3 Tricks to Limit Overdraft Fees

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Ever since the financial crisis, there has been a movement toward forcing financial institutions to behave in a more consumer-friendly manner. To this end, Congress is considering the overdraft fees banks charge as a follow-up to credit card regulation reform. Soon, banks may be required to let you opt out of overdraft protection on top of providing full disclosure on other fees.

With the prospect of legislation regarding overdraft fees looming large, some banks are already modifying their overdraft policies. Bank of America (Stock Quote: BAC), Chase (Stock Quote: JPM) and Wells Fargo (Stock Quote: WFC) are among the banks that will waive overdraft fees if you are less than $10 over your limit. Additionally, many banks will no longer approve ATM and other transactions that take you over your limit.

You don’t have to wait on banks to avoid overdraft fees, however. Here are three moves that can help you beat bank fees:

1. Use a credit union or small local bank.

Because they can’t compete on a national scale, many credit unions and small local banks compete in other ways — with lower fees and personalized customer service.

Credit unions are known for having low fees and account minimums. Plus, chances are that you will find the process for opting out of overdraft protection less onerous at a smaller bank or credit union.

2. Link your checking account to another account.

Many banks allow you to link your checking account to a savings account or to a line of credit. This can save you money in terms of per-transaction charges, as well as offering a lower interest rate in some cases. Instead of showing you as overdrawn, your checking account automatically transfers money from the linked account to cover the charges.

It's important to note that there may be a monthly limit on transfers from a savings account, so you will still need to be careful. If you are linking to a line of credit, make sure you pay back the small loan as soon as possible to minimize the interest you are paying. Understand that, in some cases, a linked line of credit comes with an annual fee of $15 to $35.

3. Separate your expenses into different accounts.

Another tactic to reduce the chances of an overdraft is to use different accounts.

Use one checking account (linked to a savings account or line of credit) for your major bills, and try to make sure that it is funded. Your second account should be for the everyday purchases and not have overdraft protection. That way, if you are out of money in that account, the transaction is denied.

In the end, the best way to avoid money-wasting overdraft fees is to keep track of your finances and have enough in your account. But it never hurts to have a backup plan.

—For the best rates on loans, bank accounts and credit cards, enter your ZIP code at BankingMyWay.com.

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