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Put the brakes on pesky banking fees

Your checking account may cost a lot more than you think. A new study by the Pew Health Group finds Americans will pay $38.5 billion in overdraft fees in 2011.

So how can you not contribute to that number?

CBS News Business and Economics Correspondent Rebecca Jarvis shared some creative tips on "The Early Show" for avoiding those pesky overdraft fees and other banking costs.

Jarvis called the $38.5 billion in overdraft fees "a massive number" - especially in light of the additional fees that might be tacked onto an account.

She said, "It seems even more massive when you look at the fact that the average or median overdraft amount that we accidentally take out of our account is just $36. Thirty-six dollars of an overdraft will amount to a median penalty of $35. Then, for every seventh day that you still have not paid that back to your account you're going to be paying $25. If this were treated like a short-term loan, what you would end up looking at is an APR of 5,000 percent. So a short-term loan is your overdraft from the bank and you end up paying big for it."

Co-anchor Jeff Glor observed bank fees seem to come from every direction, but do banks have to tell consumers?

Jarvis said many of the fees and provisions are disclosed - but in fine print.

She explained, "On average these documents amount to 111 pages that come along with your account. It can be buried in there. And banks can actually employ certain practices that make it easier for them to charge you overdraft fees. They also don't have to tell you if there's a cheaper option for you. So you need to be vigilant as a consumer, and ask them, what are the overdraft fees? And are there cheaper accounts for me that would better suit my needs?"

Consumers, Jarvis said, need to remain vigilant in avoiding fees, such as checking fees that average about $8.95 a month.

"That's going to add up over time," she said. "Also, don't swipe your card at foreign ATMs that aren't your own bank company's ATM because that's going to, generally speaking, charge you somewhere between $3 and $4. So you want to be vigilant about that. And also just know, obviously, information is key."

So is still possible to bank for free?

Jarvis said you can, but you have to do your research.

"BankRate.com is a wonderful resource," she advised. "It will basically give you an opportunity to say, these are my banking needs. And BankRate.com will match you up with banks that can suit that."

Also, Jarvis said, banking online usually less expensive.

"Sometimes you can even bank with your own bank, but they say, 'Well if you're banking online you're not dealing with a person, it's cheaper for us to do business, therefore we can give you a better option.'"

She added credit unions and community banks usually don't charge the same fees as many bigger banks.