Bank fees rise for 15th straight year
Bank fees rose for the 15th straight year, with fees for overdrafts and out-of-network ATM usage hitting record highs, according to Bankrate.com.
The average overdraft charge rose 3 percent in 2013, to a record $32.20, Bankrate says. The average cost for using another bank's ATM rose 2 percent, to $4.13—also a record.
"Overdraft and out-of-network ATM fees are the low-hanging fruit in terms of raising fees," says Greg McBride, senior financial analyst for Bankrate.com.
(Read more: How to complain about your bank)
Overdraft fees have risen so far that a recent study by Moebs Services says that it's cheaper to borrow $100 from a payday lender than it is to bounce a $100 check. The median price for a $100 loan from a payday lender is $18, Moebs says.
The fees in both cases are entirely avoidable, McBride says.
Overdraft fees were steepest in Milwaukee, where they average $34.16, and lowest in San Francisco, where they average $27.18.
Out-of-network ATM fees were highest in Denver, where they average $4.70, and lowest in Baltimore, when they average $3.59. The calculation includes the fee from the owner of the ATM and from your bank. The charge for using another bank's ATM rose 4 percent, to $2.60, while the average fee from your bank for using another bank's ATM fell 3 percent, to $1.53.
A few bank products became more affordable, according to the Bankrate survey of 10 banks in each of 25 large U.S. markets. The average minimum balance to offer a no-interest checking account fell 19 percent to $60.27—about where it's been since 1998.
(Read more: Five important year-end tax questions)
Good luck finding a free interest-bearing checking account: Just 3 percent were free to all customers, unchanged from 2012. But 95 percent of all the institutions surveyed would waive the fee if you kept an average balance of $5,802, down 5 percent from last year. Average monthly service fee fell 1 percent to $14.65. Average monthly service charge for a non-interest-bearing checking account: $5.54, up 1 percent from last year.
So far, fewer than 1 percent of banks charge for using a debit card.
(Read more: Financial planning for a government shutdown)
"Fees continue to go up, and it's best to spend time strategizing how to avoid them," McBride says. "There's always room for consumers to shop around."
Banks do take notice when you leave, particularly when you take a big balance with you, McBride says. Seventy percent of consumers consider switching banks when checking account fees get too high, and those who are most likely to do so often have the highest balances.
—By John Waggoner, USA TODAY.