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TIPS TO SAVE MONEY WITH YOUR CHECKING ACCOUNT

If you’re looking to save more money this year, a great place to start might actually be your checking account. For most people, a checking account is nothing more than a convenient place to securely store and quickly access funds that they would like to use on a daily basis. And since many banks offer checking accounts for free, most of us aren’t paying very close attention to the fine print. However, there are often hidden fees and charges that can end up making that “free” checking account anything but free. Did you know that Americans paid over $34 billion in overdraft fees last year alone? If you have a checking account, or are thinking of opening a new one, take a look at the following 4 ways to save money with your checking account, learn how to avoid paying those unnecessary fees, and maximize your savings this year. Already know how to reduce unnecessary checking account fees? Explore some of the most popular checking accounts available.

1) JOIN A LOCAL CREDIT UNION

A recent study by Wallethub revealed that the annual cost for an average checking account provided by a large national bank is approximately $77 in fees. In comparison, the average checking account offered by a credit union will only cost $22. Because credit unions operate as non-profit financial institutions, they will also have lower fees for typical checking account services like ATM withdrawals and wire transfers. However, credit unions have fewer branch locations and ATMs than a large national bank, and often have fewer technology applications to support their services. If you live and work in an area with a local credit union, it might be worth checking out their rates to see how much you could be saving. However, if you travel frequently for work or live in a rural area and rely on internet based services, a credit union might not be the best solution for you. Looking for something with the low cost of a credit union and worldwide reach of a national bank? The next cost saving option might be right for you.

2) GO ONLINE-ONLY

Big national banks that have an extensive branch network and a large number of ATMs usually charge you more because they need to support their physical locations. However, an online-only bank can cut those costs and pass the savings on to you. According to Wallethub’s latest report, “the average online checking account costs 47% less than its branch-based counterpart”. Because online-only banks offer their services exclusively over the phone and internet, they will also have the latest in technological advancements. Deposit checks, pay bills, and set-up direct deposit all through your smartphone or from the convenience of your home. If you live and work in areas with high levels of internet connectivity and are only using your checking account for simple transactions, an online-only checking account might be a great way to begin saving more money. However, if you’re frequently without internet service or you’d like to use your checking account for unique transactions and want to work with a bank representative in-person, an online-only checking account might not be your best option. Regardless of whether you decide to work with a national bank, credit union, or online-only institution, make sure you follow the next cost saving method to maximize your savings this year.

3) AVOID OVERDRAFT PROTECTION

One of the highest fees associated with a checking account will sometimes be referred to as “overdraft protection”. This service allows you to withdraw money from an ATM or pay for something using your debit card, even if you do not have sufficient funds in your account. While the bank will describe this service as a helpful feature if you find yourself in an emergency situation, the reality is much closer to a high interest rate loan that you automatically agree to whenever your account balance is a little too low. When you trigger the overdraft protection service, an initial fee of around $30 will be charged to your checking account and in some cases, the bank may continue to charge a $2 to $5 fee every day that your account balance remains in the negative. To give you an example of how quickly this adds up, imagine you purchase something at the local convenience store for $20, but you only had $5 in your checking account at the time. The overdraft protection service will allow the transaction to go through, charging you the full $20 for the item while simultaneously adding a $30 overdraft fee, bringing your balance to -$45. And, everyday you don’t pay that -$45, another $5 is charged to your checking account. To avoid this problem you can do one of two things:

1) Connect your checking account to a savings account so any overdraft fees are immediately paid off and you do not accrue additional penalties.

2) Discontinue the overdraft protection service all together.

If you do not have an associated savings account with the bank of your choice, you might consider setting up a savings account with a very low minimum and placing some emergency funds in this account to protect yourself against overdraft fees. Another option to prevent overdrafting entirely would be to set-up a low account balance alert. This alert feature will automatically send you a notification when your account balance reaches a predetermined level and can prevent you from accidentally overspending from your checking account. Once you have decided how to protect yourself from this unnecessary fee, take a look at our last cost saving method to keep your other checking account fees as low as possible.

4) MAINTAIN THE MINIMUM BALANCE

With hundreds of checking account options to choose from, it can be challenging to know exactly which product is right for you. Deciding between a national bank, credit union, or online-only institution can help narrow those options to a degree, but there are still plenty of choices and knowing which one is right for you can be tricky. Another great way to refine your search and ensure you’re selecting the financial product that will generate the greatest savings for you is to understand the account balance minimum required by various checking accounts. Since most banks will charge you a fee for falling below this minimum, it might be a good idea to review the specific minimums for the checking accounts that you are interested in and find an option that suits your needs. For some, a high minimum is fine since they rarely use the account and keep a set amount in the account at all times. For others, a low minimum is desirable because they may only use the account for non-routine payments and transfers. Choosing a checking account with the right account minimum for you can be a great way to avoid unnecessary fees and help you start saving today.

When you feel certain you know what kind of checking account you’re looking for, click the button below to explore some of the most popular options available.

Resources

1. https://www.thebalance.com/how-free-checking-really-works-315304
2. https://wallethub.com/edu/banking-landscape-report/1629/
3. https://www.moneycrashers.com/why-credit-unions-are-better-than-banks/
4. https://wallethub.com/best-online-checking-account/
5. http://www.businessinsider.com/online-bank-vs-traditional-banks-2013-5
6. https://www.credit.com/personal-finance/10-ways-to-avoid-overdraft-and-bounced-check-fees/
7. https://www.wellsfargo.com/online-banking/alerts/
8. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/mybanktracker/avoid-a-minimum-balance-f_b_6787586.html