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Bank Overdraft Fees: Gotcha!

On one of our discussion boards the other day, Fool community member makerta related a rather shocking story. He discovered a $216.84 charge on his bank account, due to an overdraft. He admitted that he had withdrawn more than his account held, but he (reasonably, I think) objected to the magnitude of the fees imposed -- especially considering his overdraft totaled $0.21!

This story illustrates two important points:

Be careful with fees at banks. They've recently been increasing them considerably. The best way to avoid many of them is to be a careful banker, trying very hard not to bounce any checks, for example, and balancing your checkbook regularly.

You can also get the best overdraft protection by choosing wisely among options offered by your bank. Banks like Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC  ) , Citigroup (NYSE: C  ) , and Bank of America (NYSE: BAC  ) charge less if you let them transfer money from a savings account to cover an overdraft.

Another important message here is how valuable good customer service can be. We often look only at factors such as fees and minimum balances when bank-shopping, but if the bank is a headache to work with, we'll regret that.

Below are the banks with top ratings on customer service according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2007 Retail Banking Satisfaction Study. Five geographic regions were used. The maximum possible score is 1,000.

Mid-Atlantic: Commerce Bank (NYSE: CBH  ) (828), Community Bank (808).

Midwest: Washington Mutual (NYSE: WM  ) (802), Marshall & Ilsey Bank (762).

Southeast: Bank of America (784), Wachovia (NYSE: WB  ) (780).

Southwest: Woodforest National Bank (790), Wachovia (774).

West/Pacific: Washington Mutual (774), Bank of the West (763).

What to do
So avoid those fees, and seek out good customer service. I encourage you to drop by our Savings Center, where you can gather more tips on how to save effectively, making the most of whatever bank you use.

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