Choosing a bank

Many consumers pay high bank fees because they have chosen banks that provide unnecessary services. Consider our tips to avoid paying too much for your financial services.

  1. Look beyond the standard package offered by the large, national banks. Many regional banks, credit unions, and Internet banks offer free checking accounts, savings accounts, and access to ATMs. These institutions may have fewer ATMs than large banks, but they usually do not charge depositors for using other banks' ATMs. Comparison shop for a bank online at bankrate.com, moneyrates.com, findabetterbank.com, and bankfox.com. For help finding a credit union online, go to National Credit Union Association (NCUA) and findacreditunion.com
  2. Avoid paying for a checking account. There are plenty of free options at banks and credit unions, but be sure to find out if the account has a minimum balance requirement. Ask about the fee for going below the minimum balance, and fees for writing checks and bouncing checks. Some institutions offer reduced-fee accounts if you have a consumer, mortgage, or auto loan with them. Setting up direct deposit may also eliminate checking account fees. Even some of the large, national banks offer no-fee, Internet checking accounts.
  3. Get the most out of your savings account. Shop around for the best interest rate, and check to see if opening a saving account will reduce fees paid on a checking account. You also want to find out about minimum balance requirements, and limits on the number of withdrawals. Fees for going below the minimum balance and exceeding the withdrawal limit are common, and could potentially erase the benefit of earned interest. 
  4. Choose the right service package for you. Look over the packages and choose the services you use regularly. Don't pay extra for a service you'll rarely use. Don't get an interest-bearing account if your balance is so low that the interest will be less than the charge of having the account!
  5. Link a card. Many institutions offer lower interest credit rates and higher credit limits to consumers who have other accounts with them. 
  6. Get free, easy access to ATMs. Find out about ATM withdrawal limits, the accessibility of ATMs, and charges for using other banks' ATMs. If you travel, you also want to know if there are additional fees for using ATMs in other states or countries.
  7. Avoid extra fees and charges. Your institution may also charge fees for opening and closing accounts, deposits and withdrawals, overdrafts, placing a stop payment, balance inquiries, branch services, and phone support. Find out if you will pay extra for the services you use most, and ask about ways to avoid paying fees. Check your monthly statement, and challenge fees you don't think you should be paying.
  8. Don't pay extra for overdrafts. Consider that some institutions charge $35 for an overdraft, while others charge $10. Some make automatic loans to cover overdrafts, with APRs up to 36%. Some institutions can make an automatic withdrawal from your savings or charge to your credit card in the event of an overdraft, for no additional fee. Try to choose the least expensive option, given your spending habits.
  9. Know about account activity. Sign up for text and/or email notification of large transactions and changes to your account information.
  10. Ask for what you want. The market for depositors is competitive, meaning that institutions may be willing to sweeten the deal.

Issue updates

News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

30th Annual Survey Finds Dangerous Toys on Store Shelves

Dangerous or toxic toys can still be found on America’s store shelves, according to U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s 30th annual Trouble in Toyland report. The survey of potentially hazardous toys found that, despite recent progress, consumers must still be wary when shopping this holiday season.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland 2015

For 30 years, U.S. PIRG Education Fund has conducted an annual survey of toy safety, which has led to an estimated 150 recalls and other regulatory actions over the years, and has helped educate the public and policymakers on the need for continued action to protect the health and wellbeing of children.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

30 Years of "Trouble in Toyland," 30 Years of Safety Improvements | Anna Low-Beer

Every year, U.S. PIRG Education Fund releases Trouble in Toyland, a report on toy safety which examines toys bought at major national retailers, looking for safety hazards including toxic toys, choking hazards, labeling violations, powerful magnets, and excessibely loud toys. We continue to find these hazards on store shelves, which indicates the need for continued vigilance and adequate enforcement of safety regulations. But despite lingering dangers, in the last 30 years, we've come a long way in terms of both policy and compliance with standards.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Industry Tries to Toy with our Toy Report | Dev Gowda

It's mid-November, which for the general American population means that pumpkin-spice everything is all the rage, but for U.S. PIRG Education Fund staff, it means that our annual Trouble in Toyland report release is just around the corner. Apparently, the Toy Industry Association is also aware of our upcoming toy safety report.

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Fox Business: Consumer Watchdog Gives Bite to Dodd-Frank

"The CFPB has been enormously successful in ramping up over its first year," says Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director at the Federation of State Public Interest Research Groups in Washington, D.C.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Bagged Lettuce Recall and Fresh Produce Inspections

The Agriculture Department’s tiny $5 million Microbiological Data Program screens high-risk fresh produce throughout the year for bacteria including Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria. Cutting this program will leave public health officials without a crucial tool used to investigate deadly foodborne illnesses in fresh produce leaving inspections in the hands of produce producers.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Listeria Contaminated Eggs Yanked From 34 States

Friday’s announcement of widespread listeria contamination in eggs produced in Minnesota underscores the need for food inspections to happen at more regular intervals.

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Reuters: Bank Transfer Day saw 600,000 switch

Bank of America (BofA) Gets Hit By $5 Debit Card Fee, Consumers Move Their Money From Big Banks. Read the story. Then, get more info at U.S. PIRG's Bank Fee Tips. Check out our April 2011 report Big Banks, Bigger Fees for more details.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

A Lower Standard for Lead Poisoning

U.S. PIRG applauds the Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning and Prevention of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in their important decision to protect the safety and well-being of our littlest consumers: children. The Panel recommended the government lower the threshold of lead in blood that qualifies as lead poisoning in children.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Encouraging news on HUD/state AG settlement with big mortgage servicers | Ed Mierzwinski

Update: The terms of the settlement, which was announced this morning, are at the page http://www.nationalmortgagesettlement.com. We are reading it now. Original: If I am reading the overnight news stories correctly (NY TIMES and Politico and Boston Globe), it appears that negotiators have clarified that the well-publicized settlement between HUD and state AGs and the nation's 5 largest mortgage servicers will not release the big banks from claims related to their activities with the mysterious entity known as MERS that aided and abetted their illegal foreclosures. If so, this is a big deal in ultimately holding the big banks fully accountable.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Should Facebook And Google Be Regulated As Credit Bureaus? | Ed Mierzwinski

In a series of joint privacy petitions to the Federal Trade Commission beginning in 2006 and extended more recently to include behavioral targeting, as well as medical and mobile marketing, U.S. PIRG and the Center for Digital Democracy (sometimes with allies) have argued for greater scrutiny and regulation of the online digital marketing and behavioral targeting ecosystem that involves companies you do business with, social networking tools, third-party advertisers and other players. Today, in the New York Times, Professor Lori Andrews says that "Facebook is Using You."

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Some Consumer News of the Week, In Case You Missed It | Ed Mierzwinski

It's hard to keep up, so here are some key consumer news stories I am following that you may have missed this week. We start with CALPIRG Education Fund's new "Cell Phone Guide," look at the Consumer Federation of America's report on auto insurance discrimination and take you all the way to the NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign survey on what's "good, bad and ugly (rats!)" in NYC subway stations.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Watch for fake 5.0 user ratings on merchant sites; and watch out for efforts by doctors, others to block real ratings, too | Ed Mierzwinski

Some user reviews on the Internet are written by sockpuppets paid by the website; in other cases, consumers are given inducements to write good reviews (New York Times). Meanwhile, doctors, especially, are trying to use copyright law to "squelch" valid reviews from patients (Washington Post). Either way, watch out.

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