Going Through a Break-up?

September 20, 2018

Everything seemed fine in the beginning. Your bank was friendly and accessible. And the gifts were a nice touch – remember that free umbrella and coffee tumbler when you opened a new checking account?

But then the fees started. And you couldn’t get answers to your questions: Why did you charge me an overdraft fee? Why do you charge so many ATM fees? Why are you billing me for my checks? Why do I need a minimum balance in order to get free checking?

We get it. Your bank has turned into something you don’t even recognize anymore. Maybe you asked, “Who are you?”

When this happens, there’s really only one thing to do: Get out of that banking relationship. Taking the first step is liberating. After you give yourself a high-five (go ahead, we’ll wait) ... there are five things to look for in your new bank.

NO ATM FEES. None. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Look for a checking account that doesn’t charge a fee when you use your ATM card – not just at your bank’s ATMs, but also at an ATM that is not in the bank’s network. Money-rates.com’s recent checking account fee survey found that monthly maintenance fees and ATM fees rose to new heights in the last six months [1]. “Free checking should mean what it says, so a bank that offers free checking shouldn’t charge ATM fees,” said Mike Earleywine, Sr. Vice President Branch Banking,First National Bank of Omaha.

NO FEES FOR CHECKS. Is there a fee for ordering checks with your checking account at your bank? Chances are, if you need to order new checks you will have to pay for them. According to a recent report from bankrate.com, a box of checks with duplicates ordered through a bank can cost $35 or more [2]. A free checking account doesn’t charge a fee for ordering checks. Sure, you could avoid using paper checks and simply pay your bills online. But does your bank also charge a fee for paying bills online? If the checking account is free, there shouldn’t be any fees for paying your bills online, either.

NO MAINTENANCE FEE, OR MINIMUM BALANCE REQUIREMENT. The money-rate.com survey found that the average monthly maintenance fee is now $13.51, up from $13.24 in the last survey taken six months ago. That’s $161.12 per year. When you’re looking for a new bank, look for one that offers a free checking account with no maintenance fees or minimum balance fees. “It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by fees,” said Earleywine. “So when you can have a checking account that doesn’t charge maintenance fees or minimum balance fees, it’s one – or two – less things you have to worry about.”

OVERDRAFT FORGIVENESS. Everyone makes mistakes. So, find a bank that cuts you some slack for things like overdrafts. The average overdraft fee is $32.75 [1]. “Often, consumers don’t know immediately when they have overdrafted their accounts and, as a result, may create multiple transactions while the account is overdrafted,” says money-rate.com. “Your bank should allow you one ‘get out of overdraft free card’ and offer one overdraft or return item fee forgiveness every 12 months,” says Earleywine.

FREE STATEMENTS AND FREE CASHIER’S CHECKS. Whether it’s online or on paper, your bank’s checking account should offer free statements. The bank should also provide free cashier’s checks, free incoming wires and free stop payment services.

Ultimately, a free checking account should offer you access to your money with no fees. So, when you are searching for that new banking partner, ask them about these services. Sometimes a free checking account isn’t so free after all. And that’s not a healthy relationship to be in.

“Find a bank with no hidden fees and no hoops to jump through. Look for a checking account that is just simple, flexible checking – one that fits with today’s pace of life,” says Earleywine.

“Our First National Free Checking spells it out clearly. One of the biggest concerns for customers today are ATM fees. We don’t charge our free checking customers fees to use our ATMs. We also don’t charge a fee to use another bank’s ATM. Other ATM operators may charge a fee, but we do not.

“We also do not charge a monthly service fee, and no minimum balance is required for our free checking. We offer free checks, free statements – online or paper – and one overdraft or return item fee forgiveness every 12 months. That’s the kind of services you should demand from your bank.”


[1] MoneyRates.com – August, 2016 “The latest MoneyRates.com update on bank fees” – https://www.money-rates.com/research-center/bank-fees/

[2] BankRate.com – April, 2018 “Want to save money on paper checks?” – https://www.bankrate.com/finance/checking/where-to-buy-checks-save-money.aspx

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