Sneaky Bank Fees

By Sharon Naylor

January 13, 2014 5 min read

When you've opened your bank statement or viewed your account online in the past, you may have gotten an unwelcome surprise: Your bank has charged you a maintenance fee that has put your balance below zero, thus causing you to incur an overdraft fee, as well. What triggered that troublemaking maintenance fee? Your account balance dipped below $100. If you weren't aware of your checking account's minimum balance rule, you've just gotten a double wallop.

Be sure to know all of the bank fees that your financial institution enforces, so that you can avoid them. Here are some of the most surprising bank fees that might be listed in the small print of your account's rules:

--Checking account fees. According to a 2010 study by the financial services research firm Celent, annual checking account fees can run from $250 to $300 per account. Not all checking accounts are free, so visit sites like Bankrate.com to research no-fee checking accounts, and talk to your bank about their free-checking plans.

--Human teller fees. Some banks offer free e-checking accounts, offering free paperless statements and free deposits and withdrawals via their ATM machines. But if you step up to the bank desk to have a human teller conduct your transaction, you might be charged $8 in monthly fees. Some banks charge $10 per teller transaction. So if you are signed up for free e-checking, investigate your bank's policy on teller use to be sure you won't be charged what can add up to perhaps $96 in fees for the year.

--Returned mail fee. If your bank mails you a notice about your bank account and that envelope gets returned to the bank rather than reaching you, you may be charged $5 to $6 for undeliverable mail. An easy way to eliminate this risk is by opting out of printed bank statements, choosing instead to be notified of account changes via your free online banking messaging system.

--Fees for redeeming rewards points. They are your earned rewards, but your bank might charge you a fee each time you redeem and order your reward, plus an annual program fee. To avoid these benefit-reducing fees, shop around for rewards programs that carry no bank fees. Again, Bankrate.com can be a good resource for assessing reward programs or you can call your bank's customer service line to inquire about no-fee rewards that they may offer on one of their many different rewards cards. You may just have to switch to a different card, one with no hidden fees.

--Fees for early account closure. When banks saw people closing their accounts and moving to new ones, some started levying a fee for closing an account within 90 to 180 days of opening that account. Check your bank account policy documents to find out what the penalty might be for closing an account you're no longer satisfied with, and be aware that if you choose not to close that account, you might incur fees for a balance that dips below the minimum or is even inactive. Talk to your bank about waiving your account closure fees. They may be more likely to do so if you're switching to a different account with that same bank.

--Coin-counting fees. Many banks don't charge account holders for using their cash-counting machines, but you will lose some of your money if you use a coin-counting machine in a bank at which you do not have an account. So always go to your bank to get the full value of your coins.

--Monthly maintenance. According to Bankrate, most banks' monthly maintenance fees increased 184 percent between 2008 and 2012, averaging $5.48, but sometimes soaring as high as $12 per account. You might be able to get this fee waived if you sign up for direct deposit or by enrolling in both free checking and savings accounts with your bank. Another way to avoid this fee is by always knowing what the new minimums are for both savings and checking accounts and keeping your balances comfortably above those figures.

--Overdraft fees. They're up 7 percent, according to Bankrate.com, and a new study by Pew Research says that banks routinely change the order of daily withdrawals, making you more likely to overdraft. To avoid fees, keep a generous buffer amount of several hundred dollars in your account, if possible. And ask your bank if they provide a free text alert to warn you when your account balance dips below a specific amount, which you've indicated upon enrollment.

These are just some of the fees that banks impart to boost their profits, and both small and large banks have lists of fees that could reduce your balances. Make it a regular practice to review your bank's policies and those mailed notices explaining or announcing new fees, and if you see a fee on your bank statement that you've never seen before, talk to a bank manager and ask for it to be waived. Some banks, seeing your long history as an account holder, will waive certain fees.

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