Banks continue to rack up their fees, ranging from ones imposed for your checking account or for using an out-of-network ATM.
The fees can add up quickly and impact your budget, especially if you’re facing other debt like student loans and credit card debt.
The average overdraft fee is $33.36, according to Bankrate’s 2019 checking account and ATM fee study, that's higher than it was in 2018.
The cost of using out-of-network ATMs is increasing as well and many banks are charging about $5 each time, according to Bankrate’s survey.
Consumers can avoid paying all these unnecessary charges by following these seven tips.
7 Tips for Avoiding Unnecessary Bank Fees
1. Use an Online Bank
Since online banks do not have physical branches, they have less overhead and typically offer higher interest rates, no minimum balances or opening deposit minimums.
Use an online bank and shop competitively, said Daren Blonski, managing principal of Sonoma Wealth Advisors in Sonoma, California.
“Minimizing bank fees is an important step to planning one's finances,” he said. “Fees can undermine your ability to manage your finances effectively.”
2. Negotiate With Your Bank
Financial institutions are masters at 'embedding' fees so consumers don't see them and realize how much they are shelling out each month, Blonski said. Force yourself to review statements monthly and check for sneaky fees, he said.
“When you see them, ask that your institution reverse them,” Blonski said. “Most of the time they will reverse your fees if you ask.”
If you accidentally overdrafted, call your bank to ask for these fees to be removed if you have not done this frequently.
3. Skip ATM Fees
Some ATM machines charge as much as $4 or $5 per transaction, but the best way to avoid paying to access your own money is to use an in-network machine to withdraw funds, said Bruce McClary, spokesperson for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization.
“This may be challenging when you’re traveling,” he said.
Check with your bank or credit union to see if they have special arrangements with other ATM networks to save you money on transaction fees while traveling. Some credit unions, for example, are linked by a network of Co-Op Shared Branches that offers nearly 30,000 surcharge-free ATMs throughout the country.
Use the cashback option when you make purchases at retailers such as Target, (TGT) - Get Report Trader Joe or Costco (COST) - Get Report. The retailers do not charge a fee and you can get some cash while skipping another errand.
Some banks refund ATM charges from non-network banks.
“We rebate up to $25 per statement of fees charged to them by other banks when they use our bank's debit card for domestic withdrawals,” said Lou DeCesare, president and COO of Philadelphia-based Hyperion Bank. "We think this makes it easier for customers to bank with us wherever they live or work."
4. Avoid Overdraft Fees
Most checking and savings accounts will offer some level of overdraft protection as an optional benefit, which is sold as a service to allow account holders to avoid declined transactions when they overdraw, McClary said.
“The downside to that is the fee, which might cost as much as $35 or $40 per transaction,” he said.
An alternative to overdraft protection may involve automatically moving funds from another account to cover the overage, but there might still be a fee for the transaction, McClary said.
“The best way to avoid paying any fee would be to set up an automatic reminder to alert you when your balance gets too low.”
Overdraft fees can really cost you - Bankrate’s annual banking fee study found that the average overdraft fee has risen to above $33.
“Ideally, one has an emergency savings account and is using mobile applications and alerts to be aware when an account balance is at risk of going to zero or below,” said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate, a New York-based financial data company. “By moving some savings into a checking account, you are lending yourself the funds, as opposed to being hit by an overdraft charge or the potential costs associated with an overdraft line of credit.”
5. Skip Maintenance Fees
Some checking and savings accounts include a monthly fee just for keeping the accounts open and these charges can range between $5 and $30, which could wipe out any interest earned on your account, McClary said.
“One way around maintenance fees is to maintain a balance above a certain threshold or to use other services provided by the bank or credit union, such as online bill paying or linking accounts,” he said.
6. Avoid Minimum Daily Balances
Many banks require consumers to maintain a minimum daily balance or they impose a monthly fee. Some banks will waive the fee if you receive direct deposit from your employer.
Shop around and consider opening an account with an online-only bank to eliminate this headache.
7. Look for Banks That Don't Charge Foreign Transaction Fees
Look for banks that do not charge an additional transaction fee when you travel outside the U.S. and use your debit card to make purchases or ATM withdrawals.
8. Skip the Paper Statements
Banks also charge fees to send you a paper statement. The idea of paying extra to view a paper statement may have seemed strange 10 or 15 years ago, but today this charge is increasingly common, said Urjit Patel, executive vice president of consumer banking at Axiom Bank in Maitland, Florida. Expect to pay $2 to $5 a month to receive a paper bank statement.
“If you want the statement in writing, but don’t want to pay the fee, consider printing from a home printer,” he said. Eliminating a paper bank statement in the mail should also reduce the chances of fraudsters stealing your personal information by raiding your mailbox or recycling bin.