Everyone loves a surprise — until the surprise comes from a bank in the form of an unwanted fee. According to research from Moebs Services, reported by MarketWatch, Americans paid $34.3 billion in overdraft fees alone in 2017, with an average fee of $30.
A wide variety of nasty fees wait to ambush unsuspecting consumers, but with a little financial know-how, savvy customers can avoid paying extra for banking services. Watch out for these hidden bank fees, and use these tips to avoid paying unnecessary charges:
1. Account Maintenance Fees
Most checking accounts at major financial institutions charge monthly fees. Customers can usually avoid these fees by fulfilling certain requirements, usually involving minimum balances, debit card swipes, or direct deposits. If you don’t want to switch banks to one without maintenance fees, make sure you understand your bank’s requirements and fulfill them every month.
2. Investment Advisory Fees
Brokerages and investors charge different fees for different funds. Some low-cost index funds charge almost nothing. Others require major percentages just to hold shares, and some even put an advisor fee on top of that. Unless you own millions of dollars’ worth of assets, don’t pay someone else to watch your money grow. Find low-cost funds, put in your money, and enjoy the show as your accounts grow with the market.
3. Overdraft Fees
No one has ever enjoyed paying an overdraft fee. Keep yourself in the clear by making sure your account always has enough to cover your debits. If you need a little wiggle room, use a credit card or a prepaid debit card to ensure your main account never acts as the first line of defense. Be wary about overdraft protection services, too. Laws prevent banks from charging overdraft fees in many cases, but accepting overdraft protection coverage may mean opting in to accept the fees.
4. Paper Statement Fees
Some people enjoy keeping a paper trail of their banking transactions. If that sounds like you, consider creating a folder of PDF files on your computer with electronic banking statements instead. You can even back up your folder on the cloud for extra protection. If you’d still prefer paper statements but don’t want to pay a paper statement fee, create a reminder on your calendar to print your statements at home every month.
5. Foreign Transaction Fees
Do you ever travel outside the country? If so, be careful about which cards you use. Many debit cards and credit cards charge hefty transaction fees in foreign countries, usually ranging from 2% to 4%. To avoid these fees, you must either open a new card that doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee or switch to cash on your vacations.
6. Credit Card Membership Fees
Many credit cards don’t require annual membership fees. Of the ones that do, most provide benefits for members beyond those of free cards. You can avoid membership fees by downgrading your credit card to a free one, but think carefully before you do. The benefits may be worth the expense. Business travelers can earn serious points for airlines and hotels with the appropriate cards. Regular card users can earn points, too, so make sure you compare your options before deciding to pay.
7. ATM Fees
To avoid ATM fees, plan ahead of time when you need cash. Banks allow customers to make withdrawals at branches or bank-owned ATMs for no charge. Otherwise, consider opening an account with a bank that reimburses you for ATM fees accrued elsewhere. Banks that reimburse these charges typically cap reimbursements at around $10 to $20 per month. If you need cash and can’t find a friendly ATM, buy something small at a store and ask for cash back.
8. Account Termination Fee
Banks sometimes offer new customer bonuses for people who open new accounts. These bonuses can amount to several hundred dollars, so banks want to keep the customers who open them for several years to earn back that bonus money. If you recently opened a new account and want to close it, make sure you won’t incur a termination fee for doing so. Banks typically don’t charge termination fees for accounts that have been open longer than a year.
9. Check Fees
When you need checks or cashier’s checks from your bank, you may have to pay a fee. Some banks offer customized checks with different pictures on them, so if that’s your thing, expect to pay for the service. Many banks waive fees to cashier’s checks for certain types of accounts. Check fees vary from bank to bank, but if you’ve been a longtime customer, you can usually get your bank to waive the fee by asking nicely.
10. Inactivity Fees
Perhaps you don’t use your old checking account anymore and want to keep it open as a secondary place for your savings. If you do this, talk to a customer service representative first to ensure you won’t have to pay an inactivity fee. You may be better off transferring your money into a savings account and closing the checking account to avoid inactivity charges. Sometimes, you can avoid these fees by maintaining a minimum account balance, even if you no longer actively use the account.
Do you find yourself paying multiple bank fees every month? Instead of accepting your fate and paying hundreds of dollars per year, use these tips to plug the leaks in your finances and keep more of your money. If your bank makes it difficult to dodge fees, you might be better off closing your accounts and moving to a new financial institution.
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