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How to Bank Without Fees

Shouldn't your bank encourage you to save, instead of costing you money every month?

A dollar here, $2.50 there. Some bank fees may not sound like much, but in the long term, they can seriously add up.

Banks are in business to make money, and they do that by keeping some of yours.

Some fees, like overdraft and return-check fees, are easy to spot and easy to avoid. Then there are others, like maintenance fees and debit card "swipe" fees. The American Bankers' Association estimates that the average "free" checking account costs customers about $300 a year in fees to maintain.

Here are some tips on avoiding some of these fees, and for getting the most bang for your proverbial buck at the bank:

Direct deposit - Some banks waive monthly fees for checking accounts when you sign up to have your employer automatically deposit your paycheck.

Shop around - If your bank is charging excessive fees, or if you can't find an account that suits your needs, switch. You have a lot of options, and often smaller banks or credit unions are able to offer more customized account options and fewer fees.

Check elsewhere - The bank will probably charge you $20 or more for a box of standard personal checks. Shop online and compare prices. I just got a box of cute owl checks for $5.99 including shipping from Checks in the Mail. (I saved $14 through Ebates.)

Online banking - Sign up for this service, which is usually free, and have access to your accounts anywhere you have access to the Internet. Plus, most online banking platforms include an online bill-pay feature, which allows you to send bill payments electronically, saving you a check, an envelope, a stamp and some time.

Know the rules - Read the paperwork, especially the fine print, that comes with your checking account. If you're familiar with how your account works, and when fees are incurred, you won't be surprised by "hidden" banking fees. For example, my bank charges me a hefty $2.50 fee for using another bank's ATM. I get around this fee by planning ahead and always finding a branch of my bank when I need to take out cash.

Fees for your cash - Speaking of ATM fees, some banks don't charge a fee to use another bank's ATM, and others take it a step further by reimbursing you for any ATM fees you might incur from another bank.

Minimum balance - Sometimes a bank waives monthly fees if you keep a minimum average account balance. Know what that balance requirement is, know your account balance, and try to maintain that minimum balance. If you can't afford the minimum balance, switch to another account (or another bank) with a lower or no minimum balance requirement.

Avoid overdrafting - Set up your account so that your bank will decline any transaction that exceeds your available balance. This way, you'll avoid making purchases that put your account in the red and cost you an overdraft fee, which can be as much as $37.

Which bank fee do you find to be the most frustrating? Tell us in the comments.

Bill MOrgan February 10, 2013 at 01:37 PM
The most annoying charge in the new one initiated by Sovereign Bank for using "foreign" (non-Sovereign) ATMs, Their charges just went from 0 to $2.50 per transaction to $3.00 a transaction. I have 3 direct deposits an 4 automatic payments and run about $75,000 a year through this account and am a senior citizen. since it costs about 25 cents to process these transactions, why the excessive charges
Erin Cohen Ambler Savings Bank February 14, 2013 at 07:00 PM
Ambler Savings Bank does not charge a fee if you use another banks atm. Only that bank will charge but we will not. And our other basic fees are very minimal compared to the rest.
Erin Cohen Ambler Savings Bank February 15, 2013 at 03:51 PM
Hi Bill. If you are in the Spring Ford Area give us a call at the Limerick Ambler Savings.
Henry F Potter March 25, 2013 at 01:53 PM
"minor" courtesy fees are what set solvent banks apart from the building & loan, that george bailey, he's a trickster....give your money to us.

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