Whether you just signed up for a checking account to get an incentive — like a higher rate or cash bonus — or you have stuck with the same checking account for years, you’ve likely encountered some sort of fee attached to the account. Some checking account fees are obvious, such as a charge for overdrawing your account, but others are buried in the fine print.
Protect your balance by finding out if your bank or credit union charges any of the checking account fees listed below. Learn which fees apply to services that you can opt out of and which ones might be negotiable or refundable under certain circumstances.
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1. Legal Process Fee
You can incur legal process fees when a legal order directs your financial institution to freeze, attach or withhold funds or other property. If you are subject to a legal attachment, levy or garnishment of some kind, be prepared for this fee. Bank of America’s legal process fee, for example, is currently $100 per occurrence but is increasing to $125 as of Nov. 6, 2015, according to the bank’s website. Wells Fargo’s legal process fee is $125.
2. Account Research Fee
Asking your financial institution to research an old transaction — such as who cashed a certain check or when it was paid out — can cost you. “Not all banks charge for this,” said Reno Frazzitta, owner of Smart Money Financial Advisors in Sterling Heights, Mich., but Ally Bank and Wells Fargo, for example, list a $25-per-hour fee on their websites for account research services. Ask your bank or credit union if your request will result in a fee.
3. Monthly Maintenance Fee
A monthly maintenance or service fee, also known as a minimum balance fee, is charged to keep the account active, and it can vary by bank. “My Bank charges me $14/month; however, this fee can be waived if your average balance in the account exceeds a certain minimum — usually $1,000,” said Frazzitta.
Most traditional banks do charge a monthly maintenance fee. Many online banks, however, including Ally Bank, charge no monthly maintenance fees for checking and no minimum balance to open an account.
4. Overdraft Fee
If you overdraw your account when using your debit card, you will be charged an overdraft fee. Make sure you monitor your account balance and transactions so that you don’t overspend with your debit card or take too much money out of the ATM before a deposit clears, for example. This fee ranges depending on the financial institution; some banks and credit unions might charge a fee for every overdraft transaction you make in a day, but they also might waive or reduce these fees if you are a loyal customer and explain that you made a one-time error.
5. Non-Sufficient Funds Fee
Similar to an overdraft fee that you incur when you overdraw your account using your debit card, the NSF fee applies to bounced checks, also called returned items. This fee is “typically around $25 per NSF occurrence — though some banks may charge as much as $40,” said Frazzitta.
“This can add up quickly if you write several checks against a deposit that you recently made and that deposit ends up bouncing,” he said. The best thing to do to avoid such fees is wait a few days for your deposits to clear before writing any checks against them.
6. Overdraft Protection Service Fee
Overdraft protection is an optional service you can purchase for around $20 per month, said Frazzitta. With it, the bank will cover you in the event one of your checks bounces due to non-sufficient funds. “The bank will pay the check — considered to be a short-term loan to you — and will waive the NSF fee against your account,” said Frazzitta. “There typically is a limit to the amount of overdraft fee protection — usually around $500 — and the number of occurrences they will cover per month — usually around three.”
Some banks do not charge fees for overdraft protection if the overdraft is covered with one of that bank’s credit cards or a linked account. For example, Chase allows you to link an overdraft protection backup funding account — a Chase savings account or Chase credit card — to your checking account to help pay any overdraft transactions; one $10 overdraft protection transfer fee can be charged for each day a transfer is made.
7. Returned Check Fee
You can be hit with a returned check fee when you deposit a check that bounces. If the person who wrote you the check does not have sufficient funds, your bank will assess this fee against you, which can range from $15 to $30, depending on the bank or credit union, said Frazzitta.
8. Stop Payment Fee
You can incur a fee when you want your bank to stop payment on a check that you no longer want paid out. You must request this service before the check in question hits your account, and your bank will typically charge around $25 per occurrence, said Frazzitta.
