Bank Fees Rise in First Half of 2012

In the last few years Congress has passed new consumer protections for bank customers, but that hasn't stopped fees from rising. A semi-annual study by finds that bank customers saw all types of fees creep a little higher in the first half of the year.

For example, checking accounts got more expensive. The average monthly service fee on checking accounts is $12.08, compared with $11.28 in the previous six months. That's just under $145 a year for the privilege of having a checking account at a bank.

For those who wanted to open a checking account in the first six months of the year, the amount of funds needed to do so also rose. The average amount to open an account is $408.76, versus $391.41. While that's not a fee, that amount -- as it rises -- acts as a barrier to prevent poorer consumers from opening a checking account.

If you want to avoid that monthly service fee on your checking account, you can do so at many banks by keeping more money in the account. But again, that threshold is rising. The study shows you now need an average of $4,446.57 in an account to avoid the fee; it was $3,590.83 in the previous six months.

Of course, if your bank offers free checking, there is no minimum balance and no monthly service fees. But finding one of these banks got a little harder in the first half of the year. Only 35.3 percent of the accounts in the survey were free of the monthly fee, down from 38.8 percent.

Thanks to new regulations consumers must now opt-in for overdraft "protection," meaning they can avoid overdraft fees altogether by not taking that action. But for those who are still paying for overdraft coverage on their checking accounts, they're paying more.

The average overdraft fee in the first six months of 2012 was $29.83, up 60 cents from the previous six months.

The analysts at say in the past, their surveys showed some fees rising and some falling or staying the same. This survey is different, they say, because the average fee rose across all categories.

But there was a difference when you broke banks down by size. The bigger the bank, the more the fees went up. For example, the average monthly maintenance fee at large banks was $13.88 but only $9.87 at small banks. And almost all the free checking accounts were found at small banks.

Last November a grassroots backlash against rising bank fees resulted in "Bank Transfer Day," when fed-up consumers were encouraged to switch their accounts from banks with high fees to small banks and credit unions where fees were lower. The result appears to be even higher fees for those consumers who remained behind.


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