Keeping a close watch on checking account balances and carefully choosing which ATMs to use can make a big difference in your financial health, a new survey from Bankrate.com shows.
That's because the consumer finance website found it costs more than ever today if you're dinged for using an out-of-network ATM or overdrawing your bank account. The average fee for using an out-of-network ATM hit a new record of $4.35 per transaction over the last year, while overdraft fees cost banking customers $32.74 on average, another record high.
In Omaha, which was not among the 25 markets surveyed by Bankrate.com, overdraft fees at banks with the largest share of deposits were mostly above the national average.
First National Bank, which has more deposits than any bank in the metro area, charges its customers $33 per item. Overdrafts cost $35 at Wells Fargo, $30 at Mutual of Omaha Bank, $36 at US Bank and $33 at American National Bank.
Each of the five largest banks in town offers products that link customers' checking accounts to savings accounts or credit lines to cushion overdrafts for a lesser fee.
Checking account fees have been increasing as lenders adjust to federal banking laws and regulations enacted after the 2008 financial crisis. Among the changes: limits on when banks can charge overdraft fees on ATM and debit card transactions and a reduction in the fees that banks charge merchants for each customer who uses credit or debit cards for their purchases.
Lenders have responded by hiking overdraft and ATM fees, as well as increasing how much money customers must maintain in the bank to avoid checking account fees.
"I expect fees to continue increasing in years to come, but at a modest pace consistent with what we saw this year, just as was the case prior to the onset of these regulations," said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.com.
Out-of-network ATM fees typically come from a customer's home bank and the owner of the ATM. This type of fee has grown 23 percent since 2009, according to the Bankrate.com survey.
The largest Omaha banks charge anywhere from $2 at Mutual of Omaha and American National up to $2.50 at Wells Fargo. First National no longer charges an out-of-network ATM fee.
Fees on checking accounts -- which were largely free until recently -- have also become a revenue source for financial institutions.
The largest US banks all offered free checking with no strings attached until 2009, when the share of all noninterest checking accounts that were free peaked at 76 percent, according to Bankrate. It's now at 38 percent; that's unchanged from last year and only slightly lower than 39 percent in 2012.
"When everything got tight on the margin, banks started making up for that with various fees," said Eric Blick, senior vice president of retail banking at First National.
The bank in late 2012 reintroduced a free checking account that Blick said has been surprisingly popular.
"I've been surprised it sells as well as it does because free checking has been around for decades," Blick said. "Our fine print has a much bigger font, I guess."
Reading the fine print can pay, however.
Bankrate found that 97 percent of the accounts it surveyed can be exempt from fees if account holders meet certain requirements such as maintaining minimum average balances or using electronic statements or direct deposits.
This report includes material from the Associated Press.