THE HELP DESK The Help Desk: Top Tips

Avoiding nasty bank fees

Getting a loan from a bank may be tough, but bank fees certainly aren't hard to come by. Here's how you can avoid giving banks even more of your money.

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By Gerri Willis, CNN personal finance editor

For more information on managing your largest investment, check out Gerri Willis' 'Home Rich,' now in bookstores.

NEW YORK ( -- Be on the lookout. According to the latest study, ATM fees average $1.97. That's 11 percent higher than the prior year.

Another common culprit: overdraft fees. Overdraft fees kick in when you don't have enough money in your account to cover a transaction.

Some banks charge a monthly maintenance fee regardless of your balance, while others will ding you only if you fall below a minimum balance. You could also be charged a teller fee, just for going to the teller - perhaps if you have an express, or an online account. You could even be dinged for writing too many checks.

Don't use another bank's ATM. 99.2% of ATMs surcharge according to So, to avoid these ever-growing fees, use your debit card to make a purchase, and just 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.

Overdraft fees can be brutal. As high as $40 in some cases and Consumer Reports estimates that translates to over 1000% interest. Here's how you can avoid them:

  • Link your checking account to your savings account
  • Keep track of your deposits/withdrawals
  • Keep a cash cushion (especially if you have companies that withdraw money from your account automatically)

Check the bank's policy. As for the maintenance fees and/or teller fees, make sure you ask the bank what fees you'll be on the hook for.

Join a credit union. Stop going to banks. Join a credit union instead. Credit unions generally have lower fees and higher saving rates on their products. Plus, if you're looking for a credit card, the terms and conditions are generally easier to understand compared to large commercials banks.

A credit union membership may be set up through your employer, a neighborhood association or a church group. You may even be able to join a credit union that serves just your local community. To find out where the credit unions are in your area, go to the National Credit Union Association website.

Gerri's Mailbox: Got questions about your money? We want to hear them! Send an e-mail,we'll answer questions on CNN, Headline News and To top of page

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