(Flickr / Cesar I. Martins)
When it come to managing your money, some costs are unavoidable.
However, basic maintenance and penalty fees — like the cost of operating a checking account or holding a credit card — are exactly the opposite.
Aside from the simple fact that you're spending money you don't have to, shelling out for fees could be indicative of a larger problem, says Certified Financial Planner Mary Beth Storjohann, founder of financial planning company Workable Wealth.
"You should have clarity around what kinds of accounts you're opening and what they should actually cost you," she explains. If you aren't familiar with your accounts, how exactly are you supposed to make sure they're working in your best interest?
So which fees are we talking about? Here are five you should never have to pay:
1. Fees to maintain a checking account. While every checking account has a different fee structure, many of those with regular maintenance fees will waive the charge for certain activity within the account — for instance, keeping a minimum balance or making a required amount of direct deposits. Before opening an account, make sure you understand the fine print — or it could cost you. Sites like NerdWallet and Bankrate provide resources to compare the features of checking accounts across a wide variety of banks and credit unions.
2. Fees to manage your budget. If you're buying software or paying for online programs to monitor your budget, there's really no need. Besides the high-tech, free options like Mint, LearnVest, Level, Google spreadsheets, and individual banks' websites and apps, there's always good old-fashioned Excel (or for that matter, a 99-cent notebook of especially old-school paper) to help you keep track of your earning, spending, and saving.
3. Overdraft fees. Overdrafting is when you spend more money than you have in your checking account, and if you have what's called overdraft protection, the bank spots you the extra funds … for a price. They're happy to help you out — in fact, in recent years banks and credit unions have made an annual $32 billion from overdraft fees alone. If you're familiar with your account balance (see "fees to manage your budget," above), this shouldn't be an issue. "But life happens," cautions Storjohann, "and we all might have an overdraft fee at one time or another. If you're a good customer, be sure to reach out to the bank and ask to have the fee waived — they'll typically do it."
4. Annual credit card fees. There are way too many credit cards out there for you to have to use one that costs a standard, annual fee. In some cases, you may find the fee worth it — say, if there's a massive signup bonus that outweighs what you'll pay for years, or if the credit card has perks that are worth the cash to you — but most of us will be glad to cross another unnecessary fee off our list. Again, you can consult sites like Bankrate or NerdWallet to research options. Keep an eye out for cards that waive the fee for the first year, then add it back on — if you're planning to keep your card, you'll want to call and try to negotiate the fee down before you have to pay.
5. ATM withdrawal fees. Most banks don't charge for in-network ATM withdrawals, so many of us can avoid the fee simply by sticking to our ATM network. For that reason, you'll want to do your research before opening a checking account and make sure not only that it's the case, but that there are appropriately convenient in-network ATMs. Plus, be aware that online checking accounts like Ally bank may not charge you for using any ATM — Ally in particular will even reimburse you if an out-of-network machine takes a cut.
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