How Can You Avoid Excessive Bank Fees?


I’m a bonafide expert when it comes to saving money on unnecessary bank fees. I married my banker, and therefore I am not subject to any bank fees. There; that’s all you have to do. Find a banker, marry him and you will never pay a monthly maintenance fee, foreign ATM fee or whatever fee for the rest of your life (your marriage, his career, whatever). If that is not possible, I’m sorry to tell you that you will have to find a more involved way of not paying excess fees when you bank, and that could mean doing a little homework so you know where to save the most money. To be quite honest, my husband was a part-time bank teller and full-time college student when we met 14 years ago, and though he’s worked his way to the top in the years since, I would have added “Never have to pay bank fees again,” to the list of pros when we first met – seriously. And because I feel so fortunate, I’m going to go ahead and share the secrets that you need to know to avoid your own bank fees and keep your account bigger and your fees smaller.

Familiarize yourself with the rules

You know all those envelopes that come in the mail from your bank that you throw in the trash because you don’t care to take the time to open them since there is an app for that? Well, you should open them. Those letters sometimes have updated policy information, like the fact that you’re going to assess a such and such fee if you don’t do X, Y or Z from this point forward. For example, your bank might change their policy and make a new rule that you have to have a minimum balance in your account to maintain free checking, or that you will lose your rights to a free checking account if you overdraft your account at any point. You have to know what the fees are, where they are coming from and how to avoid them if you want to make sure that you are not being subjected to paying them.

Maintain a minimum balance

Many accounts require that you do this if you want to maintain a free checking account. If your account is one like this, you have to maintain the minimum balance. Find out what it is and keep it in there. Even if that means getting creative with your budget from time to time to ensure that you always have enough in there. Perhaps you wait a few days to transfer your savings from your checking account so that the minimum is in there while you wait to get paid. You just have to do it.

Forget foreign ATMs

I am so guilty of this one; I will use the closest and most convenient ATM to me rather than my own bank’s ATM. Fortunately, my fees are waived as an employee’s wife. But that’s not true for all people. If I were to end up being responsible for the fees using a foreign ATM, I’d pay $4.75 per ATM visit, and after going back over my last 30 days ATM visits, I can see that I would have paid approximately $42.75 in ATM fees. But, I’m used to not paying them so I don’t bother getting more cash than I need, knowing I can come back anytime I want without paying a new fee. See how quickly those fees really start adding up?

Keep meticulous records

The best way to avoid fees when you bank is to keep a meticulous register. This is going to assist you in understanding what you have available at all times so that you never overdraft your account. Overdraft fees are high. They can be as much as $30 per overdraft – and that’s just the bank’s portion of the fee. If the overdraft happens when a check is cashed and that check then gets sent back to the establishment you wrote it to, you will find that you’re then responsible for whatever their returned check fee is, and that is sometimes as high as $75 in many places. This will happen if you are over by even a penny, so keeping your records perfect at all times is going to benefit you more than you realize.

Add direct deposit

Many banks will allow you to maintain a free account if you use direct deposit. This is a way for them to get you to use more of their services, which is very profitable and beneficial to them. This means that you have to upgrade your account to avoid paying fees to have one in the first place, but it’s not a bad idea. You can speak to your HR department about this and have it handled in next to no time so that you can begin to enjoy your free checking account right away.

Move to a credit union

Credit unions are not profit-based. They are service based. When they have a profit, they offer it to their customers by way of lower fees and better interest rates. When my husband and I have to finance a home or something of that nature, we immediately use our credit union. They are far lower in terms of their rates than anyone else, and they are also easier to work with. We’ve established such a good relationship with the credit union, too, that we can usually just call up and have what we want taken care of handled in next to no time at all. It’s quite the beneficial relationship.

In short, if you aren’t able to marry a banker and take advantage of his fee-free lifestyle, start looking toward the simple changes that need to be made to save your money and make your life a lot richer and a lot less fee-based. It’s worth it. These fees add up quickly, and can cost you thousands.

Photo Illustration by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images


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