You know how banks now have to give you more notice before
hiking your credit card interest rates? And how they're no longer
allowed to charge those crazy penalty fees on top of other penalty
fees? Great stuff, right?
That'll be $144, please.
That's the minimum cost -- $12 a month -- of having a Chase
Total Checking account if you don't maintain a $1,500 minimum
balance (or $5,000 across all your deposit accounts) or make $500
in monthly direct deposits.
These new fees from
) take effect Feb. 8. And though I'm sure you're tempted, don't
hastily blow off the bank for greener pastures just yet. The grass
on bank lawns everywhere is getting browner by the day.
What do you mean, I owe
Costs like these on formerly "free" accounts have been creeping
onto bank statements lately, ever since new consumer protection
laws capped some of banks' more usurious fees.
With new limits on how much they can shake down customers for
every infraction, banks have begun to hit up the rich relatives for
rent money. Here's the part where we're supposed to cue a sad-faced
clown showing his empty pockets, apologizing for not being able to
"afford" to offer you, dear customer, free checking anymore.
Pay no attention to those
behind the curtain, bank patrons. Instead, have your checkbooks
handy. As Lowcards.com reports, banks have dropped the "r" in the
- Over at
Bank of America
) , you'll pay $6 to $25 a month, depending on your account
balances and the kinds of accounts you have with the
- A basic account at
) runs $8 a month if you fail to transact with the bank at least
five times a month. And for a less basic account, it's $20 a
month if your balance (in a single or multiple accounts) falls
- And at
) , formerly free checking now costs new customers $5 a month,
plus $6.95 for online bill payment privileges.
Qualify for free checking? You're still not off the hook
Even if you have sufficient funds to earn the privilege of free
checking, you still may not be able to shake off that bull's-eye on
That's because the fee infestation is spreading. For example,
starting Feb. 8, in addition to increased checking account fees,
ATM and debit card withdrawals at non-Chase money machines will
rise to $5 (formerly $2). Daily overdraft protection and
insufficient funds fees will go from $10 to $12 each.
Wire transfers, online transfers, stop-payment requests, and
even printing recent account activities at an ATM -- basically, any
type of transaction that was not subject to new regulations -- is
fair game for fee increases. It all gives new meaning to the phrase
How to avoid the sting of new banking fees
Finding the best bank for your bucks once required a simple
side-by-side comparison of interest rates. These days,
self-awareness is the first step in finding banking bliss (or at
least not getting robbed at your own bank).
With interest rates paying such a pittance, a few visits to a
foreign ATM or a dip below the minimum balance requirement can wipe
out months of interest earnings. If it's been a while since you've
looked at your banking habits -- and costs -- now's a good time to
see whether you and your current financial institution are a good
match. Some considerations:
How much money do you typically keep in your
If you tend to ride the line, then your biggest consideration
should be the monthly fee.
Do you have checking and savings accounts at the same
Or is your banking business spread across several institutions?
Consider giving your savings, checking and/or other business to a
single bank where your minimum account balance will be calculated
based on all of your accounts.
How often do you get cash from an ATM?
Is it convenient to find your bank's machines?
How good are you at keeping records?
A bank that offers to refund a certain number of foreign ATM
surcharges sounds great - but only if you're good about adhering
to the limits and keeping track of your wayward banking
Do you have direct deposits or regular transfers set
Direct deposits are often a ticket to avoiding maintenance fees.
So are automatic transfers from a savings account, at least at
How often do you use your debit card?
As with direct deposits, some banks encourage debit transactions
(10 times a month or more, since it's more profitable for them)
and will waive fees for customers who make a minimum number of
transactions per month.
How often do you need to visit a physical branch of your
If you're comfortable conducting some of your business online or
via mail, online banks like ING Direct charge less -- and pay
interest on some accounts -- because they have less overhead
costs to cover.
Do you pay your bills online?
Check to see whether online bill payment costs extra, or if it
counts as a fee-waiving activity. Also consider the costs of
paper checking, and getting copies of cancelled checks sent to
you physically or online.
Do you qualify to become a member of a credit union or
Although not fee-free, the costs of banking at these
community-owned institutions can be significantly less than doing
business with the larger corporations. Plus, many offer free
checking accounts for students and senior citizens who opt out of
paper statements. Find a local bank via
, or ICBA's
community bank locator
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