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How to Avoid New Checking Fees Before They Happen

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — It looks like Wells Fargo has put another nail in the free checking coffin. The bank confirmed Thursday that it plans to add a $7 checking account fee in six more states.

The news follows last week’s report that Bank of America has been testing deposit and service fees among new customers.

In both instances, the fees in question aren’t entirely new. Wells’ Essentials Checking Account, which costs $7 a month, was rolled out in several other states last year and Bank of America has been testing monthly fees on checking accounts in Arizona, Georgia and Massachusetts since January 2011.

But they’re also not likely to be the last new or raised checking account fee introduced in 2012. Big banks are still looking for ways to recoup funds lost to interchange fee limits that went into effect back in October, and there’s already a new threat to traditional revenue streams on the horizon. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced just last month that it is looking into overdraft practices, whose netted banks $29.5 billion last year.

The regulatory changes, past and present, have led most major banks to widen their tiered checking account options, which waive fees and offer bigger rewards if customers sign up for more services.

The Wells Essential Checking account, for instance, allows customers to bypass the $7 fee by maintaining a $1,500 minimum daily balance or making direct deposits of $500 or more each month. It also allows account holders to get a $2 discount on the fee if they opt to get online statements.

“What’s important to note is that most customers will experience little impact as they already have the required minimum balance or direct deposit in place to waive the monthly service fee,” a spokeswoman for Wells Fargo says.

Fortunately for consumers, the ways to waive these fees are fairly similar across the board. As such, here are some steps you can take now to make sure you’re not hit with big checking account fees in the future.

Set up direct deposit. Just like when using a prepaid debit card, the easiest way customers who have a hard time maintaining minimums can bypass monthly fees is to link their paycheck or another direct deposit to their checking account.

Do your banking online.
The second simplest way to avoid these fees it to get in the habit of doing your banking online. Wells Fargo is offering a discount for those who opt out of getting paper statements, while Bank of America is allowing new customers to avoid all service fees by switching over to electronic banking, which includes free electronic billing. But you can expect other financial institutions to reward customers for doing things digitally as each widens its mobile banking capabilities.

Get a credit card with the bank you have your money with. Bank of America’s test involves waiving checking account fees if a customer has one of their credit cards, but financial institutions are generally moving toward not just lowering fees, but offering better incentives to customers who elect to apply for their other financial services and products. You can also consider moving your money to a financial institution you already have a loan or other investments with.

Chase, for instance, offers additional rewards points and lower interest rates on existing loans for customers who have checking accounts with them.

A similar setup exists over at Citi, whose customers can bypass the $30 monthly service fee on its CitiGold account if they have $50,000 or more for all linked deposit and retirement accounts or $100,000 or more across all their eligible linked Citi accounts, including investments and loan balances, but excluding mortgage balances. CitiGold offers, among other things, preferred interest rates on certain deposit products, discounts for foreign currency transactions and safe-deposit boxes, customer service perks and waived fees for overdraft protection and non-Citibank ATM usage.

(Hat tip to CNN Money)

Are you on the fence about the financial institution that currently holds your money? Check out MainStreet’s roundup of seven signs you should switch your bank to see if it may be time to take your money elsewhere!

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