Hidden FeesFour bank service charges we love to hate

Consumers feel nickel and dimed by bank fees. The Conservative government’s Throne Speech pledged to expand access to no-cost banking services.

The Conservative government’s Throne Speech made a lot of promises to consumers. Among them was a pledge to expand access to no-cost banking services.

The eight largest banks in Canada are obliged to provide a basic monthly banking package for $4 or less. These accounts don’t offer much — 10 or so free transactions per month — and they’re not heavily promoted because they aren’t very profitable for the banks.

The banks tend to promote accounts that come with monthly fees and a requirement to keep a minimum balance of $1,000 or more to avoid them. In exchange you get a bundle that might include free debits, a couple of free e-transfers, overdraft protection and some free ATM transactions.

Even so, it contributes to a feeling of being nickel and dimed. Either you can’t avoid the fees or aren’t sure how to get around them. The Canadian Bankers Association, a bank lobby group, says just five per cent of bank revenues come from account service charges.

But Brian Shumak, a Toronto certified financial planner, said he doesn’t understand what the banks are doing to justify the fees, many of which have become automated and should cost the banks less to administer.

“Banking has become very costly for consumers and yet the service and what you pay for has not changed one iota,” he said.

Here are four fees that we love to hate.

Paper statement fees: RBC is the only Big 5 bank that does not charge for paper statements. TD, BMO, Scotiabank and CIBC charge customers up to $2 per month to receive statements by mail. You’d think going paperless saves the banks a bundle, from paper to printing to postage, but those savings haven’t been passed on to customers.

Banks claim the escalating costs of providing paper statements have forced them to charge a fee, something Susan Eng, vice president of advocacy at CARP, a seniors’ lobby group, doesn’t buy.

“It’s outrageous and they’ve made no allowances for people who don’t have a computer or access to the Internet,” Eng said in an interview.

Seniors are the most vulnerable to fee grabs like this one, says Eng. That’s because many of them live on a fixed budget and can’t afford excessive charges, even if it’s just a few dollars per month.

It’s unclear whether the Throne Speech promise to stop companies from charging extra for a paper bill will apply to the banks, who charge for account statements only — not for credit card statements or when there’s an amount owing.

The bottom line: Look for a package that still offers free paper statements or use your loyalty to negotiate them into your plan.

Electronic transfer fees: Interac’s e-Transfer allows you to send and receive money by email. It is easy, which is why these transfers are growing in popularity. The banks have found these transactions a good way to boost fee revenue.

Most charge $1 or $1.50 to send money by email, even if you have a so-called unlimited account package. For example, TD’s unlimited account costs $14.95 per month, but email transfers are not included.

“As far as I am concerned, it would cost the bank a lot more if I came into the branch to transfer money or if I wrote a cheque to the other party,” said Shumak.

The bottom line: If you move a lot of money around by email, ING Direct is worth a look. ING lets customers send money by its own free email money transfer option, which takes 2-3 days to get to recipients outside ING, or to send an Interac e-Transfer instantly for $1.

ATM fees: Bank machines were introduced to make it easier for people to bank and for banks to cut costs by reducing the number of tellers in branches. But when you get charged twice to use another financial institution’s ATM, once at the bank machine and then again from your own bank, it can seem cheaper to bank in person.

Cash machines in convenience stores, bars and plazas, are even worse. Expect to be charged $2 to $3 at the machine and another levy by your own bank for a total of up to $4.50 a transaction.

An ad campaign that ran this summer urged Canadians to avoid these ATM surcharges by switching to a credit union and sharing in a national network of “ding-free” bank machines. Credit union members don’t pay a surcharge for withdrawals, deposits and balance inquiries at credit union and other participating ATMs across Canada.

The bottom line: Use a mobile banking app to locate your bank’s own closest machine or be aware of other locations.

Monthly account fee and minimum daily balance: You can avoid the irritation of individual transaction charges by opting for a monthly package, but expect to pay between $8.95 and $29.95 per month unless you carry a high balance.

A basic chequing account with TD, CIBC or BMO might cost nothing if you limit yourself to 10 transactions per month and maintain a $1,000 daily balance ($1,500 at TD). The $4 fee for RBC’s basic banking package is waived if you have an investment account and a credit card. Scotia charges $3.95 for its basic banking package.

If you write a lot of cheques, you’d do well with an account at PC Financial, the only no-fee bank that offers unlimited free cheques. On the other hand, someone with more sophisticated banking needs might opt for an all-inclusive solution like RBC’s $30 per month VIP banking. This package gives you unlimited debits and free withdrawals from any ATM, personalized cheques, overdraft protection, free cross-border debits, two certified cheques per year, and up to 10 e-transfers per month.

The bottom line: Shop around. The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada has an online tool that helps you find the account that best suits your needs.

The banks fight hard to gain new customers but tend not to reward loyal clients until they insist or threaten to leave. If your loyalty won’t buy you a freebie or two from your bank, consider spreading your business around to find a better deal.



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