27% of current account holders pay fees. How to avoid them

Even with wide availability of free checking services, more than a quarter of current account holders – 27% – pay fees every month.

For consumers who don’t take advantage of free checking, those costs average $24 per month, or $288 per year, according to a new survey from Bankrate.com. The personal finance site conducted its online survey between Dec. 7 and Dec. 12 and included 3,657 adults, 3,069 of whom have current accounts.

The costs come from routine services or ATM and overdraft fees, the study finds. The average overdraft fee costs $29.80, according to research from Bankrate, while the average fee for non-sufficient funds is $26.58.

The annual amounts may not sound like much, said Sarah Foster, an analyst at Bankrate.com, but could add up to a hefty $5,000 if you stick with your checking account for 17 years, as the average consumer usually does.

Getting rid of bank charges is an easy way to free up some cash in your budget, especially amid high inflation and with the prospect of an impending recession. Paying those extra costs can weaken consumers’ budgets and make them more vulnerable if a recession hits.

“It’s just an important and really easy way to make sure you don’t spend more money than you need to,” Foster said.

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Which generations spend the most on checking fees

Younger people are most susceptible to paying fees, the Bankrate.com study found.

Generation Z, which ranges in age from 18 to 26, tops the list, with 46% of that generation’s checking account holders paying monthly fees. That cohort pays about $25 a month, Bankrate.com found.

Millennials, ages 27 to 42, come next, with 42% of account holders paying monthly checking fees, Bankrate.com found. They typically pay the most compared to other generations, at $28 per month, the study found.

Older cohorts — Gen Xers ages 43 to 58 and baby boomers ages 59 to 77 — are less likely to pay bills. That includes just 22% of Gen X and 14% of Baby Boomer account holders, who pay $17 and $22 per month, respectively.

More than half of Gen Z – 56% – and Millennial – 52% – account holders say they sacrifice preparing for a recession because of the monthly fees they pay. In comparison, 46% of Gen X and 35% of Baby Boomers said the same.

The monthly cost puts consumers back on goals like paying off debt, saving for emergencies or important goals like buying a house or car or paying for college, or putting money aside for retirement, the survey found.

Measure the actual cost of your checking account

To know what you’re really paying on your checking account, keep an eye on your statements at least monthly, said Bruce McClary, senior vice president of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

Start with the basics: Look at your trades to make sure they’re accurate, he said. Next, evaluate your transactions and withdrawals and any account maintenance fees.

If you believe you’re being wrongfully charged, that should prompt you to talk to your bank, McClary said.

Keep in mind that there may be adjustments your bank or credit union is willing to make. By letting your financial institution know about your personal situation, they may be willing to waive certain fees, especially if it’s a first time, Foster suggested.

“There’s no guarantee it will work, but it never hurts to get in touch,” said Foster.

‘Look around for opportunities’

Also, evaluate whether there are any costs you can avoid, such as eliminating out-of-network cash withdrawals or maintaining a required minimum balance.

Try to find free savings and checking services whenever possible, McClary said.

“Look around for opportunities,” McClary said. “If your bank or credit union doesn’t offer them, this could be an opportunity to move your business elsewhere where it might be cheaper.”

Opening a new account at a different institution may seem daunting, especially if it involves a visit to the branch and physical movement of cash, Foster said. But the savings over time can more than make up for the hassle.

“While switching banks can be a pretty tedious move, it can help you build wealth in the long run if it means not having to pay for a service you can get for free elsewhere,” Foster said.

And if you find yourself unhappy with your new account, you can always move your money elsewhere, she said.