“I went like a penny over,” swears Ben Kohler, 19, about his emergency purchase of gas last year. But that penny tipped the Wright State freshman’s checking account into the negative, triggering a $40 fee. He later opened his monthly bank statement to find that his account was $200 in the red as additional overdrafts and penalties piled up.
“Let’s just say there were words involved,” he says about his reaction. “My parents had to help me out.”
“My old local bank would usually warn me if my balance was low,” Kohler explains. But when he left for school and switched to a national financial services giant, no such courtesy came with the checking account. “I learned the hard way that one overdraft or other fee can be a stone that knocks loose a boulder,” he recalls.
To keep your finances from being crushed by bank and credit card fees, use this guide to learn about their triggers and how to avoid them.
Any time you make a withdrawal from an ATM, pay a bill online, write a check, or make a debit card purchase that exceeds the amount of money in your checking account.
About $30, or higher for repeat overdrafts.
How to avoid
Know your checking account balance, especially before you plan to spend. And know if your bank will let a debit card transaction go through even if you don’t have enough money to cover it. The fee for this service can quickly get you into trouble. Set up account alerts so your bank will either e-mail or text message you when your account is running low.
Sign up at your bank for overdraft protection by linking either your credit card or savings account to your checking account so that money can be transferred when your spending exceeds your balance. Ask if a fee is charged for this protection. Another option: Put $100 in your account and forget about it.
If the ATM you use is not affiliated with your bank, that ATM’s bank may charge you for debit card withdrawals or other transactions.
$1.50 to $3; often higher at airports, hotels, and restaurants.
How to avoid
Some banks allow you to use any ATM machine without charging fees. If your bank doesn’t, plan ahead and only withdraw money from ATMs affiliated with your bank. Better yet, switch to a bank that reimburses you those fees. If a friendly ATM is nowhere in sight, pop into a grocery store and use your debit card to buy a pack of gum and ask for cash back, advises Emily Davidson of credit.com. “It’s safe and foolproof, and a really good way to get cash without having to pay a fee,” she says.
Late Payment Fee
Any time your credit card payment reaches the company after the due date on your statement. These fees also may kick in if you pay less than the minimum due.
$30 to $40 per late payment, and again the risk of big jumps in your
How to avoid
If you pay your bills online, program an automatic payment and schedule it to arrive two to three days before the due date. If you pay by mailing a check, consider purchasing a bill organizer that provides a visual reminder of when your bills are due.
Credit Card Over-Limit Fee
Going over your credit limit, even by a cent, can set off an avalanche of credit troubles. It may cause your card’s interest rate to double or triple. A jump from 11 percent to 35 percent is not uncommon, Davidson says. “Any time you’re maxing out your card, it’s really horrible for your credit score,” she warns. It can cause rejected loan applications and higher interest rates on car and home loans and future credit cards.
About $35 on average, plus a likely jump in your card’s interest rate.
How to avoid
Be aware of your credit-card balance and know the exact consequences if you go over the limit. Sign up for account alerts so that your credit card company will alert you by e-mail or text message when your account is close to its limit. Or, you can check your balance by calling the toll-free number on the back of your plastic, or checking your online statement. If you’ve already crossed the line, call your credit card company immediately. As a quick fix, customer service reps have been known to bump up credit limits for reliable, aware cardholders.
What you can do when you’re slapped with a fee
Call the customer service department. “First, calm down. But don’t call in an angry state of mind,” advises Emily Davidson of credit.com. “Think of your first call as informational. Get the facts, then stick to your guns and follow up if you feel you’re being ripped off.” Ask, and if you are a good, longtime, or new customer, they may agree to waive the fee. If your bank has a local branch, consider a visit to discuss the problem in person.
Research the competition and pay detailed attention to balance transfer rules. If your credit card company doesn’t come around, vote with your scissors, make the switch, zero out that card, and cut it up. But don’t close the account, because it can affect your credit score.
But if your overdrafts or late payments have grown to chronic proportions, pay the penalty. It may be time to lay your credit and debit cards on the table and find out if there are other money management tools that better fit your lifestyle, like an ATM-only account or prepaid debit card. But even with these, read the fine print and watch out for avoidable fees.
“In 2007, Americans paid more than $38 billion in bank fees and $63 billion in credit card fees. “
Source: Bank-advisory firm R.K. Hammer and Associates
Courtesy of USAA
USAA, a diversified financial services group of companies, is the leading provider of financial planning, insurance, investments, and banking products to members of the U.S. military and their families. Named by BusinessWeek as No. 1 Customer Service Champ in 2007 and 2008, USAA provides highly competitive financial products to its 6.7 million members. For more information about USAA, or to learn more about membership, visit usaa.com