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

Blog Post | Consumer Protection

CFPB Report Finds 1 In 4 Consumers Feel "Threatened" By Debt Collector Tactics | Ed Mierzwinski

We joined Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray and Washington, DC Attorney General Karl Racine for release of new CFPB data on debt collector abuses. Fully 1 in 4 consumers feel "threatened" by abusive, possibly illegal, debt collector tactics. The release also included an emphasis on problems with the "debt buyer" industry, comprised of firms that buy older, uncollected debt for as little as less than a penny on the dollar.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

U.S. SUPREME COURT TO DECIDE WHETHER CREDIT CARD COMPANIES CAN CONTINUE TO OBSCURE THE TRUE COST OF CREDIT | Michael Landis

Credit cards are convenient. But using them is expensive. The problem is that most consumers don’t know just how expensive it is. That might change in some states after the U.S. Supreme Court weighs in on a case currently pending before it.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection, Financial Reform

OUR TAKE ON THE LATEST ATTACK ON THE CONSUMER FINANCIAL PROTECTION BUREAU | Michael Landis

Though the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau finds itself under constant attack. The most recent is from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. U.S. PIRG Education Fund—along with nine other consumer and civil rights organizations—filed an amicus brief in support of the CFPB’s request for a rehearing before the entire D.C. Circuit. The Department of Justice also filed a brief in support of the CFPB’s request. It is important that the October ruling is corrected so that the CFPB remains a strong and independent agency that looks out for consumers.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

This New Year, Celebrate the CFPB | Ed Mierzwinski

This month, we published our 8th report based on analyzing consumer complaints collected in the CFPB's Public Consumer Complaint Database. The release of "Big Banks, Big Overdraft Fees" provides a good year-end opportunity to summarize a few of the reasons to be thankful for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which took over in July 2011 as the first federal regulator with just one job: protecting consumers from unfair financial practices. The idea of the CFPB needs no defense, only more defenders.

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Statement on Procter & Gamble’s New Preservative Tracker in Personal Care Products

Personal care product giant Procter & Gamble (P&G) recently unveiled a new preservative tracker, which lets consumers know which preservatives are included in various categories of P&G’s products, such as baby wipes, skin care, and hair care products. Consumers can search the tracker by ingredient or by product type.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

We Commend CFPB For Adding Consumer Stories To Public Complaint Database

Yesterday, the CFPB published the first batch (7,700) of consumer narratives or stories to the Public Consumer Complaint Database it began in 2011. We've used the database to publish five reports (so far) analyzing complaint trends in markets ranging from credit cards to student loans but we have also long urged the voluntary addition of stories to the data fields. Now, consumers can learn if what happened to them happened to anyone else. Now, researchers can track which banks are more responsive to particular problems and which ignore their customers. A good resource is now an excellent resource.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

PIRG Commends Release of Labor Dept.'s Proposed Rule To End Conflicted Retirement Advice

PIRG today commended the public release of the Department of Labor’s proposed rule that would strengthen the ability for Americans to save for retirement by addressing conflicts of interest that arise when brokers and financial advisers give retirement advice. Wall Street will fight the rule hard, because it requires them to put consumers first.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

USPIRG Commends Department of Labor's Rule On Conflicted Retirement Advice

Today, we joined President Obama, Senator Elizabeth Warren, CFPB Director Rich Cordray, Labor Secretary Tom Perez and others at AARP as the President announced his strong support for a proposed Labor Department rule to close loopholes and to require Wall Street and other financial advisors to put consumers first when they give retirement advice. Wall Street has already launched a misleading attack. Read more to see our statement supporting the proposal, which will put billions of dollars back into retirement accounts.

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

Survey Finds Dangerous Toys on Store Shelves

Dangerous or toxic toys can still be found on America’s store shelves, according to our 29th annual Trouble in Toyland report. The report reveals the results of laboratory testing on toys for toxic chemicals, including lead, chromium and phthalates, all of which can have serious, adverse health impacts on a child’s development. The survey also found examples of small toys that pose a choking hazard, extremely loud toys that threaten children’s hearing, and powerful toy magnets that can cause serious injury if swallowed.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

Consumer Groups Commend CPSC Step Toward Eliminating Child Strangulations

We join leading child safety advocates to commend U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commisision (CPSC) staff for recommending that the commissioners accept our joint petition to consider adoption of a mandatory rule addressing window blind cord strangulations. At least 7 deaths have occurred in 2014; since 1996, window cord strangulations have resulted in at least 285 serious injuries or deaths.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Will U.S. Trade Deal With Europe Eliminate Consumer Protections? | Ed Mierzwinski

Tomorrow, Tuesday, on Election Day, Washington State voters will consider the question "Yes On 522: To Label Genetically-Modified Foods." The right to choose your food is a right that American consumers want and every European citizen already has. But at the behest of the powerful agribusiness industry, U.S. trade negotiators want to take it away from all of us on both sides of the Atlantic in a secret deal. U.S. PIRG is among the consumer groups pushing back.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

How To: Using the CFPB's Consumer Complaint Database | Laura Murray

Since June 2011, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has been getting results for consumers by allowing them to file complaints about a variety of financial products and services.  The complaint process has helped thousands of consumers settle disputes with their banks and lenders.  Many of these consumers obtain tangible relief through the process.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

CFPB gets results for consumers, slams Chase for deceptive card add-ons | Ed Mierzwinski

Earlier this week, USPIRG Education Fund released "Big Banks, Big Complaints," a report documenting how the CFPB is helping bank customers with its public complaint database. Today, the CFPB announced it had imposed a $20 million civil penalty on JP Morgan Chase and ordered it to refund $309 million to over 2 million consumers for deceptively marketing junky credit card add-on products, some of which consumers didn't even receive. The CFPB is getting results.

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Blog Post | Public Health, Consumer Protection

Preventing the Chobani Mold Problem

The constant stream of food recalls has made one thing clear: more needs to be done to protect Americans from the risk of unsafe food. Instead we’re seeing important rules, standards, and inspections that could significantly improve food safety getting blocked, underfunded, or delayed, allowing the drumbeat of recalls to continue.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

FTC to hotels: Nuisance add-on fees deceptive | Ed Mierzwinski

The FTC has warned 22 hotel chains that add-on fees, such as resort fees, may be deceptive. Meanwhile, air passenger groups are asking consumers to petition the White House to require that the Department of Transportation's FAA require full disclosure of airline fees.

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