5 Banking Costs to Avoid This Holiday Shopping Season

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Holiday Shopping
Brennan Linsley/AP
By Anisha Sekar

Deal hunting is a way of life for many Americans, especially in the heat of holiday shopping season. Many of us are even willing to forgo a warm Thanksgiving meal to camp out in the cold for a just little bit of savings.

Meanwhile, bank fees and other related costs of the holiday shopping craze can sneak up to cause unexpected damage to your personal finances. Luckily, these are often easily avoided with the right knowledge and strategies. Here are five fees and costs to avoid as you stock up on gifts.

1. ATM fees. Cash can be a powerful tool to help manage a shopping budget, but it does have its drawbacks. Using an ATM outside of your bank's network can lead to extra fees. Your bank will typically charge you, sometimes up to $3 per transaction, and the ATM itself will levy an added charge for the convenience.

If the cash strategy is one you'd like to pursue, make sure to plan far ahead by withdrawing larger sums from your own bank before heading to the mall, where your only ATM options may be laden with fees.

2. Overdraft fees. One of the hallmarks of the holiday season is the tendency to overspend. With a debit card on hand, overspending might mean more than breaking your budget. %VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%It can also trigger insufficient funds charges if your bank balance drops too far. These fees can take a major toll, at often more than $30 each.

A simple way to avoid these charges is to opt out of your bank's overdraft coverage, meaning you'll be declined at the register for purchases you can't afford. Of course, the most effective way to avoid these fees is to watch your balance carefully -- an easy task with mobile banking.

3. Damaged credit. Credit cards are a popular payment method this time of year. For some, the appeal is in the rewards and discounts. For others, it's the option to pay off your purchases at a later date. While these benefits are perfectly legitimate, misusing your credit cards while holiday shopping can damage your credit and cost you dearly over the long run.

To maintain a healthy credit score, make sure to keep your balances well under your credit limit. Also, shy away from store credit cards at each and every shopping stop, no matter how appealing the deal. Opening many credit accounts in a short timespan can be a red flag for credit reporting agencies because it may look like you're desperate for credit.

4. Late fees. Between searching for bargains, holiday travel and spending time with family, paying bills is probably far from your mind in December. Unfortunately, credit card companies aren't taking a vacation anytime soon, so you're still on the hook for making regular monthly payments.

A late payment on your credit card bill this month could leave you saddled with a fee of up to $35. Set up automatic payments to your account to avoid a mindless mistake.

5. Theft liability. Sadly, along with the joy and generosity of the holiday season comes higher risk of theft and fraud. According to the credit bureau Equifax (EFX), consumers are more vulnerable to identity theft over the holidays due to crowded stores, online shopping and using several different cards.

While both debit and credit cards offer protections in case your card is lost or stolen, there are slight limitations and differences. With a credit card, your liability is capped at $50. Debit card users, on the other hand, may be liable for up to $500 if the loss is reported to the bank more than two business days after the incident occurs.

The best way to avoid paying for someone else's charges is to keep a close eye on your cards at all times and report any missing ones to your bank immediately.

Anisha Sekar is the chief consumer advocate at NerdWallet, a website that offers comparison tools and personal finance advice.


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5 Banking Costs to Avoid This Holiday Shopping Season
Percentage of U.S. population who visited in March: 14.2%
 Revenue: $73.3 billion
 1-year stock price change: 27.56%
 Store category: Discount & variety stores

Target (TGT) was the second most-visited discount retailer in the U.S. during March, behind only Walmart. One reason was the number of Target stores. The company has been attempting to take on Walmart by adding grocery sections to more  stores, and by offering groceries at competitive prices. This has helped Target maintain strong financial performance despite the weak economy and its additional spending on its launch in Canada. Most Americans surveyed by the American Customer Satisfaction Index rated Target well: It finished in a three-way tie for second place in the department and discount store category, behind Nordstrom.
Percentage of U.S. population who visited in March: 18.2%
 Revenue: $13.6 billion
 1-year stock price change: -3.89%
 Store category: Fast food

As recently as 2011, Taco Bell (YUM) was struggling to keep competitor Chipotle (CMG) from taking its customers, with flat or negative same-store sales growth in each quarter that year. This changed in early 2012, when Taco Bell released the Doritos Locos taco, a hard taco with the flavor of Doritos nacho chips. That item help the company increase comparable sales in every quarter of 2012, as the company sold more than 1 million of them a day. In March, Taco Bell CEO Greg Creed told The Daily Beast the company had hired 15,000 workers just to meet demand for the Doritos Locos taco in 2012. Last year, the company's sales increased by $1 billion to $11.8 billion, and net income rose by roughly $300 million to $1.6 billion.
Percentage of U.S. population who visited in March: 18.9%
 Revenue: $123.1 billion
 1-yr. stock price change: 27.56%
 Store category: Drugstore

CVS (CVS)  is the top provider of prescriptions in the country, filling or managing more than 1 billion prescriptions a year. It has operates in 45 states, and 75% of the people in the markets it serves live within three miles one of the company's 7,400 retail stores. Last year, CVS estimated it gained millions of new customers following a dispute between Walgreens (WAG) and Express Scripts (ESRX), the prescription management service. Even after the dispute was resolved, CVS was able to retain many customers who used to fill prescriptions at Walgreens. In the first quarter of 2013, the company's revenue grew 5%, as same-store sales grew 4%.

