Your Free Bank Account May Not Be Free... Check the Details

One of the many bad things about an administration that is young, inexperienced, not fiscally responsible, likes to play up to the public and prone to knee jerk reactions is that some big 'changes' in the last year and a half haven't been well thought out and will have long lastly negative repercussions, some of which will continue to come to light over the next 2, 3 or 4 years as we deal with the fall out of poorly made federal decisions.

In August, the Card Act banned a variety of fees that includes certain overdraft and excessive late charges. But just like I talked about in my credit card post, now banks are increasing existing fees and finding creative new ways to charge customers more for credit cards, so-called "free" checking accounts and banking services.

Have you noticed new fees or increased fees on your bank statements?

Already this year cash-advance fees and balance transfer fees have risen to 4%, up from 3% in July last year, according to a study conducted by the Pew Health Group's Safe Credit Cards Project.

I found this news article this morning while I was sipping my morning coffee that summed up a few fees to be on the watch for from some major banking institutions;

"It's like you've got a sinking boat, where you plug one hole and another one springs up," said Curtis Arnold, founder of CreditRatings.com. "You can shut down one egregious fee, but that doesn't mean other fees aren't just going to start popping up elsewhere."

Here's a bank-by-bank look of what to expect.

Bank of America: Just last week, Bank of America said it plans to raise minimum balance requirements over the next 12 months and charge a monthly account fee for customers who can't maintain those balances.

"We currently estimate over time through these and other items we are working on that we will have the ability to offset a substantial majority of the revenue from the various regulatory changes," Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500) CEO Brian Moynihan said in a presentation to investors last week.

Customers enrolled in the lender's new eBanking checking account will be charged $8.95 per month if they opt to receive paper statements and visit tellers instead of banking online. Since the launch of eBanking in August, nearly half of all new checking accounts fall into this category.

Earlier this year, annual fees ranging from $29 to $99 were applied to a variety of Bank of America credit card accounts.

Wells Fargo: Remember how Wells Fargo (WFC, Fortune 500) fought a pitched battle with Citigroup for the right to merge with Wachovia? Well, Wachovia customers are now being fully integrated -- including being charged Wells' higher fees. Receive images of cancelled checks with your paper statement? $2. Use your savings as overdraft protection? $10 fee every time you make a transfer.

Previously, these fees already existed for Wells Fargo customers but were only applied to a very small number of Wachovia customers.

HSBC: HSBC (HBC) is charging a $19 annual fee for customers who open a line of credit beginning July 1 and an additional $10 every day they use the credit line as protection from overdrawing their checking account.

"This is not unusual in the industry and our competitors have been charging similar such fees for some time," an HSBC spokesman said. "The change aligns us with our competitors."

Other banks let customers link their savings and checking accounts as an alternative option for overdraft protection. But HSBC doesn't, meaning customers will either pay a fee to open a line of credit (if they have good enough credit to qualify), pay a fee for overdrafting their account or get their card declined.

Citibank: Citi (C, Fortune 500) announced changes to its checking accounts this month and will now assess monthly maintenance fees of up to $30, depending on the checking account and whether the customers meet certain requirements -- such as making a certain number of monthly transactions or carrying a specific minimum balance.

Monthly maintenance fees were previously as low as $3, depending on the account.

Earlier this year, Citi imposed a $60 annual fee that could be waived if customers spent about $2,400 a year. But the new regulations banning inactivity fees led the bank to eliminate the fee soon after it was introduced.

American Express:
American Express (AXP, Fortune 500) has added $29 fees to more of its cards. As of July, the new fees affect customers with Delta, JetBlue, Hilton and Starwood cobranded cards who want to recoup reward points they forfeited for paying a bill late.

The point-forfeiture fee already existed on other cards, so the bank said it wanted to be "consistent and have it across cards."

Just as I reported in my article about credit card interest rates; fees are negotiable to some extent. Look over your bank account information and compare it to your statements from six months ago. Are you seeing new fees? Increased fees? Fees for something that was 'free' when you signed up for your account? Call and ask about them. You may be able to get a better deal by switching your account to a different bank but your current bank may agree to waive the fee to keep your business.
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