Angie's List: Debit cards and avoiding fees

The debit card has become in the 21st century, what the checkbook was in the 20th century.

Angie Hicks says, "Just about any purse or wallet ... you're going to see a debit card. In a recent Angie's List poll, 50 percent of the respondents said they use their debit card everyday."

But when many major banks announced late last year that they would begin charging their customers for using their debit cards, consumers threatened to close their accounts and take their business to a bank or credit union that didn't charge the debit usage fees.

The banks listened to the outcry and many quickly changed course and scrapped those plans.

But many feel those same institutions will find other ways to make up for those lost fees.

So Hicks says, consumers should pay attention. "It's important to be reviewing your bank statements or any literature you're receiving from your bank so that you can see notification ahead of time and change your habits or change your bank."

Among the fees already proposed or in place are penalties for not maintaining a minimum balance and even for not using your debit card enough by the bank's minimum usage requirements.

So should you switch banks ? Financial Planner Susan Elser says, "You want to first discuss with whatever institution you are looking at switching to, what you are going to do to avoid fees there and some credit unions and online banks may have either lower fees or reduced required minimum balances. I do think that having cash emergency reserves helps an awful lot of people avoid a number of problems, and it's turning out that this may also help you avoid bank fees."

With any product or service, shop around. Check out various banks and credit unions to find a place that meets your criteria. Compare fees, services, and bank locations.

According to a nationwide Angie's List poll: · 87 percent of Angie's List poll respondents have a debit card
· Half of those respondents use their debit cards daily, compared to just 7 percent who use cash.
· Nearly half of the respondents said they would switch banks if charged debit card usage fees
· 86% of respondents say their bank charges fees for bounced checks; 49% are charged for overdraft protection and 27% are charged ATM fees.

Do you know what your bank is charging you? Angie's List, the nation's premier provider of local consumer reviews, including banks and credit unions asked highly-rated financial planners for advice on avoiding bank fees.

· Read your statements: Take the time to thoroughly read your bank statements when they arrive. Look for new fees and other changes. Ask your bank what is needed to avoid monthly fees.
· Go paperless: Some banks charge a fee to send a statement in the mail.
· Set up an alert: Sign up for email or text alert that will notify you if you are about to fall below a balance threshold or incur a penalty fee.
· Non-sufficient funds (NSF): Keep track of your transactions to avoid overdrawing from your account. Banks have made it easy by allowing consumers to access their account online. Some even offer mobile banking on cell phones.
· Beware of ATM fees: Use only ATM's in your network or a bank that reimburses ATM fees. Some retailers also allow you to select cash back when you make purchases.
· Direct deposit enrollment: Most checking accounts are free when you enroll in direct deposit.
· Maintaining a minimum balance: Some accounts require a minimum balance. Know what your minimum balance is and maintain that to avoid paying a fee.
· Find a new financial institution: If you are not happy with your bank, it's best to shop around to find a new one.

Angie's List Tips for finding the right financial institution for you:
· Determine your needs: Ask yourself about your financial goals in order to help determine what services a bank can offer you. Do you want free checking? Convenient ATMS?
· Shop around: Check out various banks and credit unions to find a place that meets your criteria. Compare fees, services, and bank locations.
· Keep it open: If you choose a new financial institution, do not close an account before opening a new one. It's important that all your transactions have cleared in your existing account.

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