Consumer IQ

4 Most Frustrating Bank Fees (And How to Avoid Them)

The 4 Most Frustrating Bank Fees and How to Avoid Them :: Mint.com/blog

Consumers who overdraw their bank accounts pay an average of $225 in fees annually, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The first ever TD Bank Checking Experience Index found that the three most infuriating bank fees were ATM fees, overdraft fees, and minimum balance fees.

And these fees can really add up, even when consumers are careful.

A MoneyRates.com survey from earlier this year found that bank fees are increasing. The average monthly maintenance fee for checking accounts is now $12.26 per month — almost $150 per year!

Be sure to read every piece of mail your bank sends you. This is a primary way that banks announce new fees and fee hikes.

Fortunately, many annoying bank fees can be avoided. Here are ways to avoid 4 common bank fees.

Avoiding ATM Fees

Use an ATM that’s not in your bank’s network, and you could be charged a fee from both your bank and the network whose ATM you’re using.

Transaction fees at non-network ATMs average $4 each, and that’s a huge percentage if you’re only withdrawing small amounts.

Avoid ATM fees by choosing a bank with hours, branch locations, and ATM locations that mesh with your daily routines.

If your lifestyle dictates regular use of out-of-network ATMs, look for a bank that reimburses these costs.

Another way to save is knowing all your options for things like checking balances.

You may be able to use a free mobile app or call a toll-free number to check balances, for example, and avoid ATM fees.

You can also avoid ATM fees by using your bank’s debit card to shop and getting cash back when you pay. Many store chains do this with no charge.

Preventing Overdraft Charges

Few people make it through life without overdrawing their bank account, but many banks and credit unions offer overdraft protection.

If your checking account is linked to a savings account, you may be able to have overdrafts draw on your savings to avoid fees.

Some financial institutions offer overdraft lines of credit, and they often have far lower interest rates than, say, credit cards.

If your bank offers overdraft protection, it’s worth learning about. Even if a small fee is charged every month for this service, it’s worth it to avoid an average $30 overdraft fee.

Other ways to prevent overdraft charges include doing it the old fashioned way and monitoring your balance. This is easier with online banking, or you can check balances at network ATMs or by phone.

Keep in mind that with banking, economies of scale don’t always help consumers.

Often small, local banks or credit unions have the lowest account fees and the best overdraft options compared to national banks, so it pays to shop around.

Managing Minimum Balance Fees

The average balance required to avoid a monthly minimum balance fee is now $950. When you consider opening a new account, ask specifically if low balances trigger fees.

Look for banks and credit unions that either charge no minimum balance fee, or charge a flat low monthly checking account fee regardless of balance.

Minimum balance requirements may change with little notice, and this is yet another reason to read all correspondence your bank sends you.

Many accounts allow you to set low balance alerts. These systems notify you by email or text if your account approaches the minimum balance, so you can address the problem before a fee is triggered.

If you have the option of having paychecks directly deposited, this too can help you keep your average daily balance from falling below the fee threshold.

Avoiding Foreign Transaction Fees

If you don’t travel overseas often, you may not care about foreign transaction fees when you open an account.

These fees are generally around 3%, which may not sound like much, but foreign travel is a situation where you’re generally spending much more than normal on credit cards.

If you’re planning to travel to another country, ask your bank or credit card issuer about foreign transaction fees as far in advance as possible.

If your bank charges them, you may consider opening a credit card account with an issuer that does not, such as one of the cards without foreign transaction fees listed here.

Around 55% of consumers pay fees for checking, but it’s possible to avoid most or all of these fees by comparing several banks or credit unions and either finding a free checking account or choosing one whose fee structure is least likely to affect you based on your financial habits.

Finally, if you’re charged a fee and have an overall good track record and a good relationship with your bank or credit union, you can ask to have the fee waived.

Credit.com recently found that 44% of consumers have had bank fees reversed after complaining, and were most successful when they asked for waivers on overdraft fees.

Mary Hiers is a personal finance writer who helps people earn more and spend less.