Checking account fees have risen to an all-time high, according to a study released Monday by Bankrate, Inc. The 2010 Checking Study looks at the fees associated with maintaining an interest-bearing account, including ATM surcharges, bounced check fees, and monthly fees, and the data show that costs have ballooned.
If the ATM you use charges a fee, you’re paying an average of 5% more than you used to; that’s how much fees went up in 2009, to an average of $2.33. If your bank doesn’t charge you to use its ATMs, but you find you simply must use another bank’s ATM in an emergency, you’ll likely get hammered twice: once from the bank that owns the ATM (that $2.33 again!), and once by your own bank for going outside of the network. Call it a disloyalty fee—and be prepared to fork over another $1.41, which is 7% more than you used to. So next time you’re tempted to stray from the fold, be prepared to make a contribution of $3.74 as your penance. Either that, or find a bank that doesn’t charge a penalty to use someone else’s ATM. So far, they’re still out there.
Speaking of checking accounts, fewer than ever are free. If you’re used to that little perk, you might have to shop around and go to a community bank or credit union, since the bigger banks are finding that they miss all those fees they aren’t allowed to charge you any more on your overdrafts. You might be able to keep your account fee-free, if you keep a higher balance, but that minimum balance is up 34% from last year, from $185.75 to $249.50. Or you might find that you have to restrict your banking to Internet-only transactions—no humans involved. Except you, of course.
And then there are those overdrafts. You guessed it—those fees are rising too. On average, they’re coming in at $30.47, up from $29.58 last year. To avoid them, plan spending carefully, so you don’t overdraw; if you can’t do that, then link to your savings account so that the bank will transfer your own money to cover the overdraft instead of using its own.
Caution is the byword, says Bankrate’s senior financial analyst Greg McBride, who said in a statement, "… consumers can save themselves a lot of money and grief. A consumer who goes to an out-of-network ATM weekly can save $260 per year by using their bank's ATM instead. Additionally, if that same person avoids one monthly overdraft of a checking account, at $30 each overdraft, they can save another $360. This means a potential savings of $620 annually, all without switching accounts or banks."