Anyone who’s recently paid $5 to withdraw money from an ATM knows that banking fees are going up, but consumers have some control over their banking costs.
The nation’s largest banks are raising ATM fees and costs for other services to offset losses from new regulations. The Federal Reserve is now considering a cap on the amount banks can charge on debit card transactions. The rules, which are set to go into effect in July, would cost an estimated $17 billion in revenue each year. Another important source of income, revenue from overdraft fees, has also declined as a result of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.
“With restrictions on overdraft fees and a proposed cap on debit card swipe fees, financial institutions need to recover that revenue elsewhere,” said Greg McBride, senior financial analyst at Bankrate.com, a leading aggregator of financial rates and services. “As a result they’re re-evaluating everything from debit card reward programs to free checking accounts, and anything that was once free is now fair game.”
Banks have responded to the rule changes by raising ATM fees for non-clients up to $5 per transaction. Unconfirmed reports say that JP Morgan Chase Bank is considering limiting debit card purchases to $50 or $100 per transaction, and CBSnews.com reported Wednesday that Chase will eliminate debit card rewards and some free checking accounts. Other institutions are following Chase, a global bank with $2.1 trillion in assets.
Most consumers surveyed by Bankrate.com said they would move their account if their bank raised checking account fees. Higher-income customers were even more likely to switch. Seventy-three percent of those making between $50,000 and $75,000 annually would move, and 75 percent of those earning more than $75,000 would switch banks.
The least loyal customers were those under 30, who value online banking services and competitive pricing as much as branch location. Seventy-one percent said they would change banks if checking account fees went up.
Banking may be growing less customer friendly, but consumers can respond by becoming more aggressive shoppers for financial services. The first step to limit the fees paid for bank services is learning about any changes in the terms of currently held bank accounts.
“Make sure not to toss out letters you get from your bank in the next few months, advises The Consumerist. “They may be announcing new restrictions and fees and they’re not always obvious. Sometimes they try to make them look like exciting new features that are really just fees in disguise. Make sure to scrutinize the fine print on anything you get.”
Consumers who don’t like what their banks are telling them can take the following steps, recommended by Bankrate to avoid growing bank fees.
• Consider moving to an online account for lower fees, saids Ramit Sethi, a personal finance blogger and author of I Will Teach You to Be Rich. “Brick-and-mortar banks can be great if you like to have face-to-face contact with your banker, but to save on bank fees, go online.”
• Get a bank representative on the phone. “Navigating the legalese in most bank brochures and websites can be tough, but a phone call to one of its branches can help you understand how much they charge in bank fees and the parameters under which they make those charges,” advises Bankrate.
• Add services to reduce fees. Consumers can add features such as direct deposit, online-only banking and paperless statements to get free checking and savings at some banks.
• Ask to get a bank fee waived. Good customers can sometimes get bank fees eliminated if they ask politely and have a strong history with the bank.
• Consider changing the terms of your checking account. Customers who make do with fewer services, such as a limit on transactions, or agree to higher minimum balances may be able to retain free checking.
• Try a credit union. A 2011 Bankrate.com survey of 50 credit unions found that 76 percent offer free checking accounts with no strings attached. An additional 20 percent will waive fees if clients agree to direct deposit of paychecks or e-statements.
• Try a local community bank. Smaller banks are more likely to offer free checking or savings accounts.