qualifying direct deposit of $250 or maintain an account balance of $1500 each month the fee is waived.
- The Chase Total Checking Account also costs $12.00 a month and offers similar services. If you want to avoid their account maintenance fees you'll have to set up a direct deposit of $500 a month. Their additional fee information is included in the document A Guide to Your Account.
- US Bank also offers a competitive basic checking account at $6.95 per month for accounts with online statements only.
Dig out your account agreement, look it up online or request a copy of the disclosure from your branch to see exactly what you are entitled to, when you will be charged, and how much the fees will be.
Review Your Banking Regularly
Ask about special reduced banking rates if you fall into the category of seniors, military, or some other group offered reduced fees by your financial institution. To make sure you aren't paying unnecessary fees or bank charges, review your bank statements regularly. Contact your financial institution if you see anything out of the ordinary, and question any charges you weren't expecting.