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Be aware of bank fees you’re paying, take steps to minimize them

You can’t totally avoid bank account charges and service fees. What you can do is be aware of the options available to minimize them. Here are some tips from Fight Back! and the executive team of business management firm Gettleson, Witzer & O’Connor:

  • To avoid ATM fees, choose a bank with owned and affiliated ATMs (called “in network”) close to places you frequent. If you travel within the U.S., check whether your bank has multistate branches or affiliates. If you must use an out-of-network ATM while on a trip, take out larger amounts so you won’t have to pay multiple ATM fees. Also, you can try to avoid ATM charges by opting for cash back when using your debit card at a retailer.
  • Don’t get charged for closing an account early. Make sure you keep a balance for the minimum amount of time the bank requires, generally 180 days. Check with your financial institution for details.
  • Be mindful of how your activities could result in bank fees. Examples are returned-mail fees from undeliverable mail because you moved without telling the bank, paper statement charges because you did not elect online-only alternatives, wire fees when you could use ACH (Automated Clearing House, a financial network used for electronic payments and money transfers) or a check, or inactivity fees because you kept an old and unused account open.
  • Use a third-party check printing service instead of banks’ typically higher costs for printing checks.
  • A federal regulation places a limit on the number of certain withdrawals, transfers and payments that can be made from savings accounts. If you exceed six per monthly fee period, you could be charged an excessive-activity fee.
  • Keep at least 25 percent over the minimum balance required on an account to avoid accidental overdrafts.
  • Sign up to get low-balance alerts from your bank by email or text to avoid overdraft and nonsufficient fund fees.
  • Ask your bank if other account types could reduce your fees. Shop banks or credit unions for account alternatives.

Disclosure requirements Although, ultimately, you are responsible for understanding what you are signing up for, your bank must disclose the terms of an account and the fees associated with a deposit account when it’s established and give you advance notice about fee and term changes. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the main disclosure exception is for variable interest rates; banks are not required to give you notice.

Getting Help

If you think a bank has been unfair or misleading, discriminated against you in lending or violated a federal consumer protection law or regulation, you can file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; the appropriate federal regulatory agency listed at the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council’s Consumer Help Center; your state’s bank regulator (search “how do I find my state bank regulator”) or your state’s attorney general (click on “Attorneys General”)

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