Money Matters: Avoiding bank account charges & fees

Reported by: Brittany Price
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Updated: 10/03/2012 10:58 am

Free checking accounts are dwindling as charges for those accounts sky-rocket.

"Not only continued increases, but record highs on fees on everything from over draft charges, ATM fees, monthly service charges on checking accounts and the balance requirements needed to avoid those fees," Greg McBride, Senior Financial Analyst for Bankrate.com said.  

McBride said these trends are being kicked into over-drive because of two regulatory changes.

"One that put restrictions on when banks could charge overdraft fees and the other limiting the income that banks get every time a consumer swipes their debit card," McBride said.  

This left banks with a big revenue hole that they have to fill.

"Not only have free checking accounts been a casualty of that but it's accelerated the trend in fee increases that we've seen on some of the other standbys like overdraft and ATM charges," McBride said.    

Despite the rise in fees, McBride noted there's good news for consumers. These charges are completely avoidable.

"Limit your withdrawals to your bank's own ATM network. You can scout out locations of fee-free ATMs. Also, if you're really in a pinch for cash you can get cash back when you make a purchase with your debit card at the point of sale," McBride said.  

McBride added you can side-step overdraft charges by keeping accurate tabs on your account balances.

"Either online or through mobile access you can sign up for email or text alerts that will notify you when your balance gets below a certain level. Specifically request a link between your checking account and your savings account. That's your lowest cost-line of defense. In the event you do slip up it's your money, not the bank's, covering any shortfall," McBride said.   

The most common way to ward off a monthly checking account fee is to sign up for direct deposit with the account you already have.  

"If that's not going to work for you there are still plenty of smaller community banks, credit unions and online banks that offer free checking accounts," McBride said.  

Bankrate.com found that 72 percent of the nation's largest credit unions offer free checking. It's just 39 percent among banks.

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