Bouncing a check can lead to ridiculous charges. Just by going a few dollars over your available balance, you can end up spending hundreds in overdraft fees.

Fees
Be careful with fees at banks. They've recently been increasing those fees considerably. Your best bet is to be a careful banker. Try very hard not to bounce any checks, for example, and make sure you balance your checkbook regularly.

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

Service
Another important consideration is good customer service. We often look only at factors such as fees and minimum balances when we're bank-shopping, but if the bank is a headache to work with, we'll regret the choice we made later on.

Here are the banks that earned top customer-service ratings in the J.D. Power and Associates 2007 Retail Banking Satisfaction Study. Five geographic regions were used, and the maximum possible score is 1,000.

  • Mid-Atlantic: Commerce Bank (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 and make the most of whatever bank you use.

This article was originally published on Nov. 20, 2007. It has been revised.

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article. Bank of America is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation, and Washington Mutual is a former Income Investor pick. Try any of our investing services free for 30 days. The Fool has a disclosure policy.