Photo (cc) by Tony.L.Wong
The following post comes from partner site lowcards.com
Here is an easy New Year’s resolution that may save you more than $100 in 2011: Pay attention to the notices and fine print from your bank. Fees are rising with many major banks, and there may be more you have to do to get or keep a free checking account.
When Congress passed regulations on the financial industry, banks warned the restrictions would cause them to raise rates and fees to recover the lost revenue. Banks have proved many times they weren’t bluffing. Banks have added a number of new fees in the past two years, and now they are testing fees on checking accounts, something that could affect millions of consumers by the end of 2011.
“Banks could lose billions of dollars in revenue this year from regulations,” says Bill Hardekopf, CEO of LowCards.com and author of The Credit Card Guidebook. “Banks can’t just absorb that loss – they have to make it up somewhere, and checking accounts are the hot topic right now.”
Free checking was a nice gift that banks used to attract customers, hoping it would lead to a deeper banking relationship with loans, mortgages, credit card, and mutual funds. But free checking is not “sacred.” Some banks started adding new checking account fees last year and a number of banks have followed.
Bank of America
Bank of America is testing a new fee system. It will divide customers into four groups and charge monthly fees based on how much money and how many accounts a customer has with the bank. The fees could range from $6 to $25 a month but customers can avoid the fees if they maintain a certain minimum balance, make a minimum number of deposits (both determined by account level), or bank in certain ways such as linking multiple accounts and credit cards.
Starting Feb. 8, Chase will enroll new customers in Total Checking. The monthly fee is $12, but it can be waived if you maintain a $1,500 balance, make $500 in monthly direct deposits, or keep a $5,000 balance across your deposit accounts. Older accounts will get a $6 monthly fee that can be waived with $500 in monthly deposits or if you make five debit card purchases.
Chase is also increasing fees on some account activities. According to the Chicago Tribune, ATM and debit card withdrawals at non-Chase ATMs will cost $5, up from $2. It will also charge $1 to print recent account transactions at ATMs for most customers. Overdraft protection fees are rising from $10 a day to $12 (waived if the account is overdrawn by $5 or less). The insufficient funds fee is increasing from $10 to $12. Outing wire transfers will cost $30, an increase from $25. Online transfers jump from $20 to $25. Stopped payment requests increase from $32 to $34.
Last fall, Citi stated charging monthly maintenance fees. The basic checking account now has an $8 monthly fee that is waived after a minimum of five transactions each month. A higher level account charges $20 each month if you don’t maintain a $6,000 balance across all linked checking, savings, and investment accounts.
Starting Feb. 3, Wells Fargo will replace free checking with an account that charges a $5 monthly maintenance fee and a $6.95 monthly online bill pay fee. This is for new customers and fees can be waived if a minimum balance or other requirements are met.
Here are a few consumer tips on avoiding or minimizing new bank fees:
- If you have an account requiring a minimum number of deposits or balance amount, pay close attention to your statements. Use account alerts to notify you of deposits, payments, and account balances. For example, if your minimum balance requirement is $500, an online alert can notify you when your balance drops close to that so you can take action before you get hit with the fee.
- Keep up with monthly debit card transactions. Some banks are adding fees if you don’t use your debit card enough.
- Find out what activities will waive your monthly maintenance fee. Banks may waive the fee for online banking, a certain number of deposits, or more debit card usage.
- Check out your local credit union. These may have better rates and lower fees than the major banks.
- Contact your bank customer service. You can complain about the fees and even ask them to waive the fees charged to your account. Keep an eye on your monthly statement for strange or new fees.
- Know yourself and how you use your account. Is it difficult to keep a $500 minimum balance? How often do you use an ATM? Do you need the monthly copy of your canceled checks? Know how you use your checking account and then find a bank that gives you the best rate and lowest fees for those services.
- If you didn’t opt out of overdraft protection, contact your bank and opt out now. Banks are still promoting its benefits but this protection can be very costly to you should you overdraw your account.