credit & debt

5 Annoying Bank Fees to Avoid

Charges are piling up on formerly free checking accounts.

Bank fees are multiplying like mosquitoes in summer. Mike Moebs, of Moebs Services, which tracks bank data, says his database includes more than 300 charges for loans and deposits. And many banks are dodgy about their fees, according to a survey by U.S. PIRG, the federation of state public interest research groups.

Many customers, especially at big banks, are getting stung by fees for formerly free checking accounts. At Chase and Citibank, for example, if your account dips below the $1,500 minimum daily balance, you’ll pay a monthly fee of $10 or $12. You can deflect the fee if you arrange for monthly direct deposit, pay a certain number of bills online and avoid paper statements. But you don’t have to jump through hoops if you move your checking account to a fee-friendly community bank or credit union. Find a community bank near you or a credit union at www.culookup.com or www.asmarterchoice.org (see 7 Great Credit Unions Anyone Can Join).

Overdraft fees. Many big banks charge $35 each time you overdraw your account. Bank of America tacks on an additional $35 if you don’t repay the money within five business days. Avoid the fee for debit-card purchases and ATM withdrawals by opting out of automatic overdraft protection -- if you don’t have enough funds in your account, those transactions will be denied. But checks and e-bills can still trigger overdraft fees, so link your checking account to a savings or money market account to transfer funds as needed. Of course, you’ll pay a fee -- typically $10 -- for each transfer.

ATM fees. Using an out-of-network ATM costs about $4, on average. That includes a charge from the bank that owns the ATM, plus a fee from your bank. Go to your bank’s Web site or download an app such as ATM Hunter to find in-network ATMs. Or switch to a bank or credit union that belongs to the surcharge-free Allpoint network, with 43,000 ATMs nationwide. Some online banks, including Ally, Schwab and State Farm Bank (with direct deposit), rebate all ATM fees.

Personal-finance software. Your bank might charge you as much as $10 a month to download information into Quicken, the personal-finance program. Use a site that tracks transactions free, such as Mint.com, MoneyStrands or Personal Capital.

Bank-teller fees. Customers of Bank of America’s free eBanking account must pay an $8.95 fee if they use a teller for deposits or withdrawals. PNC’s free Virtual Wallet account charges $5 if you ask for help from bank staff. If you want old-fashioned serv­ice, don’t sign up for these accounts.

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