Avoiding Overdraft Fees

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It's hard to live without a checking account. But it's also hard to live with the fees you can rack up if you overdraw it.

It’s hard to live without a checking account. But it’s also hard to live with the fees you can rack up if you overdraw it, and banks are only too happy to help you do it. For example, many clear checks by size rather than sequence.

Say you have $1000 in your account. You write 4 checks throughout one day: three for $20, then the last one for $1000. In order written, only the last would bounce. But if they arrive together, most banks will clear the $1,000 first. Result? 3 bounced check fees instead of one.

Here’s another trap: you assume your debit card will be rejected if there’s no money in your account. Wrong. Nearly half of NSF charges are from debit cards.

Which leads to trap number three: when you overdraw your account, the bank pays it: they call it a courtesy overdraft… essentially a loan. One that needs to be repaid quickly. Some banks will charge another 30 bucks if you don’t repay the courtesy overdraft within a week.

So how do you avoid these traps? You protect yourself. You keep your account reconciled, you don’t record a $100 deposit, so you have a pad. You tie in a savings account or credit line.

And two more ideas: First, if you do get nailed by a fee, call your bank and ask for a fee refund. If you’re a good customer, you might catch a break. And number two: credit unions often have fewer fees. So you might want to check them out!

Stacy Johnson

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