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Don't get bitten by bank fees

As banks introduce new fees on checking accounts, consumers should be careful about dodging big service charges.


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Bank fees are on the rise and bounced check and ATM fees are setting records. Plus, we're paying more service charges for checking accounts. We'll tell you how to avoid these unnecessary fees.

1: Join a credit union

Credit unions have lower fees and higher saving rates on its products, according to Tom Feltner of the Woodstock Institute, a low-income advocacy organization. Plus, if you're looking for a credit card, the terms and conditions are generally easier to understand than those on cards from large commercials banks.

You can set up a credit union membership through your employer, a neighborhood association or a church group, or join one that serves your local community. To find out where the credit unions are in your area, go to the National Credit Union Association web site.

2: Bypass ATM fees

If you use ATM machines, you're no stranger to the fees attached - and the average ATM fee is rising. To avoid these fees, simply use your debit card to make a purchase and ask for cash back.

If you really just need an ATM, make sure you avoid the ones at airports, casinos or any other place where the machine is the only way you can access money. You'll pay $3 or more dollars over the regular ATM surcharge.

3: Link your accounts

Link your checking and your savings account so that in case you bounce a check, the funds will be transferred from your savings account to cover the shortfall. There is usually a $5 to $10 fee associated with this. You can also link your checking account to a line of credit or a credit card.

This option is much less costly than bouncing a check, which will cost you at least $27, or using the banks courtesy overdraft protection where fees could run as high as $35, not including daily fees.

4: Plead your case

If you've found that you have been hit with an extra banking fee, you may be able to use a "get out of jail free" card. If you're generally a good customer and you've been with the bank for a while, banks may be more willing to waive the charge.

And while you can call customer service, your best bet to garnering some sympathy for your case is to go directly to the bank branch. Top of page

Gerri's Mailbox: Got questions about your money? We want to hear them! Send e-mails to toptips@cnn.com or click here - each week, we'll answer questions on CNN, Headline News and CNNMoney.com.

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Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer.

Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved.

Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved.

Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor’s Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2014 and/or its affiliates.