Banks are charging higher fees than ever for ATM withdrawals and overdrafts, partly because consumers have gotten so good at avoiding them, according to Bankrate.com.
Getting money from an out-of-network ATM in the U.S. now costs $4.52 per transaction, on average, up 4% from last year, and up 21% over the past five years, Bankrate.com data show. That cost includes what the external bank charges, as well as what the depositor’s bank charges for using another bank’s ATM.
Overdraft fees are now up to an average of $33.07, up 1% from 2014 and up 9% since 2010. Banks charge these fees when a depositor withdraws more money from an account than what’s available.
ATM fees began rising in 2007 and have climbed steadily every year since, while overdraft fees have have been rising since Bankrate.com began conducting annual surveys in 1998.
It's also harder than ever to get free checking: Just 37% of non-interest checking accounts are completely free, down one percentage point from last year. Free checking peaked in 2009, when 76% of those accounts were free.
The records set over the past five years may seem paradoxical, since Congress passed a sweeping financial reform law in 2010 with specific measures aimed at bank fees. The changes were applauded by consumer advocates and, soon after, banks began predicting that billions of dollars’ worth of revenue would be wiped out.
But where there's a will, there's a way.
The rules limited banks’ ability to hide fees in fine print, and required them to, for instance, have customers opt into overdraft “protection.” It didn't, however, ban bank fees altogether. Fees simply became more explicit, and more of them were added to services that used to be free—hence the reduction in free checking.
Now that fees are easier to spot, and consumers are more aware of them, they're doing a better job of avoiding them. As a result, banks are raising fees so that those who do incur them have to pay more, said Greg McBride, Bankrate.com’s chief financial analyst.
“People have become much more diligent about employing habits that are necessary to avoid the fees,” McBride said in an interview. “My concern is that the consumers who still have sloppy financial management—or for whatever other reason are still incurring these fees are doing so with some regularity. That’s the kind of habit that will put you in the poorhouse.”
There are few simple steps consumers can take to avoid bank fees, he said:
- Attach direct deposit or maintain a minimum balance in a checking account to obtain a fee waiver.
- Monitor balances closely to avoid overdrafts, especially with automatically scheduled payments.
- Use a debit card to get cash back at a point of sale, or use a smartphone to search for nearby bank branches, rather than using an out-of-network ATM.
I oversee Fusion's money section and have spent most of my time as a journalist writing about banks and finance. I live in Brooklyn with my partner Geoffrey & our two dogs, Captain & Tallulah. Favs: leopard print, Diet Coke, gummy candy, Ireland.