Fight back: Too many bank fees
Avoiding constant bank fees takes effort and some clever moves.
NEW YORK (MONEY Magazine) - Competition and low interest rates have made it harder for banks and credit-card issuers to clean up by lending you money.
Solution: More fees! Higher fees! Last year, Americans shelled out $4.3 billion in ATM charges, according to Greg McBride of Bankrate.com, and the average credit-card late fee tickled the $30 mark. Exorbitant interest-rate hikes were as punishing as ever. You can't always erase these injustices, but you can avoid them.
The fee: ATM usage
You're nailed when...you use another bank's ATM. The average damage: $1.54, plus another $1.37 charged by your bank for using a foreign ATM.
How to fight back: Switch banks -- and tell your bank why. Get cash back at the grocery store using your debit card. It'll be free or will run you about 50 cents.
Consider an Internet-only bank. Some don't charge for out-of-network ATMs. Also, some banks -- online and otherwise -- reimburse a portion of other banks' fees.
The fee: Bank service/maintenance
You're nailed when...you fall below a minimum balance, write too many checks in a month or, at some banks, simply keep an account. The average damage: $10.81 for dropping below minimum balance, for instance.
How to fight back: Ask your bank if it offers a free checking account (now available in just about every market) or one with fewer restrictions on things like check writing and minimum balances.
Arrange for direct deposit of your paycheck. This will erase maintenance charges at some banks.
The fee: Credit-card late fee
You're nailed when...you pay your credit-card bill a day past the due date. Average damage: $29.45.
How to fight back: If it's a first offense, many companies will waive the fee. Call customer service and explain that you're a good customer.
The fee: Higher credit-card interest rate
You're nailed when...you bust your credit limit or are late with a payment (for this card or, in some cases, any other bill). Or when the company decides to raise its rates across the board. The average damage varies.
How to fight back: If you were late, it may take six to 12 months of on time payments before reps will lower your rate (and then only if you "remind" them).
Switching to a lower rate card might be a better bet. When you ask for your rate to be slashed, let the issuer know you're holding a better offer that you got in the mail, says Linda Sherry of Consumer Action. Transfer your balance to a low-APR card. But avoid card hopping -- too many credit applications can damage your credit rating.