En español | In addition to death and taxes, consider that third certainty of life: bank fees. Although some have been in place for years, many have quietly been imposed in recent months.
Lost your ATM card? You may have to pay up to $20 for a rush replacement.
Want a paper statement? At some banks, you have to pay a couple of bucks each month.
Making a deposit via your smartphone? Need to talk to a teller? Cashing in coins? Getting copies of checks? There are fees for each.
And free checking? Fewer than half of all banks now offer it on non-interest bearing accounts, down from three-quarters in 2009. You've got to pay fees that may reach into the double digits each month.
Thinking up new fees is the strategy for banks to make back an estimated $12 billion a year in income that they've lost through new federal controls on old fees. Overdraft charges are now more tightly controlled, and banks can charge merchants only 21 cents for processing a debit card purchase (it used to be 44 cents). Banks have lost billions more in income because of the sagging economy, lackluster deposits (who wants to earn interest rates of near zero?), and limits that the Credit CARD Act placed on fee-generating credit card offers.
But hard times for banks don't have to be your own. Fees are here to stay, but here's how to avoid some of them:
1. Understand the fees. Banks don't make it easy. A study by the Pew Charitable Trusts (pdf) found that disclosure documents averaged 111 pages long. The papers are "full of legalese," says Pew's Ardie Hollifield, whose group is urging the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to require banks to publish a one-page disclosure box of all fees.
Another report by U.S. PIRG (pdf), a consumer advocacy group, found that only about a third of initial requests at branches for fee schedules produce those schedules, as required by the Truth in Savings Act, and only about half of branches provided the schedule after two or more requests.
But, bear down and do your best to understand what you're up against — you can only fight things you know about.