After the government -- and thus, the people -- bailed out big banks in 2008, you'd think those institutions might have returned the favor by treating their customers better. Instead, banks are doing their best to boost their incomes any way they can.
And a recent survey from Bankrate confirms what most bank customers already know about just how those banks are doing that: Fees are on the rise.
ATM fees hit a record $2.50, with every single bank surveyed imposing fees on non-customers. Tack on the fees that your own bank may charge for going out-of-network, and the tab rises to more than $4.
Meanwhile, fees for checking accounts are also on the rise. Monthly charges for basic non-interest checking accounts soared 25%, while minimum balances to avoid fees were also up. Average overdraft fees rose above $31 this year to a new high, but the most common amount charged was $35.
Still, consumers are not defenseless. A few simple moves can save you from having a ton of cash sucked away by surcharges.
If you're tired of big bank fees, you've got a number of options. Here are three things you can do to keep more of your money in your own accounts.
1. Get preferential treatment.
Those high fees may be the baseline, but most banks give you a way to get out of having to pay them. Sometimes, it means keeping a minimum balance in the account. But with other banks, all you have to do is arrange for your paycheck to be direct deposited into your account, or have a certain number of debit card transactions each month. If you can demonstrate that you're a good potential customer, your bank will treat you right.
2. Threaten to switch.
The exodus of accountholders around last year's Bank Transfer Day surprised many banks. While you may think of your local bank branch as just another cog in a massive corporate machine, individual branch managers are able to use incentives to keep good customers from leaving. Talking to bank personnel about a bad fee experience could get a costly fee waived or reduced, especially if you have the leverage to make good on a threat to go elsewhere with your money.
3. Give up the interest.
It may seem counterintuitive to move out of an interest-bearing account, but the Bankrate survey showed that checking accounts that pay interest have nearly triple the average monthly fee versus non-interest accounts and a whopping eight times the minimum balance necessary to avoid fees. Considering the interest you'll get is often less than 0.1%, you're not giving up much to save big.
In tough times, you can't afford to let banks siphon off your hard-earned money. Take some simple steps and let banks look elsewhere for fee income.