|Much of the country is still in the the midst of the polar vortex, with little hope of feeling the warmth of spring any time soon. Although the official first day of spring isn’t until March 20th, those who have the fortune of residing in sunnier climates, or simply want to get a head start in clearing expensive clutter, can start getting proactive about their financial spring cleaning plan.
In its first installment of the “Lower Your Monthly Payment Series,” GOBankingRates tackles the always-present conundrum of bank fees, bringing you tips from banking professionals on how to lower or completely avoid unnecessary bank fees.
1. Find Your Credit Union Champion
“Everyone can lower the fees they pay by joining their local credit union; many of them still have fee-free checking accounts,” said Tina Estes, assistant vice president of marketing at Ventura County Credit Union.
Much of the recent backlash regarding bank fees was centered on the steep checking account fees being charged by big banks. Larger, national financial institutions cater to the whims of external shareholders, which could do financial harm to customers banking on a tight budget.
The credit unions that Estes refers to, on the other hand, are nonprofit financial cooperatives that focus on returning profits to their members, who are also partial shareholders, in the form of competitive interest rates, exceptional customer service, and low or no maintenance fees.
2. Take Advantage of Debit Card Rewards
“Checking accounts are a basic need, and they should be free,” said Kyle Kolsky, SVP Head of Consumer Deposits at Bank X. ”Consumers should also earn rewards when using their debit card — that’s what Bank X is all about: modern banking that complements everyday life.”
Big banks might have done away with cash-back debit card rewards programs, but a new market has opened up for customers who want more just by going about their normal, everyday routine. Financial institutions like Bank X not only offer a checking product without fees, but also give customers added perks like cash back when using their debit card for purchases.
At the end of the month, Bank X customers get a small cash-back bonus that is deposited directly into their X Checking account. Finding cash back offers like this makes it easy to make more money, save more money and dodge pesky bank fees entirely.
3. Browse Your Bank’s Fee Reference
“When shopping for a financial institution, it is important to know the fees that are associated with their accounts and services. Start by looking for a ‘fee’ or ‘service charge’ schedule on their website,” said a Visions Federal Credit Union representative. “Review the list of items and consider if any of these will impact you and your day-to-day finances.”
When opening a new savings or checking account, all customers are given a pamphlet with the account’s terms and conditions, including the any bank fees that might apply in the event of an overdraft, out-of-network ATM withdrawal or even a monthly service charge. But not everyone likes to sit down and mull over fine print.
Taking Visions Federal Credit Union’s advice of performing regular check-ins with your bank account’s fee terms can help ensure you’re always aware of fee increases as they arise. Keep an eye out for an all-encompassing web page that lists all the possible fees your institution could hold you accountable for, and bookmark it on your web browser for easy reference.
4. Plea Your Case
“Let’s face it – sometimes bad things just happen. Those are times when bankers have the chance to truly demonstrate what they mean by ‘customer service,’” said Warren Taylor, president of community banking for Customers Bank. ”In such trying times, customers need to know that their banks will be there to help them, not increase the pain. Consumers should try to talk directly with their banker, explain their circumstances and see what provision can be worked out.”
Whether it’s an ATM fee or an overdraft charge that was applied to your bank account, there’s nothing wrong with contacting your bank or credit union directly to see what can be done based on your unique challenges. Financial institutions should be working for you, instead of against you; so, pick up the phone or make an in-person visit to your local branch to explain your stance and fully understand the options before you.
These are just a few helpful ways to turn March into an opportunity to lower how much you spend on costly bank fees and keep your bank account free of cumbersome charges. Check back in next week for tips on lowering your monthly phone and cable bills!