9. Check Ordering Fee
If you need new checks, you’ll likely have to pay for them. A typical fee is around $12 for one box of checks, Frazzitta said.
One way to use fewer checks is to make as many payments as possible online. Another option is to use credit cards instead of checks to pay for groceries or other expenses. If you use your credit card, however, you should pay it off before you incur interest rate charges to make this choice as cost effective as possible.
10. ATM or Debit Card Replacement Fee
If you lose your ATM or debit card, your bank might charge you for the replacement. Bank of America, for example, does not charge a fee to replace an expired debit card but does charge $5 for a replacement card upon request. The rush replacement request fee is $15. “Sometimes, fees of up to $25 may apply when you request rush delivery of a debit card or other debit access device,” said Frazzitta.
11. Out-of-Network ATM Fee
You can be charged this fee if you use an ATM that is not part of the same network as your own bank or credit union, such as another bank’s ATM or some convenience store ATMs. “I have seen these fees range anywhere from $2 to $3.50 depending on the ATM you are using, so try to plan ahead and make sure you have enough money on you, especially if you are traveling,” said Frazzitta. Some financial institutions offer ATM fee refunds as a perk to attract customers.
12. Balance Inquiry Fee
Some financial institutions charge for balance inquires made at ATMs. Wells Fargo, for example, not only charges $2.50 for every non-Wells Fargo ATM transaction but also charges a $1 fee for a balance inquiry. You can avoid a balance inquiry fee by monitoring your account online or via mobile device instead of at the ATM.
13. Wire Transfer Fee
You will likely have to pay a fee to send a wire transfer, and the amount can vary. Some financial institutions, however, will waive this fee for preferred customers, said Frazzitta.
14. Excess Transaction Fee
Some banks will charge you if you overuse your account, said Frazzitta. For example, there might be a limit on the account of 150 transactions — including deposits, checks, debit card transactions — per month. Pay attention to whether your bank or credit union’s transaction limit applies to all of your checking account transactions of just point-of-sale debit card transactions.
If you exceed your limit, you might have to pay a fee for each transaction above the limit. If you find yourself approaching the limit, you might want to consolidate payments or use a credit card for certain transactions instead of your debit card, Frazzitta suggested.
15. Cashier’s Check or Money Order Fee
The fee to get a money order or a cashier’s check can range between $5 and $15, said Frazzitta. Some banks can waive this fee for their preferred customers, he noted, so be sure and ask whether you qualify for this privilege.
16. International Debit Card Purchase Fee
Be prepared to pay a fee if you use your debit card to make a purchase outside the U.S. “The fee is taken as a percentage of the transaction and is usually around 3 percent of the purchase amount,” Frazzitta explained.
17. Check Image Service Fee
If you want your bank to send you copies of all your canceled checks that were paid out of your account with each monthly statement, you will likely incur this fee. PNC Bank, for example, charges a $3 check image service fee for some of its checking accounts.
18. Check Copy Fee
If you need multiple copies of a check that you cannot find, view and print from your account history online, you might need to order the copies. Bank of America, for example, does not charge for the first two copies per monthly statement cycle but does charge $3 for each copy after the first two; the bank caps the check copy fees at $75 per request.
19. Paper Statement Copy Fee
If you can’t print out your own copy of your bank statement online or if you need a paper copy of an old statement from your financial institution, you might incur a statement copy fee. Not all financial institutions charge this fee, but Santander Bank, for example, charges $6 for each statement copy, and Bank of America charges $5 but waives the fee for customers with specific types of checking accounts.
20. Account Closing Fee
In some cases, a financial institution might charge an account closing fee. For example, a bank might charge a fee if the account is closed within 90 days of opening, according to Frazzitta.
Many checking account fees can be avoided if you make full use of the online and mobile banking tools and services that your financial institution offers. Read your bank or credit union’s list of fees for your account so that you know when you are subject to fees and don’t get hit with any surprise charges.
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