As interest rates begin to rise, consumers will start to see pros and cons to changes in their account terms.
“Financial institutions like banks and credit unions provide safekeeping of our money and allow for easy bill-paying, but we need to be smart consumers when choosing the best one for our money needs,” said Carol Roberts, one of several UF/IFAS Extension agents specializing in community resource development.
Here, Roberts offers five tips to avoid fees and to leverage changes in the current banking environment that can keep cash in your wallet and accounts.
1. Know there are common bank fees you can avoid. Fees, they’re everywhere. When choosing a bank account, make sure you understand the activities that impose a fee and how to avoid them. Start by reviewing your account terms. In many banks, certain types of accounts require a minimum balance to avoid a fee. In others, a minimum number of transactions or deposits within a month may be required to avoid a fee. The bank you are considering may simply charge a monthly fee for account maintenance. Whatever the case may be, understand those fees. Avoiding fees keeps the money in your accounts and even accruing interest – a plus as banks consider raising interest rates.
2. Look for the highest annual percentage yield on savings. The annual percentage yield (APY) a bank will pay to hold your money is starting to increase. When the Federal Reserve raises interest rates on banks, they pass that on to their customers through higher rates to borrow money but also higher rates for savings, checking and other accounts in many cases. If you are in the market for a new savings account, you will want to find the highest APY possible compounded as often as possible. Search for accounts with no monthly fees. Those tend to undermine our earned interest benefits. You can find the right account for you by searching www.bankrate.com/banking/ .
3. Maintain accessibility and safety on your terms. Make sure you can access your money when and where you need. That’s an important part of choosing a bank and the type of account you need. If you prefer to support a small, local or online bank, watch for limited locations or fees attached to ATM usage. If you prefer to bank with an online institution rather than a traditional brick-and-mortar establishment -- because they offer more benefits and a higher return -- learn how they keep your account secure. Consider how you prefer to bank so you know which online banking features will be most important and beneficial to you. Look for convenience of locations and hours for in-person banking. Look for account security with two-step verification for logging in when banking online.
4. Understand overdraft protection. The bank account you select might include an option for overdraft protection. You will notice you have to opt in for this feature, but you are unable to opt out. Here is the concept: Your bank will cover you if you make a transaction that is more than you have in your account – for a fee in some cases. It is not the bank that covers you. The bank is pulling the overdraft from the linked savings account or bank credit card that you are required to maintain to take advantage of this service. The fee is usually considerably lower than an overdraft fee, current average overdraft fee is $33.47 per transaction. Consider that many major banks are dropping overdraft fees as a policy. Consider that opting-in for this service, if you choose a bank that still charges, might be a slippery slope to overspending.
5. Need a second chance at checking? Some of us, at one time or another, have had an issue with a bank account and may have abandoned it. The fees kept adding up and it just didn’t seem worth keeping, but now obtaining another bank account is challenging. Banks are handy because they help us keep track of our income and expenses. They allow us to pay bills for free in some cases with speed and ease. Some businesses require employees to direct deposit their paychecks so it can be expensive or a hassle to be unbanked. Be aware that many banks offer a second chance checking account. These are not free. There will be a monthly maintenance fee, but if you can keep the account in good standing for the required time-period, you can transition to an account with better terms. Also, be aware that many banks now offer low-interest, short-term loans as alternatives to those payday loan services that can be costly. Carefully research the pros and cons of these features and services to get a handle on the actual cost.