Banking fees, balance requirements
for checking accounts and ATM costs continue to rise while interest
earnings on checking accounts do not, according to a Bankrate.com
Bankrate.com's semiannual checking survey looks at
the checking accounts and corresponding ATM fees by the largest
banks and thrifts in each of the 25 largest markets nationally.
Bankrate.com surveyed 248 banks offering checking accounts, looking
at 462 accounts -- 247 interest and 215 noninterest. Bankrate.com
then compared them to a sampling of checking accounts available
at Internet banks.
The key findings of the study are:
- Getting whacked with bounced-check fees can leave
quite a welt on your wallet. The average bounced-check
fee is $27.04, and with more banks using a tiered structure,
the cost can quickly escalate.
surcharges hit a new high and are more prevalent than ever.
The fee that banks charge to nonaccount holders now averages $1.60,
with 98 percent of banks owning ATMs charging a fee.
- The average balance
requirement on interest-checking accounts hit a new high of
$2,465. And you're not getting much in return, as interest-checking
yields remain in the cellar.
Here is what Bankrate.com found in its latest survey,
what it means to you and some solutions to save you dough.
Bouncing a check results in a punitive fee from your bank, and the
punishment is growing increasingly harsh. The average bounced-check
from $26.90 to $27.04 since the fall
survey, the second-highest ever recorded following the $27.13
average of one year ago.
The average bounced-check fee has increased with remarkable
consistency since the twice-annual survey commenced in 1998. The
first survey, in fall 1998, carried an average bounced-check fee
of $21.57 and has increased about 25 percent since. Only twice in
that time has the average fee failed to increase from one study
to the next. Even Tiger Woods isn't that consistent.
The increase in the average fee this time around is
no fluke. The number of banks increasing bounced-check fees outnumbered
those cutting fees almost 2-to-1. There were 39 increases but just
But as Paul Harvey would say, "And now, the rest
of the story." The cost of bounced checks doesn't stop after
the first occurrence. In fact, it gets worse. Why? Increasingly,
banks are employing a tiered fee structure for bounced checks. Under
the tiered structure, the cost of bouncing a check can increase
as additional checks fail to clear.
For example, since the last study, Wachovia Bank has
introduced a tiered fee structure for bounced checks. The first
check will cost $25, with the fee increasing to $30 each for the
second, third and fourth checks, and anything beyond that is $35
each. Furthermore, Wachovia's policy is typical of some other large
banks, such as Bank of America and U.S. Bank, in that, when charging
the fees, it counts all the occurrences during the past 12 months.
So while the cost of one bounced check at Wachovia
decreased to $25 from the previous survey, the cost of bouncing
more than one check or repeatedly overdrawing the account during
a 12-month period is now higher. The account holder that rarely
bounces checks may catch a break under the tiered structure, while
more routine slip-ups come at a higher price.
So, how best to protect yourself from the ever-escalating
cost of bounced checks? The first line of defense is to sign up
for overdraft protection, preferably by linking a savings account
to your checking account. Also, be particularly diligent about recording
all of your transactions, especially if you favor the use of a debit
card or have regular monthly payments automatically withdrawn from