It costs more to do your regular banking than it did a year ago. Free checking accounts are disappearing, and bank fees for a number of activities continue to rise. The
Reform and Consumer Protection Act placed several restrictions on financial institutions and what they could charge customers for certain activities. Further legislation that took effect in October 2012 limits the amount a bank can charge a business for accepting debit card transactions. Banks expect to lose billions of dollars annually from the changes, and most banks are making drastic changes to other unregulated fees to make up the difference. Bank of America expects the change to decrease its revenues by $2 billion annually.
What it means for consumers is that fees and charges are on the rise with no end in sight. Bankrate.com recently released an updated survey showing changes to fee structures over the past three years.
The Disappearance of Free Checking
Many banks have traditionally offered a checking account that did not carry a monthly maintenance charge as an incentive to transfer over savings and loan products. According to the Bankrate.com survey, 39% of banks offered a free checking account without a minimum balance. That's down from 76% in 2009. The survey also found that 72% of large credit unions still offered the option.
Minimum Balance Requirements
Some of the banks that have done away with free checking still offer it in another form. Banks now require account holders to maintain a certain balance to avoid monthly fees. The average required balance is $723.02, which is 23% higher than just the year before. As an example, Wells Fargo charges a $7 online statement monthly fee. To avoid it, account holders have to either have a $1,500 minimum daily balance or have more than $500 in direct deposits each month.
How much you have to pay if the bank either returns an item NSF or allows the account to go into overdraft is also climbing. The average overdraft per item is at an all-time high of $31.26. Once your account moves down towards empty, an unexpected charge could trigger the overdraft protection and drain the account further.
Monthly Maintenance Fees
The fee you pay every month simply to have the account has risen to an average of $5.48. This is 25% higher than last year. These fees usually cover a set number of transactions per month. Another method a bank can use to recoup revenues is to lower the number and types of transactions covered by the monthly fee. Expect to see both higher fees and less service continue to happen in the future.
Several banks are also experimenting with a monthly debit card fee. Chase was testing a $3 monthly fee and Bank of America tried to charge a $5 monthly fee in 2011. Customer outcry forced them to retreat and cancel charging the fees for the time being.
Most banks charge a fee for ATMs for users who are not customers. Increasingly, banks are also charging a fee to their customers for using other banks' machines. Both parts of this double-fee are increasing. The average fee for non-customers is at an all-time high of $2.50 (up 4% from last year), and customers who use other banks' machines pay an average of $1.57 (up 11% from last year).
The Bottom Line
As shareholders put increasing pressure on regulated banks to produce profits, customers are likely to continue feeling the pinch of rising fees and charges. Shopping around and doing your homework are the best ways to protect yourself from higher fees.