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Banking without paying fees

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Posted: Friday, August 25, 2006 6:28 am | Updated: 3:34 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

The number of Americans paying little or no bank fees each month has dropped slightly this year after steadily increasing in previous years, according to the American Bankers Association.

A survey of 1,000 consumers shows fewer of them than last year are paying $3 or less in monthly bank fees. The survey was conducted July 10-12 for the association by Ipsos-Reid.

“It’s not surprising because banks are offering more products, and when you have more products out there and more consumers taking advantage of products, you might have more fees that you have to pay,” said Tracey Mills, association spokeswoman. “Also, if you’re managing more bank products, you might not be paying as much attention to how much you’re paying.”

The vast majority of bank fees can be avoided if you pay attention to your accounts, she said.

“It seems like retirees and the unemployed are more likely to pay nothing, whereas families with children tend to pay fees more often,” Mills said. “It may be a time factor, a lifestyle issue. If you’re busy with kids, you may not have as much time to take a step back and say OK, how can I save money this week on my bank account, or let me take some time to manage my account.”

When asked, “How much would you estimate you spend on fees for banking services each month, such as checking account maintenance and ATM access?”:

• 43 percent said nothing, down from 50 percent last year.

• 12 percent said $3 to $6.

• 6 percent said $6 to $8.

• 8 percent said $8 to $10.

• 15 percent said more than $10.

“We do know from a previous survey that most consumers check their account and balance their checkbook at least once a week, but nowadays you need to check it more often because there are more ways now to access your account than in previous times,” Mills said. “Your account management needs to step up to the current trends of banking where you’ve got more ways to access your account (checks, ATM withdrawals, debit card transactions, online transactions, etc.).”

Many people don’t mind paying for convenience, and that’s reflected in the fees consumers pay for banking services, said Tanya Wheeless, president and CEO of the Arizona Bankers Association.

“Consumers by and large are savvy and responsible,” she said. “They’re savvy in that they know how to avoid the fees and they’re responsible in that a lot of fees that are generated are often the result of some negative occurrence, like bouncing a check, withdrawing money from your account that you don’t have in it, paying bills late, etc.”

The single most effective way to avoid bank fees is to read all of the information about your account, Mills said. “Read the disclosure,” she said. “Call your bank and ask questions if you don’t understand something, and always keep in mind how your account works. That way, you make informed decisions. “

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