Our hate affair with bank fees continues.
Overdraft fees -- those fees that rack up when you're overdrawn, didn't know it, and suddenly find yourself paying $35 for a cup of already overpriced $4 coffee -- used to get all the press. But with banks now allowing customers to opt-out of overdraft protection, things have been a little quiet on the overdraft fee front.
Meanwhile, Moneyrates.com, a site that specializes in tracking down low bank rates, just released a survey in July that shows monthly service fees with banks have actually declined since January. The average monthly service fee is down from $5.90 to ... wait for it ... $5.85. Yep, a whole five cents.
Check-writing fees. Pablo Solomon, an internationally-recognized artist and designer who lives in Austin, TX, is irked by the fee he gets charges when he writes more than three checks per month on his money market checking account. As he explains, "I'll go months with writing only one check. Then I might have several surprise expenses, write four checks and I get hit with an outlandish fee. I feel it would be more fair to [get] 36 checks a year and then get charged at the end of the year if you exceed that number."
Despite the good news in bank fees, however, there's still a lot of bad news out there for consumers. In general, bank fees aren't going anywhere. Recently, I went looking for some of the under-the-radar bank fees that don't get a lot of press, and bank executives, take note: There's a lot of anger out there.
To show you what I mean, let's take a look at some of the bank fees that people are peeved about:
The policy as is, says Solomon, "makes me feel that the bank doesn't know who I am or care."
Safe deposit box fee. Nobody questions that there should be a fee on this, but Glen Garvin, who works for an auto dealer in Monroe, Ohio, is annoyed that Fifth Third Bank recently raised its price for a safe deposit box from $30 to $63.75 annually.
Fee for writing a cashier's check. Richard Hayman, president of Just Moulding Franchising, LLC in Gaithersburg, Maryland, says that it has forever irked him that when he sent his youngest daughter to Cornell University for a six-week summer program and wanted to remove funds to pay for it from her long-held savings account, there would be a $12 charge.
What threw him was that if the bank made the check out to Hayman or his daughter, there would be no charge. But to make out the check to Cornell? $12. "I told the teller I would happily pay the fee if she could logically and clearly explain to me why it was free for me, but $12 for Cornell University," says Hayman. "Did it have to do with the number of letters? Was 'university' too hard to spell?"
Fortunately for Hayman, the teller decided to make an exception and not charge him the $12.
Foreign item fee. Robert Sax, who owns a public relations firm in North Hollywood, Calif., says that every time one of his Canadian relatives sends him a check for a birthday or other reason, "My bank charges a fee for 'foreign item.' This, despite the fact the checks are in American funds and drawn on a New York branch of a Canadian bank."
Savings account fee. Randy Mitchelson, a Floridian and owner of National Web Leads, LLC, says he's happy to pay fees with Bank of America's online payroll suite and gives it a little plug. "This service makes it very easy for me to manage payroll details. On the other hand," Mitchelson says, "I was recently charged a monthly service fee of $29.95 for a savings account! It's one thing to charge a monthly fee for checking, but for savings? Ridiculous."
Inactivity fee. Kathleen Burns Kingsbury, a psychology expert, despises paying inactivity fees on a bank account, especially, she says, "If it's inactive, if it's not costing the bank anything to maintain, especially if you get online statements and they're making money off your money with the interest. So I've never been clear about what I'm actually paying for."
Kingsbury makes a good point. Inactivity fees are more common with credit cards, although they're being outlawed on credit cards as of August 22 (and basically being replaced with annual fees).
But judging from the language in the Credit CARD Act, banks will probably find a way to slip through a loophole and continue charging inactivity fees for customers who don't use their checking accounts. The fees are generally around $10 to $12 per month, so if you leave an account open and forget about it, well, that can really begin to add up.
Annual fees on credit cards: OK, maybe this one doesn't belong in a bank fee story, but credit cards are offered by banks, so close enough. And this anecdote will induce some eye-rolling, so I'm going to share it.
Carol Stewart, a retired telephone executive and an adjunct professor of management at Southern Connecticut State University, tells me that about 18 months ago, Chase offered her the chance to "freeze" the interest rate on her credit card if she closed out her credit card account. "Since this was a Marriott Rewards credit card," says Stewart, "I also had to agree to give up any points accumulated, and I wouldn't earn any points going forward."
While the restriction kind of stunk, Stewart was looking to cut down -- and eventually eliminate -- her credit card debt, so she happily took the bait. A few months later, Stewart spotted a $60 annual fee on her monthly credit card statement.
"I questioned the fee," Stewart says, "and reminded Chase that the account was closed, so I could no longer use it, and that I had willingly given up any claim to any Marriott points and that had I kept the account open, the difference in dollars between the old and new interest rate would probably not amount to $60 additional each year."
Their response, says Stewart: "Oh, well, that's the rule." They refused to waive the fee. "The account is almost paid in full, and I can't wait," adds Stewart. Yep, another satisfied banking customer.
Geoff Williams is a frequent contributor to WalletPop. He is also the co-author of the book Living Well with Bad Credit.
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