published Saturday, May 12th, 2012

ConsumerWatch: Bank may negotiate monthly fee structure


by Ellen Phillips

Q. My business banking account doesn't hold but a couple hundred dollars a month. I've been getting a senior no-service charge rate, but now the bank has announced a monthly $5 fee if I don't have a great deal more than that in my account. Do I have any recourse? -- Melanie Money

Dear Ms. Money: Actually, other than switching banks (to be discussed momentarily), you do have other options. We're all furious that credit cards and banks seem to outsmart us, even though some of the larger banks lifted their debit card fees when public outrage boiled over.

• Ask your bank for a break. Once you've carefully read all the mailings the bank has mailed out (since they're legally required to notify you in advance and in writing of any fee changes), armed with the info, go in person to the bank to speak with the manager.

If you're a longtime customer, they might waive the fee. If you agree to have your funds directly deposited, there's room to negotiate, as well.

How about a credit card, mortgage loan etc. with this bank?

A concession may appear here, too, as might one if you switch to a lower-level account that you manage strictly online without the help of tellers or paper statements.

• Use your charge card rather than the debit card. Gas, groceries, clothes -- all can be purchased using a rewards credit card. Lots of credit cards pay you 2 percent to 3 percent cash back on some purchases. (Consumer Report's top four include AMEX Blue Cash Everyday, Capital One Venture Rewards, Chase Freedom and PenFed Platinum Cash Rewards cards.)

However, because folks tend to spend more than they should with credit cards, I make this recommendation with reservations.

• Switch banks. First, though, be sure you thoroughly check out that new place. Uncover any and all fees -- hidden and otherwise. Check on ATM coverage, fees for banking accounts and debit cards. How far must you travel to get there? Think of all the in's and out's of the new place. Once you decide this plan is for you -- bank or credit union -- check online at www.ncua.gov or www.findacreditunion.com to find the ones in your area.

Also, often a better interest rate results from a high-yield checking account IF you don't mind setting up direct deposit and making a minimum number of monthly debit buys. Search at www.checkingfinder.com.

Mea Culpa. In the May 5 column, I mentioned a home inspector setting a guarantee on his or her work. This was an unfortunate mistake, as pointed out by an observant reader. See, even specific researched sources (like msn.com) are sometimes erroneous!

Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears every Saturday. Email her at consumer watch@timesfree press.com.

about Ellen Phillips...

Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears on Saturdays in the Business section of the paper. An expanded version is at www.timesfreepress.com under Local Business.

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
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