best for you. You can do so by going online or by calling or by going directly to the bank.
“Monthly fees would definitely be a reason to leave a bank. Free accounts are out there with a lot of banks. Any monthly maintenance fee is not worth it in the banking industry,” says Linda Sherry, editorial director for Consumer Action (www.consumer-action.org), a nonprofit educational advocacy organization that focuses on personal finance issues. The California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG), in its online Consumer Tips for Choosing a Bank (www.pirg.org/calpirg/consumer/banktip.htm#complain), offers this suggestion: “If the bank tries to charge you a fee for talking to a human teller or to call them on the phone, don’t simply complain. Vote with your feet!”
One way to avoid fees is to join a credit union. They are member-owned and do not have to pay stock dividends. Their fees, therefore, are lower for consumers. California and Nevada residents can find out about companies, unions, state and local governments, and communities that have credit unions that will qualify them to join by calling the Credit Union Match Up Program at 800-472-1702. Others can call 800-356-5710 (800-342-5710 in New York). “It is an across-the-board better deal,” says Sherry. “Fees are lower and you get better loans.”
Your bank has too few ATMs citywide and statewide. If you frequent automated teller machines (ATMs) that are not a part of your bank, you will likely incur surcharges-fees charged by your bank and the other bank-as was Cooper-Taylor’s experience. Those fees usually range from $1.50 to $2 at the competing bank and vary for your personal bank depending upon the type of account you have. For example, with 12 banks and 16 ATMs in the metropolitan Atlanta area, Citizens Trust Bank, the sixth largest African American-owned bank in the country, charges its customers a maximum of 90 cents per transaction. It assesses noncustomers a $1.50 fee for each transaction.
When you have accounts with large financial institutions that have many branch locations, it is likely you will have an ATM near your home or job that you will not have to pay to use. Wachovia Bank, with nearly 700 branches in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, has over 1,300 ATMs. “We have ATM machines at 100% of our banks and many freestanding machines in malls, shopping centers, and other stores,” says David L. Pope, executive vice president of retail sales and service for Wachovia. “The advantage is convenience for our customers. It is nice to be able to travel to other states and still have access to your bank’s ATM. Look for the bank that has an extensive ATM network so that you won’t have to incur that charge.”
Your bank does not offer check cards (debit cards). When you are at a restaurant, gas station, or other commercial establishment that does not accept personal checks, you can use your check card to have funds drafted directly out of your checking account. “The benefits of a check card are