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Ask the Expert: How Can I Save Money on Checking Account Overdraft Fees?

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Q: I'm looking for a new checking account because the overdraft fees at my bank are killing me. It's a $30 fine every time I overdraft the account. Am I being unrealistic, or should I be able to find cheaper overdraft fees somewhere?

A: If you are paying $30 a pop for checking account overdraft fees, then you can probably do better. However, if those fees are a regular issue for you, then the size of the fee isn't your only problem.

Here are three thoughts on how you can save money on your checking account:

  • You should be able to find overdraft fees that are less than $30. According to the most recent bank fee survey, the average was $29.16, so at $30 you'd be a bit over the average. The cheapest overdraft fee found was $18, but based on where most of the fees are bunched, if you found something in the mid-$20 range you'd be doing pretty well.
  • Don't focus on any one fee when you shop for a checking account. After all, overdraft fees only kick in when you make the mistake of overdrafting your account, but maintenance fees will be there month after month. Look at the total package of fees, and figure out what would be the cheapest option based on how you bank.
  • Opt out of the overdraft protection program. If bank overdrafts are more than a rare mistake for you -- say, once every few years -- then the best solution would be to opt out of overdraft protection to cure yourself of the bad habits that are leading to those fees.
  • Think of checking account overdraft protection programs as the way they talk about enablers for people with addiction problems. They may help you get away with your bad habits, but in the long run they aren't good for you.

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