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Your bank is ripping you off — here are 3 ways to stop it

I’ve got some bad news: Your bank is ripping you off.

Have you ever thought about how much are you paying in fees? A recent study found that last year the average American spent $329 on bank fees. Three-hundred-twenty-nine dollars!

And get this, the average bank account monthly maintenance fee is more than $13 a month. That means $156 a year, just for having an account.

ATM fees are up and they’re probably going to get worse

Here’s the thing: What you should be paying is zero dollars. Imagine someone making you this offer, “Excuse me, sir or madam, will you give me your money? I’ll hold onto it for you, invest it and make money from it, but not share any of that profit with you. And in return you can pay me a fee.”

No one would do that! Yet, year after year, people pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars in bank fees.

And who is paying the most? Low-income people.

Yes, people with the least money end up paying the most for a bank account. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found that just 9% of people pay 80% of all bank fees and they’re mostly on the lower end of the income scale. WalletHub found that low-income consumers pay $522 a year in fees for checking accounts.

Research also shows there’s a fee for banking while black. Well, not really. But a study from New America recently found that black Americans on average pay $13 more than average white Americans to open a checking account at a community bank. These same banks also charge higher overdraft fees. They even require higher starting balances to open an account than similar banks in white neighborhoods. And require higher minimum balances to maintain the accounts.

Whether you’re black or white, working-class or upper-class or somewhere in between, this madness has to stop. And the solution is NOT going without a bank account. Here are three easy steps to stop banks from taking your hard-earned money:

Step 1. Ask what fees your bank is charging you. If your bank has account maintenance fees of any kind, take your money and run – don’t walk – to the nearest exit. There is no reason — and I mean none — to pay a bank to “maintain” your money. There are plenty of banks out there who will look after your cash for free.

Step 2. Find out how to avoid overdraft and ATM fees. Here’s a little secret about overdrafting: it doesn’t actually cost your bank much of anything when you do it. They just charge you because they can. So most of the time when you get an overdraft fee, you can just call your bank and ask them to reverse it. And they will. This is surprisingly true of almost any fee — if you ask your bank to reverse it and say you’re sorry, chances are they’ll give you what’s called a courtesy and remove the charge.

You should also opt out of overdraft protection, which is a service banks offer that’s really designed to protect their profits when you go over your balance by drafting more money out of your account.

Just say no, and the charges will be rejected if you try to spend money you don’t have.

ATM fees can also be avoided by finding banks that offer to pay them off for you. PNC, Ally and Fidelity are just a few of the banks that will pay off 100% of ATM fees for customers.

Step 3. Make sure you’re getting paid for your savings. The average bank is paying 0.09% interest for a savings account. I know that seems bad but get this — some banks are paying literally 20 times as much. Think about that and you’ll realize your bank is basically stealing from you.

Do a quick online search for highest yield savings accounts and you can find the banks nationally and locally that offer the best rates.

Look, money isn’t free. Banks know this. That’s why when they loan it to you, they charge interest. YOU should be getting paid when you give your money to the bank.

Follow these three simple steps and I guarantee you’ll like looking at your bank statements a whole lot more.