New bank fees flying under the radar

The recent attempt by many big banks to impose monthly fees for using debit cards may have died in a hail of public uproar but, undeterred, many banks are quietly increasing existing fees -- and creating new ones.

Still, there are ways to steer clear of the fees, as CBS MoneyWatch Executive Editor Jack Otter explained on "The Early Show" Tuesday.

Banks are being a little disingenuous by implying that the government has forced them to charge new fees because new laws on overdraft charges and debit card swipe fees have cut their profits. Banks have always tried to maximize profits - that's what for-profit companies do, and it's OK -- and they would have charged more for checking before the crash if they'd thought they could get away with it. But they were pulling some shady maneuvers, especially with credit cards, and they got called on it, and now they're using the laws as a scapegoat.

Examples of new fees

Bank of America now charges $5 to replace a debit card - $20 if you want it FedExed -- at least, it's moving toward charging you for services, which makes more sense. To send you a debit card, the bank must pay the postman. Paying for services beats being charged hidden fees you don't necessarily realize you're being charged, or why.

Starting next month, TD Bank will assess a $15 fee for cash wired to accounts.

Some increased existing fees

Some banks are raising the minimum balance required for a checking account. Look -- banks are in the business of gathering assets, and it's tough to make money off a checking balance of $500.

Many banks are also increasing checking fees -- not a lot, but $2 to $3 a month. And customers who might not have been paying anything for checking in the past are now paying fees. Bank of America is now charging $12 a month for personal checking, and has a new menu of checking accounts in some states that it plans to roll out widely next year, with fees ranging from $6 to $25 a month. Citigroup is charging $10 a month, and Chase, $12.

Skirting fees

In order to avoid fees, you might want to consolidate all your banking - have all your accounts with the same bank. If you have savings in an online bank, maybe you transfer some of that money into your conventional bank - or switch it all to the online bank. You have to look at the fee as opposed to higher interest from an online bank to see what makes sense.

If you have a mortgage, you might move your checking and savings to that bank. If you're refinancing, you should be able to negotiate free checking. Remember - banks want assets.

Take a look at credit unions and community banks, which aren't creating and raising fees. In fact, one community bank in Ohio -- People Savings Bank -- is actually paying its customers $5 a month to use their debit cards. It's thumbing its nose at the big guys, and if enough community banks follow suit, the big banks will be forced to back down.

You can find a credit union you qualify for at FindACreditUnion.com.

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