It's Only Money: How to avoid bank fees

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

On any list of pet peeves, bank fees would garner a spot or two. Or, depending on the bank, an entire list.

During the past decade, as cash transactions have decreased in favor of card purchases and internet banking, fees charged to consumers have gotten sneakier and more expensive. A study of U.S. institutions by, which analyzes the financial industry, found that 2008 "was another record-high year for fees on everything from ATM use to bounced checks."

Pesky surcharges aren't just for overdrafts anymore.

Some banks will ding you for having too little money in your account, withdrawing money overseas, withdrawing too much money, requesting a copy of an old check, transferring a balance, banking online and buying something that requires your debit-card PIN.

In some cases, even talking to a teller costs money.

Fee-disclosure statements provided to customers have gotten longer, and there can be a world of hurt in that tiny type. The key to happy banking is getting educated, being watchful and picking an account that's right for you, said Tom Kelly, a spokesman for Chase.

"It really is matching your account to the way you bank," Kelly said. "There's a lot of ways to do it for free."

Here are some tips for avoiding fees.

Read the fine print. All transactions between you and your bank involve contracts. Read the fee disclosure statement carefully before opening an account.

Pick the correct account. Checking and savings accounts are designed for specific purposes, so it's best to understand how you'll use one. Are you going to keep a lot of money in there? Is it only open to accrue interest? Is it for your business?

Shop around. Each bank charges specific fees for things like ATM withdrawals and online banking. Pick the one that charges less for the services you need.

Make it convenient. Most bank websites have interactive maps that list branches and ATMs in your zip code. Consult them when deciding where to put your money.

Watch the schedule. Your banking schedule often begins when you open the account and doesn't fall squarely on the first of the month. Manage direct deposits and withdrawals accordingly.

Don't overspend. Overdraft and low-balance fees are two of the most common in savings and checking accounts.

Sign up for alerts. In addition to monthly statements, many banks will send you electronic alerts when your balance is low or your account is experiencing unusual activity.

Get cash back from stores. Instead of running to the nearest ATM, which could warrant unwanted fees, get cash back when you make a debit purchase. This usually is free.

Sources: Chase,, MSN Money,