Keeping bank fees at bay

Bank fees are bothersome – but they are often avoidable.

The American Bankers Association estimates that 61 per cent of Americans pay nothing for bank services. But that still leaves a sizeable number of folks who regularly shell out cash just to access their own money.

ATM fees, overdraft fees and monthly account maintenance fees are the ones most commonly faced by consumers, according to Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at McBride and other experts say there are ways, however, to minimize or eliminate these annoying and sometimes costly fees.

OVERDRAFT: Keep close tabs on transactions and account balances to avoid overdrawing your account. If you share the account with a spouse or someone else, make sure you have a system in place for sharing and tracking this information. And if you do overdraw, rectify the situation as soon as possible to keep additional fees from piling up.

One easy way to avoid overdrafts is to sign up for email or text alerts letting you know when you balance gets below a certain level.

Set up safeguards in case you do slip up, such as establishing a link between your checking and savings account. That way if you do overdraw, your own money is used to cover the shortfall, not the bank’s, McBride says.

The Consumer Protection Financial Bureau also points out that you do not have to be enrolled in a bank’s overdraft protection program. If you decide not to enrol, your purchase will be denied when there are insufficient funds, instead of covered for a fee.

ATM: Limit your withdrawals to your own bank’s network of ATMs.

Typically you can search a bank’s website or use their app to find ATMs that you can use free of charge. If you must use an ATM not affiliated with your bank, take out a larger amount to avoid having to go back multiple times, suggested the ABA.

You can also bypass ATMs altogether and get cash back with a purchase at most retailers.

In general though, the easiest way to avoid these fees is to plan ahead when you need cash.

“Saturday night comes at the same time each week,” McBride said.

MAINTENANCE: Account maintenance fees likely affect the most consumers but there are many ways to avoid them.

Many institutions offer free checking accounts, particularly at credit unions. Other banks will waive their fee if you maintain a minimum balance, sign up for direct deposit or have some other type of account with them.

“The bottom line is, if you don’t like paying that fee, good news: you don’t have to,” McBride said.

You can find out what fees your bank or financial institution is charging you by looking at their fee disclosure statement, which is usually in the monthly statement or on their website. This can alert you to any other unusual add-on expenses you might run into.