To fee or not to fee? There is no question.

Consumers are a vocal bunch about their likes and dislikes, but there’ve been few personal finance issues in recent history that have created such an absolute uproar as bank fees. Bank fees are a hot button topic – and for good reason. Fees are now so prevalent that a whopping 60% more bank accounts carry fees and balance requirements than a year ago and the top 5 banks are planning on levying $3 billion in new fees for 2012. The common justification is that the banks now need to recoup some of the revenue lost due to recent financial reforms. But the resounding sentiment is that the customers aren’t buying it.

So if you’re finding yourself slammed with fees, what can you do?

The first step is to take a deep breath and realize that you have a choice. One of the beauties of living in this country is the freedom of commerce. If you don’t like a product or service, you’re free to go elsewhere. But it’s important to make decisions wisely and not fall prey to fear mongering. One way to figure out what’s best for you is to create a checklist of some of your personal banking pain points. If your bank doesn’t pass muster, it’s probably an opportune time for you to start looking to save your money elsewhere. Here are some points that you can use as a guide:

Debit card fees

Some banks have taken to slapping on monthly debit card fees each month the card is used for purchases. Fees can range from $3 to $5. Out of all the fees, these have caused the greatest outrage – people apparently aren’t so keen on getting charged to access their own funds. But there’s no need to pay these fees needlessly. There are tons of other debit card options that are 100% fee free. Many online banks, smaller regional banks and credit unions offer viable debit card fee-free options.

Free checking

While free checking was abundant in the past, the tides have definitely changed. In the past two years, the percentage of banks offering free checking dropped 30% while the average monthly fees have risen to a startling $14.15 for interest-bearing accounts. One way to avoid these fees is to maintain a monthly minimum balance (often well into the thousands of dollars), but there’s no need to subject yourself to that pressure. There are many checking accounts (some even interest bearing) that will offer fee-free checking, even with a $1 balance.

Overdraft fees

Despite using our best financial judgment, we’ve all gone over our balance at one time or another. But to be charged the ever-increasing $31 average when you exceeded your balance by as little as $1 seems, well, excessive. One way to avoid these fees is to choose not to opt in when your bank offers you overdraft protection. If you don’t opt in they can’t charge you for covering a payment. But then you run the risk of bouncing checks. One way to avoid flat overdraft fees and keep from bouncing is to head to a bank that doesn’t charge them. Rather, try an account that charges an overdraft line of credit at a low interest rate. For a 10-day $5 overdraft balance you would pay $30 in traditional overdraft fees, but only pennies with this type of line of credit.

ATM fees

In 2011, the average amount that banks charged non-customers for ATM use rose to $2.40. Add to that the average $1.40 that your own bank may charge if you go out of network, and you’re paying about $3.81 just to access your own money. But there are ways around this. Finding a bank that doesn’t charge out-of-network fees is the easiest way to avoid ATM fees, but also try finding a bank that has a vast network. The more in-network ATMs, the less chance you’ll ever have to go out of network. Better yet, some banks offer free ATM finder apps that’ll guide you to the nearest in-network machine, no matter where you are.

So there’s no need to sit idly by, accepting fees as part of your banking fate. Delve into the fine print and decide for yourself whether or not the fees are worth it. And if they’re not, go ahead and do something about it.

What are your thoughts on this, Saver? Do you think unreasonable fees like debit card fees are enough to get you to switch banks?


  • Billie Bob

    This note is directed to Mike K. I use Quicken software all the time and download from IING Direct. They now have a security # you load into the sign-up and there is no problems. I have been downloading 2-3 years. I get all my accounts, including Sharebuilder. I love ING. Just hope Capital keeps up the good work. Best bank I have ever had. I have a credit union here for the checks I receive in the mail sometimes from insurance or personal, but they are immediately sent to ING. My credit union does not charge for cash withdrawals so it is a win win situation for me!

  • Scoot Snapper

    a bank recently rejected a check because it was out of sequence. Is this legal?

  • Lorraine Taylor

    i have no problems with ING – please keep me happy in the future

  • http://BankFees Richard Krein

    I would like to know which banks offer interest on checking account balances, even as low as $1 and charge no monthly fees. I read about this on ING DIRECT.

  • http://BankFees Richard Krein

    I would like to know which banks offer interest bearing checking accounts even with $1 balance and charge no fees of any kind. That’s the way it used to be.

  • Vivian perry

    If ING merges with Capitol One, I will close my accounts at ING. Just so you know.

  • M_Goff

    Vivian Perry wrote: “If ING merges with Capitol One, I will close my accounts at ING.”

    This isn’t a merger, even though many news stories have mislabled it that way. Here are the facts:

    ING, the Dutch parent of online banking unit ING Direct USA, was required by the European Commission to divest (meaning sell) ING DIRECT by 2013 as a condition to receiving $14 billion in bailout funds during the financial crisis in late 2008. Capital one made the best offer: $6.2 billion in cash and $2.8 billion in stock. Also, as a major stockholder ING will get a seat on the Capital One board of directors. So it isn’t a merger, it’s a buyout.

    For more go to:

    Or put the following search string in Google (with quotes on Capital One, and both ING and OR capitalized):
    ING dutch “Capital One” require OR required

  • M_Goff

    Michelle wrote: “If ING continues to insist on holding all of my inter-account transfers for up to TEN DAYS before making the funds available…even though they claim ‘five business days’.”

    “Business days” is the key phrase. If you tell ING (or any bank) to pull money out of another bank, the transaction will usually happen between midnight and dawn the next morning. So, if you request the transfer on Monday, it usually happens early Tuesday, and the fifth business day is the next Monday. That’s a minimum of 7 or 8 calendar days if nothing slows down the processing.

    The solution is ask the other bank to transfer money to your ING account. I recently asked my broker to transfer $2500 to my ING account. It arrived two days later, and all of it was immediately available to me with no holding period. Of course the downside of this solution is that the bank you’re transfering money from may charge a fee for outgoing transfers.

    An alternative solution is to use the virtually free overdraft protection that ING offers on their checking accounts. I do that from time to time when I need to pay something big a few days before my paycheck is auto-deposited. It has never cost me more than 6 cents! Usually it’s only a penny or two and maybe nothing. So if you really have to spend a deposit before it clears, consider doing that.

    BTW: I always took the $500 overdraft limit for granted as ‘standard’. But one day, just for the heck of it, I clicked the ‘Ask for a higher limit’ link, and with no paperwork, no hassles; they increased my limit to $1000 a few day later. So if you’ve never asked for an increase, click that link and you may be surprised.

  • Nick

    ING is all about the customer – no fees and great customer service! I will always be with ING.

  • Bot Hollow

    Golly-day! When will ING have remote check deposit available?

  • Oemengr

    We reside in Canada, the US and Mexico every year. You claim to be an international company yet transfers are impossible between the US and Canada. Your recent survey about saving money at an ATM is a joke when you charge 2 percent for withdrawals in Mexico from an ATM. The only company to do so!

  • Aaron

    Same day wire transfers? Request today, post tomorrow, deposit 3 days later for twice as much as every other bank.