Percentage of U.S. population who visited in March: 22.7%
 Revenue: $71.6 billion
 1-year stock price change: 42.17%
 Store category: Drugstore

Despite CVS's gains, Walgreens is still the most visited drugstore in the country. According to RetailSails, the company has the most stores, at 7,890, and the largest average store, at 14,400 square feet, among all drugstore chains. The company's tenure in first place may not last, however, thanks to that now-resolved dispute with Express Scripts. The company spent nearly nine months without using Express Scripts, the largest prescription management service in the country, losing an estimated 60 million prescriptions to rivals. CVS estimates that it will retain roughly half of the Walgreen's customers it gained as a result of the squabble.
Percentage of U.S. population who visited in March: 22.8%
 Revenue: $2.5 billion
 1-Year stock price change: 11.84%
 Store category: Fast food

In 2011, Wendy's (WEN) overall sales surpassed Burger King's, making it the second-largest burger chain in the U.S. But Wendy's growth has actually been quite modest as of late, with same-store sales in North America growing just 1.6% from 2011 to 2012. (In fact, Wendy's first-quarter profit just tumbled 83%.) Wendy's is in the process of remodeling many of its restaurants with more comfortable seating arrangements and flat-screen televisions. However, not all of its stores are getting upgraded. The company announced in March it was going to shutter as many as 130 underperforming stores. Last year, the company also made significant changes in its marketing strategy and menu in order to attract customers who have been lured in by chains such as Panera, which promotes healthier food at slightly higher prices.
Percentage of U.S. population who visited in March: 23.9%
 Revenue: $13.3 billion
 1-year stock price change: 12.46%
 Store category: Coffee

There is a reason Starbucks (SBUX) is No. 1 in the coffee category: Sales in the U.S. grew by nearly 346% between 2001 and 2012, and the number of stores grew by 195%. The company has struggled in the U.S. in the past several years, but its stock has continued to rise as global sales have helped to pick up the slack. Worldwide, Starbucks revenue grew by 7% in 2012 compared to 2011. This included a 15% growth in the Asia/Pacific region. In its early years, the company did not place much emphasis on its food items. However, that has changed in recent years, especially following the purchase of Bay Area pastry chain La Boulangerie. However, some industry analysts remain skeptical of Starbucks' ability to compete for customers' breakfast purchases.
Percentage of U.S. population who visited in March: 24.3%
 Revenue: $2.0 billion
 1-year stock price change: N/A
 Store category: Fast food

The last decade or so has been especially tumultuous for Burger King: It was taken private in two separate instances, in 2002 and in 2010, and became a public company again last June. The company hasn't performed well in years, with an average growth rate of -0.1% between 2001 and 2013, which allowed Wendy's to take its No. 2 burger chain title. A restructuring that began after the second buyout in 2010, in which many stores were sold to franchisees, has cut deeply into the company's sales. But not all news for Burger King is bad news: Nearly one quarter of Americans visited a Burger King in March.
Percentage of U.S. population who visited in March: 37.8%
 Revenue: N/A
 1-year stock price change: N/A
 Store category: Fast food

Between 2001 and 2012, Subway's sales in the U.S. grew nearly 169%, while the number of stores grew nearly 93%. Subway is by far the largest fast food chain in the U.S., with almost 26,000 restaurants. The company has been able to fuel its large growth through both international expansion and a domestic focus on healthy eating, most notably using ads featuring Jared Fogle -- a man who lost an impressive amount of weight while regularly eating the company's sandwiches. In 2013, for the ninth year in a row, Subway received the highest score in the country in a Harris Poll EquiTrend study in the "quick service restaurants" category and was named brand of the year by that group.
Percentage of U.S. population who visited in March: 38.8%
 Revenue: $469.2 billion
 1-year  stock price change: 34.29%
 Store category: Discount & variety stores

Walmart (WMT) is by far the largest retailer in the U.S. and in many parts of the world. It was recently ranked No. 1 in the Fortune 500 after it reported more than $469 billion in worldwide revenue in 2012. While international markets are critical to growth, the U.S. market provides the majority of its revenue: U.S. sales comprise 62% of the company's sales. In the last five years, Walmart has added 450 U.S. stores, a 13% increase overall. However, according to Bloomberg, the company's U.S. workforce has dropped 1.4% in that time frame, leading customers to complain about a lack of inventory and longer check-out lines -- and to defect to rivals such as Target and Costco. In February, the American Customer Service Index ranked Walmart the lowest of all discount retailers, the sixth year in a row the chain has held or tied for the last place spot.

Percentage of U.S. population who visited in March: 49.0%
 Revenue: $27.6 billion
1-year stock price change: 6.92%
 Store category: Fast food<

Almost half of all Americans visited a McDonald's (MCD) in March, but, U.S. sales of $8.8 billion weren't even the company's largest revenue segment last year. Rather it was the company's sales in Europe of $10.8 billion. According to Technomic, McDonald's same-store sales grew at an annualized rate of nearly 5% from 2001 through 2012. However, this has slowed recently: The company's systemwide sales in the United States rose by just 0.3% from the year before in the final quarter of 2012. The company is already so large that its bottom line is deeply linked to global economic conditions, leaving it unable to raise prices for now. In order to boost sales, McDonald's CEO Bob Thompson told CNBC the company may try allowing U.S. stores to serve breakfast all day.

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