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8 Ways to Avoid Bank Fees

You need to be proactive to fight the fees nibbling at your money

2. Demand waivers. A big one may come with direct deposit. "Even though banks have been quick to scale back on free checking, what they have done at the same time is institute more fee-waiver policies," says industry watchdog Greg McBride of Bankrate.com. "Often, something as simple as having direct deposit of your paycheck or Social Security payment is enough to get monthly maintenance fees waived."

But often you've got to ask for the waiver — it won't be automatically offered.

3. Be a "good" customer. You may think years of your patronage is enough to make your bank want to keep you, if not reward you with waived fees. "But even if you had a checking account for years but it never has more than $300 in it, you're not a profitable customer in the bank's viewpoint," adds McBride.

"Customers who are likely to be rewarded with waived fees are those with multiple accounts — checking, savings, a credit card, mortgage or car loan from that institution." In other words, the more business you do with your bank, the more leverage you have in heading off fees.

4. Sign up for alerts. Some banks allow you, at no charge, to get email or text message alerts of balances. This can help you avoid fees for overdrafts and minimum balances. This little-publicized service generally isn't offered, however, unless you request it. Some online money management sites also provide such alerts.

5. Rethink your checking account. If you have an interest-earning checking account, you may pay an average of $14 a month in fees unless you keep a balance in the thousands, according to a recent study by Bankrate.com. But on non-interest checking accounts, the monthly fee averages less than $5 a month, waived with a balance of $585. To save on fees, consider a non-interest account.

"These days," notes McBride, "the interest you'll get doesn't come close to the fees you have to pay with an interest-bearing checking account, unless you have the higher balance" at all times.

Next: Consider opening an account at a credit union. >>

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