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Posted: 6:00 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013

Big banks in fee frenzy season

Many credit unions, community banks can help you lose the fees



By Clark Howard

ClarkHoward.com


While you were on summer break, the big banks may have been using the vacation season to push through new fees they hope you won't notice. 

Years ago, a listener who happened to be a disgruntled bank employee shared a trade publication called Fee Income Report with me. In the pages of Fee Income Report, bankers exchange tips about ways to take advantage of customers via fees.

I learned from the publication that banks typically raise fees and change terms and conditions twice a year: Once during the summer (usually in July and August) and then again around Christmas. These are the two times of year when most people are out of their routine and focusing on family and vacation. Perfect times to stick you with a gotcha, right?

We're so busy this time of year that we're often not checking our bank statements and credit card statements. Bad move. You've got to check your statements each month, line by line.

A few big banks are toying with the idea of clearer disclosure of fees, but we'll see how that plays out in the marketplace.

For now, your homework is to go through all those envelopes you've been putting aside over the last few weeks and see if any new gotcha fees are being sprung on you. A report from BankRate.com found that the minimum balance required to avoid fees on a checking account is up 365% in five years!

Do your wallet a favor and fire your big bank. You can typically find better rates and better service at a small local community bank or credit union.

To find a credit union near you, simply visit FindaCreditUnion.org and search by your location.

The banks try to make it hard for you to fire them because they know you've probably got online bill pay set up through them, or have otherwise come to depend on them. Fortunately, some credit unions and small local community banks have 'switch kits' that will walk you through the switching process.

Consumer Reports, meanwhile, has its own step-by-step guide to make it as easy as possible to fire your bank.