Banks are trying to figure out how to make up for the money they no longer are getting on each debit-card transaction, ever since Congress cut and capped transaction fees. They must now give 30-day advance notice of changes to your checking account terms (less than the 46-day advance warning required of credit-card changes). They’re trying to start the New Year with new fees and terms. So if you get one of those “fine print” form letters from your bank, here are some of the things you should be looking for:
Monthly checking account fees, higher minimums. Say goodbye to free checking. Banks are instituting monthly fees, especially if you don’t keep a substantial balance in your checking account — in some cases at least $5,000.
Online bill payment fees. Online bill payment used to be free. After all, it saves banks the trouble of processing paper checks. But more and more banks are requiring minimum balances, or a combination of other assets, such as CDs and IRAs. Otherwise, you’ll pay a monthly fee for online bill payment.
Fees for wire transfers, certified checks. Some services, such as wire transfers or certified checks, used to be provided free. Now banks are even charging fees for wire transfers that bring money into your account.
Higher ATM fees. Many banks have increased the fees they charge if you use another bank’s ATM.
So pay close attention to the fine print when you get your statement, or the little brochure describing “changes to your account terms.” Look around for a community bank or credit union that might have far lower fees. The only problem is that they probably have fewer and less convenient ATMs. So make sure they will reimburse any fees charged if you use an ATM from another bank.