Many Americans — some more than others — are putting hard-earned money toward bank fees, according to research released this month.

Millennials, racial minorities and people living in the Northeast pony up more in bank fees than other groups, according to a survey by the personal-finance and credit-card recommendation site Bankrate. The American Bankers Association, the trade organization for the banking industry, was not immediately available for comment on the report.

Millennials with checking accounts, who tend to be less experienced customers than older Americans, paid bank fees of $13 a month, on average, versus $9 for Gen Xers and $3 for baby boomers. Northeasterners paid $10 a month on average, versus the $7 to $8 for residents from other regions. Of those people who paid checking-account fees, the average cost was $28.61 a month.

White checking-account customers said they paid about $5 on average in monthly bank fees, compared to $16 for Hispanic customers and $12 for black customers.

White consumers with checking accounts said they paid about $5 on average in monthly bank fees, compared to $16 among Hispanic consumers, $12 among black consumers and $8 among consumers of another race. White consumers (78%) were more likely than their black (60%) or Hispanic (59%) peers to report paying no monthly bank fees.

Overall, 73% of respondents with checking accounts said they didn’t pay any monthly bank fees. The survey, commissioned by Bankrate and conducted by YouGov, polled 2,634 adults, 2,285 of whom had a bank or credit-union checking account. All of these fees add up, but they are relatively easy to avoid, Mark Hamrick, a senior economic analyst for Bankrate, told MarketWatch.

Separately, a report published this month by the Financial Health Network found that financially under-served people — those struggling to access “mainstream financial products” because of low-to-moderate or volatile incomes, credit challenges and/or being un-banked or under-banked — spent a collective $189 billion in financial-product fees and interest in 2018.

With regulation restricting high-interest payday loans, under-served consumers continue to shift away from single-payment credit toward longer-term and larger amounts of credit, added John Thompson, the chief program officer of the Financial Health Network. “The under-served consumer is paying more for access to financial services than their wealthier counterparts,” he added.

But there are four hacks to avoid paying these fees:

Forget fiscal fidelity. Look for a bank that offers low-cost banking or no fees at all, and consider multiple banks or credit unions for different services, such as a checking account, savings account or auto loan, Hamrick said. The days of being tied to one financial institution are over. “We don’t need to be monogamous with one bank or credit union,” he said.

Don’t be dazzled by the fee structure. Are there fees related to your application, termination of the account, third-party ATM withdrawals, monthly account maintenance or penalties for not keeping a minimum-balance requirement? The full fee structure will sometimes be hard to determine until you reach the end of the purchasing process or examine the company’s formal terms and conditions.

Download the bank’s app. Add your bank to your favorite apps. The Bankrate survey showed that mobile and online banking wasn’t a top draw for checking-account holders, Hamrick said, but tapping into those resources can help you keep tabs on deposits, payments and balances. Mobile banking gives us a better sense of what’s happening with our money in real time, he said.

Expect the unexpected. “Often when we’re buying these products, we’re assuming that everything’s going to go right or everything is going to be the way that it is today,” Thompson said. But you should anticipate what will happen with a form of credit if something goes wrong or changes, he said, like if you default on a loan or need to pay late.

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2020-01-17