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Checking Account Fees and How to Avoid Them

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You'd think it would be free to access your own money, but this isn't always the case. Checking account fees are widespread and they've become more expensive in recent years. Fortunately, you don't have to pay them. Most banks provide several ways to waive their fees. Some have done away with a few of the most common fees altogether.

Below, we'll take a look at what you need to know about common checking account fees and how you can avoid them.

How much do Americans pay in checking account fees?

When most people think of checking account fees, their mind first goes to the monthly maintenance fee. This is the fee you pay to own your checking account. A typical brick-and-mortar checking account can have a monthly maintenance fee in the $10 to $15 range. This can really add up over time. If you're paying $15 per month, that's $180 per year and $1,800 over a decade.

Some other common checking account fees include:

  • ATM fees: Some banks charge you around $3 for ATM withdrawals outside of its network. That's on top of the fee that the ATM owner may charge you. However, some checking accounts don't charge ATM transaction fees at all. And a few will even reimburse you for out-of-network ATM fees you incur.
  • Overdraft fees: You could pay an overdraft fee if you've opted into overdraft protection and you attempt to withdraw more money from your checking account than you have. These fees can be upwards of $35 per transaction.
  • Non-sufficient funds fees: You could pay a non-sufficient funds (NSF) fee if you write a check for more than you have in your checking account.
  • Paper statement fee: If your bank still sends you paper statements, it may charge a small fee. You can usually waive this by opting into eStatements.
  • Foreign transaction fee: Using your checking account debit card outside of the United States could result in a foreign transaction fee, often 3% of the purchase price.
  • Account closure fee: If you close your checking account within a certain number of days after opening it, you could pay an account closure fee of $25 or more.

Every checking account will have its own set of fees. You should have received a copy when you opened the account and most banks list these fees on their websites as well.

Ways to avoid checking account fees

Checking accounts that charge monthly maintenance fees often give you several options to waive them. The most common way is to maintain a certain minimum balance. The monthly or daily balance requirements will vary by account. Some will also waive your fee if you meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • Direct deposit a certain amount of money each month
  • Make a certain number of debit card purchases each month
  • Be under a certain age -- usually for college-age account owners or younger

Review your bank's fee waiver options if you're not familiar with them. Make sure there's at least one you feel confident you can accomplish every month. Remember, you can waive your fee one month and owe it the next. So if you want to avoid fees altogether, you must consistently meet one of the checking account's requirements. It's also worth seeing whether a credit union checking account might work for you. Credit unions may not charge an account fee and other charges are often lower than with regular banks.

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Read checking account reviews

If you're looking for more in-depth information on checking accounts, here are a few we've reviewed:

You can also avoid a lot of checking account fees by going with an online checking account instead. Online banks don't have branch networks to maintain and that saves them a lot of money. This means they can offer free checking accounts while brick-and-mortar banks often can't afford to do so. Online checking accounts are also more likely to offer interest and out-of-network ATM fee reimbursements. As long as you're comfortable with online banking, it's a good way to get out of paying a monthly service fee.

There's no good reason to pay checking account fees

It's rare to find a checking account that forces you to pay a monthly fee without any way out. But if you pay a monthly service fee, it's probably time to think about a switch. Look for a free checking account or a bank account with a minimum account balance you can meet.

You don't have to go with an online bank if you're not comfortable with online and mobile banking. Just look around for a brick-and-mortar checking account that has reasonable fee waiver requirements.

As for other types of checking account fees, a lot of them are easy to avoid as long as you know they're there and avoid the behaviors that would trigger them. Take some time to familiarize yourself with your checking account's fees if you don't already know what they are.

Still have questions?

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