Despite reforms, bank fees keep rising

A man operates an ATM August 3, 2010 in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

Use an ATM from a bank where you don't have an account, and you'll find the average cost has surged to around $4, according to a new survey of bank fees around the country from Bankrate.com. It hasn't been easy finding a free checking account, either -- and it's getting even harder.

Banks keep charging more and more, in large part, to make up for tighter regulations on overdraft fees. But the irony is, before the rule change, an FDIC study found just 14 percent of account holders were responsible for nearly all overdrafts.

Now, most of us are paying the price. "Reining in those overdraft fees has spread that cost among a much wider swath of banking customers," says Bankrate's Greg McBride. For example, he says, only 39 percent of all checking accounts are free today. Three years ago, it was 76 percent.

McBride says banks risk driving away the customers they can least afford to lose, as dissatisfaction keeps rising. "It's highest for highest-income households," McBride adds, "and those are the most profitable customers that banks have."

So you may have noticed they've been offering sweeteners -- mobile check deposit, paying with your smartphone instead of cash, and lots of other new features.

McBride suggests banks are also sensitive to customer frustration in other ways. "We have seen a commensurate increase in fee waivers," he points out. "Often times, something as simple as direct deposit is enough to get the fee waived."

Also on the rise: The number of customers who find it's worth shopping around.

About the author

Bob Moon is Marketplace’s senior business correspondent, based in Los Angeles.

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