MAY 15, 2011
Maybe We’ll Charge an Extra Fee to Read This
by RACHEL LOUISE ENSIGN
Lose your PNC Bank debit card on vacation, and it’ll likely cost you $32.50 for a replacement. If U.S. Bank gets more than one of your statements returned in the mail because of an incorrect address, you’ll be charged $5 — for each return.
If you feel banks are nickel-and-diming you these days, you’d be right.
Free banking has gone the way of the free in-flight meal. Banks are now restricted in some fees they can charge — and stand to lose billions of dollars in revenue as a result — so they’re coming up with new fees for things that used to be free.
Checking accounts at the 10 biggest U.S. banks had a median 49 fees in October, according to an April study by the Pew Charitable Trusts.
But there are ways to beat your bank at its own game — and minimize or avoid some fees.
Monthly Service Fees. More banks have gone back to charging you for holding your money. And those fees keep going up. The average monthly fee for a non-interest-bearing checking account was $2.49 in 2010, up from $1.77 in 2009, according to Bankrate.com. An interest-bearing account charged an average $13.04, up from $12.55.
The easiest way to eliminate that fee: direct deposit. About three in five banks with a monthly service fee will waive it if a customer signs up for regular direct deposit, according to an April study from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a consumer advocacy group.
And it doesn’t just apply to a paycheck. Direct deposit of Social Security, veterans, disability and pension benefits also qualify. Distributions from 401(k) plans and individual retirement accounts often qualify, says Scott Lang, senior vice president of association services at NACHA, a Herndon, Va.-based group that promotes electronic payments.
One caveat: Some banks are now requiring a minimum deposit amount. It also can pay to consolidate your accounts and loans at one bank. Chase, for instance, eliminates the monthly charge if you maintain a $1,500 minimum daily balance or have $5,000 or more in linked deposits and investments, which include savings accounts and investment accounts.
ATM Withdrawals. You not only have to pay up to keep your money in a bank, you’re also getting dinged when you want to take your money out. While ATM fees have been rising for years, new regulations have added fuel to the fire, sending fees higher than ever, says Greg McBride, senior financial analyst at Bankrate.com.
Withdrawing money from an ATM outside your bank costs you an average $2.33, up more than 18% from the fall of 2008, according to Bankrate.com. Wells Fargo and Bank of America already are charging non-customers $3 to use their ATMs. And your own bank likely is penalizing you for going to another bank. The average surcharge banks impose on customers for using an outside ATM is $1.41, up from $1.32 in the fall of 2009.
Limit your need to go to an ATM by getting cash back when using a debit card for purchases. But there’s usually a limit on how much you can get back — typically between $50 and $100, says Nessa Feddis, vice president and senior counsel at the American Bankers Association.
Another option is to open an online checking account. Online banks, such as State Farm Bank, Ally Bank and Charles Schwab Bank, refund all ATM fees at the end of the month since they typically don’t have their own ATMs.
If you have an account with a smaller bank or credit union, see if the institution belongs to a third-party network of ATMs, such as Allpoint or MoneyPass. ATM machines in these networks, which can be found in places like Wal-Mart and McDonald’s, don’t charge you a withdrawal fee (though your bank may charge you one).
The (Fill in the Blank) Fee. Some of the most basic banking services are now being recast as extras that come with, you guessed it, a price.
Empty your kid’s piggy bank to deposit the coins at a Citibank branch in Illinois, and it’ll cost Junior 5% of the deposit. (After The Wall Street Journal Sunday inquired about the fee, the bank said it planned to eliminate it.)
If you’re a Bank of America customer with an e-banking account and make just one deposit a month through a teller, drive-up window or night deposit box, an $8.95 fee will kick in. The fee also comes into play if you want paper statements.
And, even if they don’t charge for the initial statement, most banks charge $5 each for copies of deposits, checks or past statements.
And those PNC Bank customers who have a debit card lost or stolen while on vacation? On top of its standard $7.50 replacement fee, the bank tacks on an extra $25 “expedited card delivery fee” if you want to have the card mailed to somewhere other than home.
Overdraft Protection. The biggest hit is the overdraft fee, which the bank charges you for letting a payment go through when you don’t have enough funds in your account. It will run you $10 to $36 for every transaction you make while your account is in the red, according to the Pew study (though most banks limit the number of daily overdraft charges).
If your bank charges you, say, $34 on one $100 overdraft that takes you two weeks to pay back, it’s equivalent to a loan with a whopping 886% annual percentage rate, according to the Center for Responsible Lending.
Instead of signing up for overdraft protection, apply for an overdraft line of credit. You’ll pay a much smaller transfer fee, typically $5, each time you overdraw plus 18% interest until the balance is paid back, according to the Center for Responsible Lending.
Another option is to link your checking account to a savings account. You’ll typically pay $5 to $10 each time you have to dip into the savings account to cover a transaction in your checking account, says Ed Mierzwinski, consumer advocate at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.
Take it a step further and sign up for automatic text-message or email alerts when your checking-account balance drops below a certain amount. Then transfer money online from your savings account to your checking account yourself. That’s still free at most banks. But give them time.
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