savings

The hidden costs of savings accounts

Annual and minimum balance fees

Some banks charge simply for the privilege of opening a savings account. For savers with low balances, a $25 annual fee and a monthly minimum-balance charge ranging from $4 to $10 can suck up your savings at an alarming rate. For consumers with low savings of $500 or less, an annual fee combined with repeated minimum balance charges can cut their savings in half in less than one year.

"Consumers need to be clear about the rules and penalties of their accounts, but it also can't hurt to ask if a bank will waive a fee," says Walbert. "Ask for things like a rate match on a savings account or a pass on a minimum-balance fee. The worst they can do is say no."

Withdrawal penalties

Savings accounts are designed to provide liquidity with a few restrictions. According to the Federal Reserve, consumers can legally make six withdrawals or transfers from a savings account or money market account per month.

However, it's up to the banks to set their own rules, and many only allow two to four withdrawals without penalty. Exceed that number and you'll be hit with a withdrawal fee of $3 to $10 for each time you go over. Consumers with low account balances could also be in danger of dropping below the minimum balance and incurring extra fees.

"There are so many bells, whistles, freckles and colors of bank accounts these days, it's important for the consumer to read the fine print and know what (he or she is) getting into," says Colquhoun. "Ask questions, read the fine print and choose a (savings) account that works for you."

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