Balancing your check book used to be the starting point for financial literacy, but many people who have bank accounts today don’t know what fees they are paying or that they could get a better deal by shopping around, and poor people pay far more than anyone else, according to research done by the personal finance site WalletHub.
What to check in your bank accounts?
“It’s not just the monthly maintenance fees that customers must track these days, but also the costs associated with retrieving money from their account, paying bills, transferring money, and even receiving information about their account,” the company wrote in its 2013 Checking Account Cost Comparison.
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“With all of the individual transaction level costs, consumers may not even realize how much they are spending on their checking account each year.”
Usage patterns vary widely, so to make the results of their study meaningful WalletHub divided those results into five groups that they call old school, young and high tech, cash-strapped, everyday joe, and international and on the move. People were assigned to these groups based on how much they write checks, use online banking tools, and how much cash they have on hand among other factors.
Cash-strapped group fee payment
What’s surprising is that the ‘cash-strapped’ group pays far more than everyone else – averaging $526.84 in annual fees, compared just $28.76 for ‘old school’ banking customers. Part of this is because the cash-strapped group includes people whose balance falls below $0.00 and get hit with overdraft fees (which make overdrafts more likely in the future), but it’s also because they are liable for more maintenance fees than their richer counterparts.
Cash-strapped banking customers gains
Cash-strapped banking customers also have the most to gain from changing banks. They can’t get free accounts like other customers, but WalletHub determined that USAA Federal was the best deal, at $174 per year, about a third of the average. Anyone in this category banking with Comerica Incorporated (NYSE:CMA) was on the hook for $748, more than a month’s rent for many working poor.
People who travel extensively pay the second highest average annual fees, $327, and may be able to reduce those costs significantly by changing banks. According to WalletHub USAA Federal is again the cheapest option, but the floor is $218, reflecting the fact that there people who are always on the move really do have more complex banking needs than the average customer.