Curing The Financial FLU

It's going around. It has multiple symptoms, can linger for a long time and put a real strain on your resources.

No, it's not the flu -- at least, it's not traditional influenza. An even more widespread and long-lasting problem is the financial FLU.

Epidemic proportions

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that by the end of 2012, most states in the U.S. were experiencing high levels of influenza or flu-like symptoms. This is a seasonal hazard, of course, and based on the CDC's past data, the flu outbreak is peaking at about the same time this season as it does most years.

Unlike influenza, the financial FLU it is not just a seasonal problem -- it won't go away once the weather warms up.

What is the financial FLU? It is an acronym for a combination of symptoms that can stunt the growth of household savings, drain precious financial resources and cause permanent damage to retirement plans. Here are the components of the financial FLU:
  • F is for Fees on checking accounts
  • L is for Low savings account interest rates
  • U is for Underutilized retirement plans

Do you have one or more of these symptoms? Then read on to learn more about the condition, and what you can do about it.

Fees on checking accounts

Research by has found that free checking is on the decline, and the size of checking account fees is rising. The average monthly maintenance fee would now come to a total of nearly $145 a year. That's quite a chunk out of the typical checking account balance, but since just over a third of checking accounts are still free of those monthly fees, this can be avoided.

Here are some tips for encountering fewer fees:
  1. Search for free checking accounts. If you are a student or senior citizen, ask about special free checking programs for those groups, because several banks offer them. If not, consider an online bank, as these are more likely to offer free checking accounts than traditional banks.
  2. Avoid overdraft fees. Opt out of overdraft protection, and practice responsible record-keeping practices so you don't spend more than is in your account.
  3. Minimize ATM fees. Choose a bank that makes free ATM service available in areas where you travel most frequently.

Low savings account interest rates

According to the FDIC, the average rate on savings accounts is now down to 0.07 percent. And yet, there are some banks offering closer to 1 percent.