That Sneaky Bank Almost Got Me

by Philip Brewer on 3 December 2010 3 comments
Photo: Philip Brewer

It was as much luck as anything else, but I just managed to avoid $30 in bank charges. It's a good example of rule number one for avoiding bank fees: pay attention. 

I'd actually gotten the document with the details I needed to know a month ago. I'd even looked at it. Unfortunately, I missed one little detail that was tucked away in a large-format, eight-page, full-color, glossy brochure filled almost completely with details I didn't need to know — all the fees for all the services my bank provides, along with all the kinds of accounts they offer and the rules for all those accounts.

In a little box on page three was a little change: The minimum balance for money market accounts was now going to be $2,500 instead of the $1,500 it used to be. Fall below the minimum balance for even one day, and you get hit with a $15 change for the month. We have two of those accounts.

As I say, having missed this change when I got the brochure, it was mainly luck that I noticed it this morning. I was logging into my bank's website to transfer some money and clicked a link for "changes taking effect today." Clicking that link downloaded a PDF of the same brochure I'd already looked at.

Since the transfers I was going to make this morning were to our money market accounts, I had money market accounts on my mind. So I took a minute to check the entry for money market accounts and noticed the change.

I spent several flustered minutes verifying that I could boost both accounts over $2,500 and still have enough cash to pay the bills that needed paying. I also transferred some money from elsewhere into our checking account, although it'll be a couple of days until it arrives.

As I said, it was as much luck as anything. I was lucky that I happened to log into our bank today, lucky that I noticed the link, lucky that I checked the entry on money market accounts, lucky that I noticed the change, and lucky that we had enough money on hand to cover the higher minimum.

But it was more than just luck. I run our finances with a certain amount of slack — I keep cash on hand specifically to handle situations like this. And, of course, I make a point of paying attention to that sort of thing, because paying attention is rule number one for avoiding bank fees.

 

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Guest

My bank is also requiring a higher minimum balance on my checking account to avoid a monthly fee. Its makes me wish that they were still allowed to levy overdraft fees.

Philip Brewer's picture

With interest rates as low as they are right now, keeping a large minimum balance costs almost nothing.

Between now and when rates go up, take some time to look around at alternatives. Local banks and credit unions offer other choices. Start with the list of bank services that you require, and then look for a bank package that provides those services for no (or low) fee with small minimums.

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Peter T

My credit union requires a minimum balance for keeping a checking account OR changing to a checking account that is managed purely online, without notifications by letters. I changed this year. For the money market account, they require a minimum, too, to accrue any interest - I'm OK with that.