Thursday, October 06, 2011

Bank fees

Unless you've been living under a rock, you've heard the mess about bank fees. At least four of the major banks (Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Sun Trust and Regions) are planning to start charging debit card holders a monthly fee of anywhere from $3 to $5. Citibank is increasing the fees on checking accounts. The president has said that the banks don't have the right to certain profits (more on that later).

The banks say that they have to do this to make up for the lost fees charged to retailers. In theory, retail prices should come down as their fees go down (I'm not holding my breath). Consumers are complaining it's not fair. My suggestion is simple. Change accounts or change banks.

Most banks have some accounts that will still be free. Simply sitting down with someone at the bank or calling the bank can help you understand your options. Before you do, write down your expectations/requirements. Do you use an ATM? Do you use other banks' ATM's? Do you use your debit card? Do you keep a balance? Do you have other accounts with the bank?

Also, banks may have other options available based on your age (I found out I'm a "senior" at age 52 at one bank) or school status (student checking is often free). Smaller banks or credit unions may have benefits based on your employer.

If the bank has no free account that fits your need, consider changing banks. Tell the person you've talked to at your current bank that you're planning to look at other banks. Be prepared to follow through.

My honest opinion is that this fuss will not last if consumers start changing banks. They will find ways to keep depositors from jumping ship. But there's no reason you should pay fees. 

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