How to Avoid the Latest Bank Fees

Man at a bank windowIn case you hadn't noticed yet, you will sooner or later: Bank fees are changing.

In fact, in just the past week alone, JPMorgan Chase has received a lot of ink from personal finance writers. They're experimenting with $5 ATM fees for non-customers and considering limiting the amount people can charge on a debit card.But it's not just Chase. Bank of America has a pilot program going on in Arizona, Georgia and Massachusetts, in which their customers will no longer receive free checking.

So all of this begs a question or two: As the bank zigs, which way should we zag? In other words, how can we fight back against odious bank fees?

Every bank is different, of course, and many banks aren't trying to gouge you any more than they already have been. But if you feel you're being unfairly charged, here are some strategies that you should consider employing.

Bring in More Business to Your Bank

It sounds like a crazy strategy at first: Your bank is ticking you off by adding some nutty fee, and you're going to do more business with them? It might not be the first thing that comes to mind, but as Sol Nasisi, the chief economist of, a portal of comprehensive banking information, says, you can take advantage of "relationship pricing."

Nasisi says that consumers should look for relationship accounts that consolidate balances across multiple types of accounts within a bank, like getting a mortgage with the bank and then asking the manager to waive any fees you don't particularly like on your checking or savings account.

Ask Your Bank Manager if He or She Has Any Strategies for Reducing Fees

Chances are, the bank manager isn't going to be able to do much, especially if the policy regarding the higher fees is new. After all, they instituted the policy to make money, and if you simply don't like it, well, that's just the way the cookie crumbles. But Nasisi points out that some banks are increasingly willing to kill a fee if you agree to some special term, like having your paycheck directly deposited or using fewer checks. Odds are, if you're already complying with these special terms, you may not know you can use this to your advantage.

For instance, paying bills through your bank isn't a development in banking -- a lot of people have been doing it for several years now -- but if you signed up with your bank in, say, 1999, you might not be aware that some banks will waive a fee if you pay a certain number of bills through the bank's free bill pay system, says David Spader, a self-described "personal finance junkie" who runs, a website and blog aimed at helping people find the best rates on savings accounts and CDs. So be sure to ask if there's anything you can to do -- or might already be doing -- that can help waive or reduce those fees.

Tell Your Bank You're Thinking of Closing Your Account if the Fees Aren't Waived

This sometimes works, says Spader, "if you have any relationship at all with the bank manager. They have new account quotas and retention quotas, so make your displeasure clear to him."

That said, realize that you may have to follow through with your threat -- or look like an idiot when you don't -- if the bank manager says there's nothing they can do


You don't need to me to tell you this, but it has to be said nonetheless. You don't have to accept bank fees that you hate. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling recently conducted a poll of 1,623 people that asked the question, "[If] my bank raised the fees on my checking account, I would..."

Only 12% of respondents said they'd do nothing. Six percent said they would close their account and use a pre-paid debit card (not really a smart move), while 15% admitted that they probably wouldn't notice the fees.

But a full 51% said they would shop around for a new bank. If every bank knew that they stood to lose half their customers if they charged more, it's safe to say that fees would probably stay in more reasonable territory. And keep in mind, at least for now, that there are plenty of banks that haven't expressed an interest in getting rid of free checking or raising their ATM fees. Credit unions have also historically had lower and fewer fees than banks.

Banks are counting on you to either not notice the fees they're adding or quietly accept them. It's up to you to decide whether to let them down or not.

Geoff Williams is a regular contributor to WalletPop. He is also the co-author of the bookLiving Well with Bad Credit.
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