This Silly Banking Mistake Cost Me Money in 2022. Here's How You Can Avoid It

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KEY POINTS

  • I spent $50 on pointless savings account fees in 2022.
  • Once I realized how simple it was to stop paying the fee, I made some changes.
  • You can avoid my mistake by learning your account's requirements, switching to a bank that doesn't charge account maintenance fees, or by opening a special type of account if you're eligible.

Even people who write about personal finance aren't immune to costly errors.

2022 was full of wins for my bank account. I got out of debt, increased my income, and started saving money to buy a house in the next few years. I settled into my new career as a writer and editor, and finally felt as if I'd made the right choice to change careers in 2021. Unfortunately, not every move I made was a winner.

I lost $50 to account maintenance fees in 2022. While this is a pretty small amount of money, I'm kicking myself a little, because as a personal finance writer, I really should have fixed this problem sooner than I did. Plus, it was such an easy fix. Thankfully, I have resolved it and will no longer be charged that fee. Here's what happened.

How I fell prey

I had a lot to juggle in 2022, between taking on new professional duties and working a lot of extra hours to achieve debt payoff. As so much of my attention was on work, I only vaguely registered that the savings account I opened several years ago was suddenly charging me a $5 monthly maintenance fee.

I originally opened the account (which is linked to the checking account I have with the big national bank I've been with since college) so I could have some money in it for overdraft protection. This was back when I still lived paycheck to paycheck and didn't really make enough to save much money, so at the time, I set up the account to just automatically take $25 per month from the linked checking account. Unless I was saving for a specific goal (like moving; I do that often), I just kept a few hundred dollars in that account and dipped into it occasionally to cover shortfalls.

In early 2022, its balance was about $100 after I made a withdrawal, and I stopped paying much attention to it. I opened a high-yield savings account with an online-only bank, so I would have a place to keep money for freelance taxes and for my eventual home purchase. As a result, I hadn't bothered adding anything to the old savings account beyond that $25 automatic transfer. However, the bank noticed I was neglecting it, and started charging me $5 per month -- for the 10 months it took me to fix the problem.

This is the part of the story where I hang my head in shame, because when I finally flipped back through my bank statements and saw that I'd lost $50 to those fees, I discovered that the minimum balance required to avoid that fee was only $300. Now, $300 is a decent chunk of money, but I could easily have funded my account back in the spring, kept it at $300, and not been charged even once. Live and learn!

I transferred money to the account and will keep it at $300 moving forward. Since it still collects $25 per month from my checking, I will be moving any money above $300 to my other savings account, where it will earn much more interest. I like having this account linked to my main checking account, however, as it's nice to have overdraft protection.

How can you avoid bank fees?

Thankfully, there are a few ways you can avoid my mistake and skip paying account maintenance fees:

  • Read the fine print: If I had bothered to read the details on my account sooner, I would have known that leaving the account under $300 would result in fees. Don't be like me! Read the fine print on your account so you know the requirements.
  • Open an account without fees: Some savings accounts come without any fees at all. These are often geared toward seniors or students, so if you're a standard adult like I am, you may not qualify for one. It pays to ask, though.
  • Switch banks: Some banks, especially online-only banks, have done away with account maintenance fees altogether. Do your research to find one before you switch banks.

Getting better with money is a journey, not a destination, and while I feel great about a lot of the moves I made in 2022, this mistake is not one I'm proud of. That said, I'm glad it only cost me $50 overall, and the problem was easy to fix. If you're paying an account maintenance fee every month, I recommend taking the above steps to keep your money from leaking away.

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