NEW YORK (MainStreet)Let's face it: the days of free checking, reasonable overdraft fees and cheap transactions are gone for the foreseeable future.
A recent survey of major banks conducted by Moneyrates.com revealed that banking costs have continued to rise across the board for the average consumer. Whether it is through higher account balance minimums, or increasing overdraft and maintenance fees, soaring account expenses have become a major inconvenience to millions of banking customers.
Luckily, there are a whole host of steps that consumers can take to cut down on these expenditures.
Sometimes doing a little bit of research on what banking options are available in your area can save you hundreds of dollars each year. Make sure that before you decide where to bank, you consider factors such as fees, account balance minimums and ATM surcharges.
Consider an Online Bank
One of the best ways to avoid annoying monthly account maintenance fees may be to join an online bank. These accounts remain one of the most effective ways to cut down on banking expenses.
"Online checking accounts are generally the best option for saving money," says Richard Barrington, personal finance Expert for MoneyRates.com. "They are most likely to offer free checking."
Open an Overdraft Line of Credit or Savings account
If you find yourself paying exorbitant overdraft fees each year, it might be time to speak with your bank about creating an overdraft line of credit or an overdraft savings account.
Lily Beaumont, a 30-year-old overdraft savings account holder recalls how having an overdraft savings account saved her a lot of money. "A magazine subscription automatically billed my debit card recently," she said. "This unplanned expense overdrew my account. I could have been charged a fee of $22 for every transaction that happened that weekend--somewhere around nine transactions," Beaumont said. "Instead, my overdraft protection withdrew the necessary amount to cover the transactions, and I was only charged a $10 fee. I was very happy that I decided to open that savings account."
Join a Credit Union
Credit unions often offer more flexible rates and reasonable fees than traditional banks do. This is mainly possible, because credit unions are solely owned by their depositors and have little profit incentive outside of adequately servicing each of its members. This added flexibility allows them to provide much cheaper products in the form of checking accounts and even loans and mortgages.
"Many credit unions are part of a nationwide ATM network that is surcharge-free," says Tena Lozada, manager of consumer advocacy for the Nevada and California Credit Unions. "With nearly 30,000 surcharge-free ATMs across the country, credit unions offer a larger network than any single bank."
Join a Smaller Bank
When it comes to banking, sometimes bigger is not always better. Many smaller banks provide significantly cheaper checking account maintenance fees than those of larger institutions and some even provide these accounts free of charge.
Barrington adds, "MoneyRates.com has found that smaller banks are more than twice as likely to offer free checking as larger banks, and monthly fees are more than 25% cheaper on average at small banks than at large banks."
Open an Account With Your Local Community Bank
Community banks provide consumers an opportunity to get free or low-cost checking accounts while also benefitting their local community.
Gabe Krajicek, CEO of checking account provider Kasasa said, "Data abounds supporting the fact that checking accounts at a community financial institution are much more likely to be free, with no monthly service fees and have no minimum balance requirements to maintain the account, so consumers are not going to be spending money for just having a checking account and they're less likely to get pinged with pesky fees."
Look into an interest-bearing checking account
"Many community banks and credit unions across the country offer interest bearing checking accounts, and consumers can sometimes save hundreds by having one" Krajicek says. "The national average for interest bearing accounts is a measly 0.05% APY (annual percentage yield) according to FDIC.org, but Kasasa.com has identified 30 banking providers that will offer consumers earnings between 3.00% and 4.01% APY on their checking account balances."
Written by John Okoye for MainStreet