Savers Want Low Banking Fees -- Yet Most of Them Are Overpaying

by Elizabeth Aldrich | Updated July 17, 2021 - First published on Jan. 29, 2021

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Online banks can help consumers save more, so why aren't they more popular?

What’s the second most important feature people look for in a bank? Low fees on bank accounts, according to a study on consumer banking preferences done by The Ascent.

Quality customer service is the first. Other features consumers heavily prioritize include security and fraud protection, mobile and online access, and a good brand reputation.

Perhaps due to concerns over customer service or brand reputation, they remain hesitant about using online-only banks. Over half of the consumers surveyed don't have an account with one, and nearly a quarter said they wouldn’t be willing to open one.

If people really want to minimize banking fees, they may shoot themselves in the foot by avoiding online-only banks, which tend to offer the best deals on checking and savings accounts. Not only that, but many of these banks have trusted reputations and offer even better customer service than brick-and-mortar banks.

Savings accounts with online banks have lower fees and better returns

Without the overhead cost of brick-and-mortar locations, online banks are often able to charge lower fees and offer better rates. In fact, many checking and savings accounts with online banks are completely fee-free.

If you're looking to minimize fees, avoid bank accounts that charge a monthly maintenance fee. Even if you can get the fee waived by maintaining a minimum balance or receiving enough direct deposits, you have to meet that requirement every month. Avoiding ATM fees should also be a priority. Many banks don't charge fees at in-network ATMs, but ideally, you want a checking account that offers free ATMs worldwide or unlimited ATM fee reimbursements.

The best online bank accounts charge no monthly service fee and no ATM fees, and some even earn interest. As for the best online savings accounts, they offer interest rates that are 10 times higher (or sometimes more) than what you'd get at most major brick-and-mortar banks, and they don't charge monthly maintenance fees.

Are online banks trustworthy?

Many consumers are concerned that online banks are less trustworthy, or offer poor customer service. Those concerns aren't necessarily founded.

As long as you're comfortable doing everything online or over the phone, many online banks may offer better customer service than what you're used to with big brick-and-mortar institutions. Since they’re online-only, they tend to have extensive, user-friendly mobile and online banking systems, and customer service at all hours. If you're experiencing an issue late at night, not only do you not have to wait for your bank to open, you can often resolve the issue from your computer in minutes.

As for security, online banks offer the same security and fraud protection you get from any brick-and-mortar. Important security features to look for in a bank include multi-factor authentication, data encryption, and account monitoring, which you'll find at most popular online banks. Additionally, you want a bank that's FDIC-insured, so your money is protected -- most online-only banks, just like their traditional counterparts, are FDIC-insured for up to $250,000 per account category, per depositor.

The decision comes down to whether you're comfortable doing your banking online. However, there's no denying that online-only banks offer some of the best deals for folks who don't like paying unnecessary fees.

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