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

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 | Consumer Protection

Yahoo Data Breach Presents Opportunity for Strong Response

Statement by Mike Litt at the U.S. PIRG Education Fund, on the latest announced Yahoo data breach.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Fight Against Unfair ATM Surcharge Fees Heads to the U.S. Supreme Court (UPDATED) | Michael Landis

UPDATE: I recently wrote about an amicus brief that U.S. PIRG Education Fund filed in support of consumers and independent ATM owners in two consolidated cases pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. Well, those cases aren’t pending anymore. On November 17, 2016, the Court issued a rare order throwing out the cases before they were argued.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

Consumer Advocates Concerned By Court Ruling Overturning Ban on High-Powered Magnets

We've joined leading consumer and pediatrician organizations in a joint news release with a sharp critique of a U.S. appellate court decision overturning a U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission ban on the sale of high-powered small magnets (some as small as BBs) that pose a severe ingestion problem for children and youth. As our Trouble In Toyland report released on November 22 pointed out: "Nearly 80 percent of high-powered magnet ingestions require invasive medical intervention, either through an endoscopy, surgery, or both. In comparison, only 10 to 20 percent of other foreign body ingestions require endoscopic intervention and almost none require surgery."

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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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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

Groups Applaud CPSC for Protecting Kids From Dangerous Magnets

U.S. PIRG and other consumer advocates, joined by pediatricians and pediatric gastroenterologists, today applauded the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) vote to address the hazards posed by high powered magnets.  Children who swallow two or more magnets are at risk of developing serious injuries such as small holes in the stomach and intestines, intestinal blockage, blood poisoning, and even death.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

We urge CFPB to issue safeguards for mobile financial services and privacy

We urge (along with the Center for Digital Democracy) the CFPB to issue rules so consumers can use mobile financial services without placing their privacy at risk or exposing themselves to new forms of predatory lending and other unfair practices. We filed a joint comment in response to a CFPB information request.

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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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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Bank fee report challenges conventional wisdom on fees | Ed Mierzwinski

Our latest Big Banks, Bigger Fees report, released today, finds that the conventional wisdom that "free checking is dead" is false. Find out more.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

FTC recovers over $500 million from "get rich" and "lose weight in 3 minute abs workout" scammers | Ed Mierzwinski

The FTC today announced a $25 million settlement with the marketers of the Ab Circle Pro, an exercise machine that promises you can lose weight and get ripped abs in "just 3 minutes a day;" meanwhile, a federal judge has also approved a $478 million settlement in the FTC's case against a "get rich quick" infomercial king. A good day for consumers.

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